This spring, women are ruling the medium of television. They’re portraying layered, complex characters on sitcoms that range from vintage reboots to progressive explorations of family dynamics, and the dark-yet-humorous things we do to succeed in the workplace.
Three standouts include actress Lecy Goranson, who steps back into her role as Becky Conner on an ABC Network reboot of the iconic working-class sitcom, Roseanne; Tiya Sircar, who plays Zach Braff’s professionally-driven and supportive wife Rooni on the new ABC sitcom, Alex, Inc.; and Anne Dudek, who plays the brazen, passive-aggressive Kate on Comedy Central’s new breakout hit, Corporate.
I had a chance to sit down with each of these talented ladies to get their take on the evolution of the American sitcom, and how female television characters have come a long way.
Anne Dudek Takes on Corporate Culture for Comedy Central
Allison Kugel: Describe the Comedy Central series Corporate for those who haven’t yet tuned in.
Anne Dudek: Corporate centers around the lives and perspectives of two junior executives in training, Jake Weisman and Matt Ingebretson, who also co-created the show. It’s a deeply cynical view of capitalistic, corporate culture. I play a higher-up executive. It’s a workplace comedy unlike the traditional happy, cheery sitcom. It’s a darker view of how we relate to each other in the workplace
Allison Kugel: What social and societal commentary is the show trying to make?
Anne Dudek: We’re portraying people who are warped by the demands of trying to succeed, when the values are all about power and money at the expense of your soul. On one hand it’s upsetting, but on the other hand it’s really funny because of its absurdity. The humour is born out of how absurd our lives can become when these are the central values of our work life.
Allison Kugel: Have you ever had to hold an office job along the lines of what’s portrayed on the show?
Anne Dudek: One of the main triumphs of my life is that I haven’t experienced that 9 to 5 job that felt endlessly despairing. Though being an actor is a difficult life sometimes as well. I think anybody in the modern workforce has had an experience with being asked to be a certain way, to succeed, that feels inherently a little depressing.
Allison Kugel: Your character, Kate, can’t seem to decide if she thrives on office politics or if she is depressed by it.
Anne Dudek: She’s a woman in the workforce, and she’s in a culture dominated by men, set up under a male set of rules. It’s a patriarchal mindset and dynamic. We’re in a cultural moment of understanding how women have been in such a place of disadvantage, especially in the entertainment community, and especially with the sexual dynamic of what’s to be expected just to get work. There’s a parallel to things that my character has experienced, whether or not it has been something that extreme. But you have to fight amongst men in a particular kind of way.
Allison Kugel: What would you say that does to a woman, psychologically?
Anne Dudek: Any time you’re forced to only use one aspect of yourself that’s deemed as valuable to achieve other goals that you have, it’s pretty demoralizing. With actresses, that has at times been their sexuality, their youth, their charm. In the case of my character, Kate, on Corporate, she’s had to adapt to a masculine set of ideals. She’s had to be super aggressive and very unempathetic and goal-oriented in that traditional kind of hyper-masculine way.
Allison Kugel: What would you say is your own most extreme personality trait?
Anne Dudek: I do share a kind of darkness with Jake Weisman, who plays Jake on the show and is also a creator of the show. I related to that fatalistic, darker world view when I first read the script. There’s an intelligence behind it that I really admire. I personally can relate to that dark humour.
Allison Kugel: What is the audience takeaway from watching Corporate?
Anne Dudek: Stories serve a good purpose when the audience can say, “How do these people know about my experience?” It’s that connection when people see the truth of their own life shared by people portraying it on television. I’ve gotten so much feedback from people who do have that kind of corporate job, and they are like, “This is so accurate to what I have experienced, and I’ve never seen it portrayed so clearly.” And it’s a commentary about what we choose to do with our lives to earn money, and what America has become.
Allison Kugel: Do you think there is a cautionary tale within the context of the show about not forgoing your dreams to make a living?
Anne Dudek: I think that’s a very privileged perspective. The reality is a lot of us don’t have a choice. There aren’t a wide variety of ways to make money that are ultimately fulfilling to people. There is an aspect of working that is purely about survival. My mom has a real interest in archeology, and she was telling me that what archeologists have pieced together is that most people lived in poverty for most of human existence. Right now, we’re looking at our modern culture and what we’re doing to survive is, on some level, we’re selling our souls to this greater capitalistic ideal of success at all costs.
Allison Kugel: I think one moral of the story is that even if your job is not your passion, it’s important to pursue what feeds your spirit when you aren’t working. Just because it’s not where your paycheque comes from doesn’t mean you can’t pursue it. I always tell people that.
Anne Dudek: There might be a greater story about how many hours people are expected to work in this day and age, just to survive at a basic level. So, what does that do to your soul, and your ability to find other outlets for what makes you happy? There’s an episode called “Weekend” in Corporate that deals with people’s lives outside of the corporate world, and it’s not very pretty (laughs). Sometimes people are working to work. You’re working for the car that you use to get to work. You’re working for the clothes that you have to wear to work. It’s an absurd reality and I really appreciate that this show picks up on that absurdity.
Allison Kugel: What is the humour aspect that runs through each episode?
Anne Dudek: The dark, dry accuracy of some of these moments. It’s like pulling out these little sparkly diamonds from a necklace, setting them all together, and saying, “Look at how powerful this is.” Our show heightens what is absurd about corporate life, and what’s absurd is really funny.
Allison Kugel: You’ve appeared in so many films and television shows over the years. What role do people most often recognize you from?
Anne Dudek: White Chicks!
Allison Kugel: Oh my God, yes (laughs)! I thought I was the only one! How do you feel about being so recognized for that movie?
Anne Dudek: That movie has stood the test of time in a way I never could have predicted. I’ll walk into a Starbucks, and someone’s like, “White Chicks! I love White Chicks!” And I just love that. I never would have thought that movie would have made the lasting impact it’s made.
Allison Kugel: You have a tremendous resume of roles. Right before this interview I was thinking, “I’m not going to be weird and mention White Chicks, because she’s done so much since then.”
Anne Dudek: That’s why I’m excited to be doing comedy again, because it has a profound impact on people and a really important place in our world. I do love being recognized for that.
Allison Kugel: When you make people laugh, you leave an indelible mark on their spirit.
Anne Dudek: It’s a very certain way of knowing that you and another person relate to each other; you both found that funny. It’s a cool connection.
Allison Kugel: Why should people tune in to watch Corporate on Comedy Central?
Anne Dudek: Because it’s extremely intelligent and provides real laughs. It’s a different kind of comedy from what is available out there right now, talking about our current culture.