TW: This interview includes frank conversations about depression and suicide. If you are feeling anxious, lonely, or overwhelmed—or you just need to talk to someone—please reach out to professionals like those at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
The Comedy Central series Corporate is the TV equivalent of a primal scream for anyone who has ever had a desk job that seems to slowly drain their soul. Set in the dank, windowless offices of a (definitely) evil corporation, the show—which is currently in its third, and final, season—has mocked everything about modern white-collar culture, from freezing buildings to the need to end every sentence of a work email with an exclamation point.
The show’s macabre tone also means that several of these jokes are punctuated with sarcastic commentary about the human existence, depression and taking one’s own life—lines that are usually uttered by co-creator and co-lead Jake Weisman’s character, who is also named Jake. And things are taken up a notch for this season’s second episode, which aired on July 29. Titled “Black Dog” as a reference to oft-used metaphor for depression;, the episode focuses on the character Jake’s long history both with depression and his reluctance to attempt to manage it.
Weisman, who also wrote the episode, told Paste that its thesis came while he was promoting Corporate’s second season. This was also when he realized he needed to be more proactive about his own self care because, well, “making and promoting a show definitely allows you to look at yourself and your anxiety and realize you need to make a change.”
Weisman is lucky; he says he got on medication and the first one he tried had positive results. He says someone had told him that the right meds can feel “like a layer of sludge [was] just wiped off the top of your brain” and he still remembers when he realized that that person was right.
“I’ve definitely just enjoyed life a lot more—or, I will say more of what it is, is that I’ve hated it so much less,” he laughs.
In “Black Dog,” the fictional version of him goes on a similar trajectory. It opens with the character’s 12th birthday, the night of which when he is visited by the titular Black Dog, which Weisman says was designed to look like the “horrific” yet “cool” rabbit from the movie Donnie Darko, and is voiced by Bob Odenkirk. More important, it’s a creature that will now forever haunt him with negative commentary and drastically change his outlook on life. (Weisman says that Odenkirk, who has a past working relationship with Corporate co-creator Pat Bishop, was asked to do the part because they needed someone who understood comic timing even when discussing something so serious and because they wanted “a familiar voice, but you’re not sure [exactly who it is], because that’s what depression is”).
At the end of the episode, Jake takes action and tries medication. The Black Dog is still very much there, but it is muzzled.
“I would never want to write something because I think it’s important—I think that that’s pandering—but I would want to write something because it’s true,” Weisman says.
It helps that he feels like he has completed the theoretical 10,000 hours it takes to master this subject, he says. “So my worry wasn’t that I couldn’t portray it accurately, or in a way that wouldn’t hurt people … my worry was to do it in an interesting enough way that felt unique and also something that could allow people into it.”
To counterbalance this heaviness, the episode’s secondary storyline involves co-lead/co-creator Matt Ingebretson’s character, also named Matt. As Jake’s office mate and de facto best friend, he fancies himself a “Matty Poppins” and becomes overly involved in believing he can “fix” him—and that Jake would want him to do so. It’s so over-the-top that Weisman says “it might even be our silliest episode, besides the fact that we’re talking about suicide.”
Even this comes from a place of honest concern. Matt admits to their friend, Aparna Nancherla’s Grace, that he has heard Jake comment that he was going to take his life so many times that he once thought about what he’d say for his eulogy. The real Ingebretson and Weisman were roommates when the latter wasn’t medicated and Weisman says “I think it put him in situations where he wasn’t sure what to do.”
“I’ve gone through this myself with other friends who are horrifically depressed [and] there really is no right answer in terms of” what you can do, Weisman says. “I mean, there is but it still will take the other person doing the work. And the other person doing the work? It is so hard for them because … they have … like weights strapped to their soul and they can’t help themselves. They’re fighting something that will always win.”
This is why Weisman feels “that this story is about people going through depression, but it’s also about the difficulty of being a friend to someone who is depressed. I think they’re both incredibly difficult situations that necessitate a very painful, but necessary, growth.”
Still, an entire episode of a TV comedy that “jokes” about suicide? Sometimes in quick succession?
“This isn’t for everybody, but I think if you have depression there’s a decent chance you have a pretty good sense of humor because you might have, sort of, a nihilistic feeling about things and you appreciate things that can cut you and anything that can make you feel anything other than what you’re feeling,” Weisman says. “I think that humor is, sort of, the dessert wrapped around the pill that you have to swallow when talking about depression.”
Plus, he says, that “people who have anxiety and depression speak a certain language that truly can only be understood by the people who also have anxiety, depression.”
“If someone is extremely depressed, and understands depression as only depressed people can, then you’re going to be thankful that they’re dealing with it in a humorous way because they can only understand the insane thoughts you have all the time,” he says. He adds that, while he doesn’t wish for anyone to actually understand what he’s going through, “I do think that humor, for me, is the best way [to explain depression] because then you don’t really feel as judged.”
He does hope that some viewers will see the episode and find it helpful “because it’s basically someone saying, ‘listen, I was like this, and I was wrong.’”
“At the very best, someone will see themselves in the story,” Weisman says. “And at the very worst, they’ll be like, ‘oh, I don’t like this show.’”
Corporate airs Wednesdays on Comedy Central. Catch up on this and past episodes on CC.com.
Whitney Friedlander is an entertainment journalist with, what some may argue, an unhealthy love affair with her TV. A former staff writer at both Los Angeles Times and Variety, her writing has also appeared in Cosmopolitan, Vulture, The Washington Post and others. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, daughter, and very photogenic cat.