“Comedy should be about 80 percent crazier. It’s too boring and too safe. We don’t want to be safe because who the hell wants to watch something you’ve already seen?”
Jake Weisman, the co-star and co-creator of the new Comedy Central series “Corporate,” raises an interesting point, one that also happens to explain why the 10th and final episode of “Corporate” Season 1 is an episode-length riff on 9/11, delivered with the usual rhythms of an inspirational Christmas story.
Along with co-creators Pat Bishop and Matt Ingebretson, the team behind “Corporate” has used its opening season to cover everything from HR complaints to surface-level small talk about bingeing TV shows on smartwatches. Weisman and Bishop spoke with IndieWire about the path to “Remember Day,” a final episode that’s unlikely and a completely logical endpoint all at once.
“We want each of our episodes to feel special,” Weisman said. “One of our writers, Heather Anne Campbell, who also acted in Episode 8, she made a really good point in the room. She said, ‘Every episode should feel like someone’s favorite episode.’ So we really took that to heart.”
For some viewers, that might be the Campbell-written “Remember Day,” which in a lot of ways is the culmination of the season. Matt and Jake each get flashbacks that inform their complicated relationships to patriotism and holidays. One joke explains the origins of John’s (Adam Lustig) hair loss. But it also works as an inverted Scrooge story for Christian DeVille (Lance Reddick), the CEO responsible for half of the Hampton DeVille mega-conglomerate’s name.
Like anything on “Corporate,” the joke isn’t merely pointing out that something exists and laughing at it. Rather than use 9/11 as an easy punchline, the episode takes great care to put the intervening 17 years in context and reframe them within the world of an opportunistic corner of American life.
“We felt like if we were going to do an episode about 9/11, that it had to be the most heartwarming episode of the season. I think people would be pretty pissed at us if weren’t a) making a good point and b) trying to make you feel good,” Weisman said.
For a network that’s also home to “The Daily Show” and “The Opposition,” “Corporate” has quickly become the most political series on the network, even if it’s not reacting to daily headlines. The season’s second episode, “The Powerpoint of Death,” used Hampton DeVille as an entry point to talking about interventionism on a global scale. Short of mentioning particular government officials by name, “Remember Day” takes the same satirical approach to look at the crafting of 21st-century foreign policy.
“This is a horrible thing that happened in our country, but it’s even worse morally that the government used it against everyone and to kill people and to start wars. So, yeah, let’s see it for what it is. I think having the structure of a satire is the best way to show the horrible things that our country does,” Weisman said. “And what more do you want than a 9/11 Christmas episode out of comedy? The idea of a 9/11 Christmas episode, if you don’t want to see that, then I don’t understand you.”
Sure, “Remember Day” takes a long look at forces that use national trauma to their advantage, but there’s some nuanced character work baked into the sly critiques of consumerism.
“Our view on satire and storytelling is that we really want to respect our audience and their intelligence and their ability to judge things for themselves and not feel like we have to tell them the moral at the end of a story or call out a person as bad,” Bishop said. “We’re presenting something that’s kind of horrifying, with the idea that our audience will interpret it as such and see the point we’re making. We always try to balance the satire or the bigger worldview stuff with these more human things and questions about how you be a human and how you live your life in a good way.”
“It’s not really any of the characters’ fault, because they’re in the prison of capitalism. Everyone’s just trying to survive within this system that we’ve still never bested,” Weisman said. “Christian DeVille is just the product of American rugged capitalism. Yeah, he’s a piece of shit, but what else can he be? He wants to get rich.”
The show’s go-for-broke mindset helped the series secure a Season 2 renewal, but it also led to a first batch of episodes that let each installment feel distinct. Along with the freedom of the show’s subject and sensibilities came the opportunity to take the show far outside the walls of Hampton DeVille. It’s a structure that lets some universal understanding shine through some of the droll realities of office life.
“I think of it as a humanist show, even though some of the stuff on it is kind of dark. We have a lot of compassion for people who are victims of their jobs and working at Hampton DeVille,” Bishop said. “We had a line in the ‘Society Tomorrow’ episode that sums it up: ‘Basic ineptitude and people trying their best is what causes the daily horror humans live with.’ That’s sort of a sympathetic way to look at it, I think, even though it’s a cynical statement.”
Of course, it helps to have a talented ensemble at the core. Weisman and Ingebretson have settled into a rhythm as the pair of junior executives at the show’s center, and they’re surrounded by a stellar ensemble that includes Aparna Nancherla, Baron Vaughn, Anne Dudek, and Lustick. The biggest standout might be Reddick, who even gets the chance to sing in an oddly poignant montage near the end of the finale. (Yes, that’s his soothing voice behind the show’s rendition of “Try to Remember” from “The Fantasticks,” complete with Dudek and Lustick on backing vocals.)
“[Lance] is such a genius. We somehow tricked one of the best actors alive to be in our really dumb show. He adds so much to it. I hope people see what he can do because people have always thought of him as a dramatic actor and he’s just such a talent and he’s so funny. He understands comedy so well and he just brings everything to the show,” Weisman said.
Like some of the unexpected joys of those running jokes about Christian’s inability to remember people’s names or Jake’s past life in a rap-rock band — “Maybe the most fun we had was writing Rage Against the Machine parody lyrics,” Weisman said with a laugh — some of the guys’ favorite moments from Season 1 came from surprising places.
“The part for me that for me was really satisfying was the cold open of ‘The Long Meeting.’ We had had this idea of setting Matt and I improvising a dance to classical music,” Weisman said. “The best kind of filmmaking is wordless, telling the story through visual jokes and seeing what you’re seeing. For that to come together in such a great sequence, without having to say anything, set to music, I was just so thrilled that the concept of that worked out.”
“I would also say the moment we hit Aimee Mann with a car while an Aimee Mann song played was pretty cool,” Bishop added. “It was such a great climax to that episode that tied everything together. We shot that on the first day of shooting and had to hit a stuntwoman that looked like Aimee Mann with a car. It could have gone wrong in any number of ways, but it really worked out. It’s one of my favorite moments from the season.”
Aside from the unexpected mashup of national holidays, one thing in “Remember Day” stands out. As happens to many Hampton DeVille employees throughout the season, Jake’s frustration and anger at his own problems gets suppressed in favor of the company-wide (and nationwide) sense of collective trauma. Weisman explained that’s a key theme the show will touch on in Season 2.
In the meantime, “Corporate” is a show floating through the vast 2018 universe of TV and beyond.
“We’re all just stardust and everyone forgets that,” Weisman said. “Everyone just gets mad at people. Everyone gets so fucked up about traffic and dumb shit. You’re going to die in the blink of an eye and it’s hilarious. There’s nothing funnier than that.”
“Corporate” Season 1 is currently available to stream on the Comedy Central app.