“Woke” is a comedy that balances serious with silly

Woke Lamorne Morris in Woke. (Hulu)

Keith Knight & Marshall Todd’s new Hulu series is a sly mix of comedy and real-life issues that makes for a satisfying social comment.

Art reflects the world it was made in, and a world defined by frustration has led to Woke. It’s the frustration with a government and society intent on taking everything and telling you that it doesn’t care about you. Every marginalized person feels this pain, but the specific, genuine Black anger inherent to Keith Knight & Marshall Todd’s new show is something our country refuses to discuss, and it’s tired of being polite about it.

Based on Knight’s autobiographical comic strip, The K Chronicles, Woke chronicles the experiences of Keef Knight (Lamorne Morris, proving once again that he is one of our most talented comic actors) as he loses his chance at mainstream success. As his strip, Toast and Butter, nears a large syndication deal, Keef starts to buck at the casual racism of his greater industry as they lighten his skin in portraits and try to paint him as a model minority. When the police assault him for hanging flyers, his activism becomes more and more active.

“I never thought it would happen to me,” Keef says of the event. His trauma and subsequent anger surrounding his assault drive the series, inflicting Keef with the “disease” of being woke. This also causes him to hallucinate conversations with inanimate objects about racial and societal injustices. These conversations happen at a constant clip, popping up seemingly just when Keef has relaxed, reminding him and everyone watching of the constant fear of being attacked due to race.

Rarely does a show’s first season have this level of control over its tone, concerns, and sense of humor.

These heavy issues don’t take over the show entirely; it is a comedy. It finds humor in these moments and in Keef as a character who, like so many of us, feels irate but powerless in the face of the systems oppressing him. This also cushions itself with supporting roles in Keef’s roommates, Clovis (T. Murph) and Gunther (Blake Anderson). Murph is the breakout comedic performance of the show, playing a deceitful sneaker-selling fuckboy with many of the season’s best asides. The other breakout is the wry, natural Sasheer Zamata as radical queer journalist Ayana. Meanwhile, Anderson continues playing the affable stoner archetype he’s brought to life since Workaholics.

The absurdist political humor of Knight’s strip makes for compelling narrative comedy. Rarely does a show’s first season have this level of control over its tone, concerns, and sense of humor. Knight & Todd maintain writing credits on all eight episodes, and their brand of humor, be a running gag or more absurd fare, never fails to come through as strongly as the political issues they talk about.

But under the rage inherent to Woke, Knight & Todd bake in palpable exhaustion. About halfway through the season, someone says to Ayana, “It seems difficult, caring so much.” She agrees. These issues haven’t changed in so long, and the fight to change them is so tiring. The characters in Woke are so tired. They’re through being polite about the oppression at every moment of their lives. They’re fighting on their own terms with humor, cartoons, and even a Sharpie with eyes, and in an age where socially-minded comedies can get self-serious, Woke remains silly. Much like in Knight’s comic, absurdity is his weapon against injustice, and his weapon is sharper than it’s ever been.

Woke premieres on Hulu on Wednesday, September 9.

Woke Trailer:

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