Don’t call Keith Knight’s new TV show “relevant.”

The Carrboro-based cartoonist co-created Woke, which premieres on Hulu September 9, with Barbershop screenwriter Marshall Todd. There’s a key moment in the pilot episode when Knight’s fictionalized counterpart, Keef (played by Lamorne Morris from New Girl), is mistaken for a suspect and knocked to the ground by gun-wielding police.

Knight knows the scene echoes the horrifying and highly publicized police violence fueling recent protests. But to him, the point of the incident is its longevity, not its timeliness.

“Literally, that incident happened to me twenty years ago,” Knight says. “Racism is evergreen in this country; police brutality is evergreen. It would be relevant at any time.”

Knight is a veteran cartoonist and a veteran chronicler of police brutality. His strips are available online at and in print collections such as They Shoot Black People, Don’t They?, which is also the title of his cartoon slideshow about race in America, for which he was named an NAACP HistoryMaker in 2015.

Woke places the autobiographical and satirical elements of Knight’s cartoons in a magical-realism context. Keef is a successful San Francisco cartoonist who is about to get a lucrative syndication deal for a harmless strip called “Toast-N-Butter”—“If all goes poorly with this, at least I have a new comic strip I can launch,” Knight quips—when the police assault shatters his sheltered worldview.

Suddenly, everyday objects appear to come to life, with faces resembling Knight’s cartoons and voiced by guests such as JB Smoove and Tony Hale. They remind him of all the racism and inequality he hasn’t noticed in his day-to-day existence.

As his roommate (T. Murph) puts it, he “got woke,” and now has to reconcile his desire for success with his newfound need to fight the problems of the world in his life and work.

Knight says he worked for “about six or seven years” to develop his cartoons as a TV series, but ironically, he found success with the project only after he moved from Los Angeles to the Triangle in 2015.

“The plan was to move down to LA, meet everyone who we needed to meet, get a deal, and then get out of town,” Knight says. “But the funny thing is, we got out of town, and then we got the deal. I think my producers were like, ‘Oh, he’s serious, he’s really leaving. We’ve got to do something to get this back on track.’

“It’s nice to be able to do it away from LA, so you’re not having to do the whole schmoozing thing all the time,” he adds. “It’s nice to have the fancy Hollywood call and then go outside and walk your chickens.”

Knight is more than just the creator of the material behind Woke; he’s a producer and co-writer who does most of the art for the series.

“They wanted me to help with stuff that went into the character’s apartment,” Knight says. “They had me look at all these costumes that people were wearing, the places where they were shooting.

“In some ways,” he adds with a laugh, “it was a careful-what-you-wish-for situation.”

During production, he divided his time between the Triangle, Vancouver set visits, and couch-surfing when he was working with the show’s writers in Los Angeles. Knight says it was worth it to maintain creative control.

“I’ve seen enough cases where Hollywood’s taken someone’s work and changed everything, so if it was going to turn out to be a mess, I wanted to be the one responsible,” he says.

Woke was filmed late last year and early this year, with Vancouver standing in for San Francisco. It wrapped on February 28, shortly before COVID-19 and the anti-police-violence protests that followed. Knight calls it a “perfect storm of everything.”

“We were just like, ‘Oh man, the whole season is going to play out in the real world by next month,’” he says. “There’s gonna be plenty of people saying, ‘These guys just shot and filmed this thing over the past month, and they just used computer graphics to get rid of all the masks that they had to wear while shooting.’ I’m just sad that I won’t get to see it with an audience at a public screening and see how they react to it. Maybe season two.”

Correction: Keith Knight lives in Carrboro, not Durham.

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