Lamorne Morris Talks Hulu's 'Woke' and Holding Up a Mirror to Racism -- With Jokes (Exclusive)

The actor star discusses the timeliness of the hybrid comedy and grappling with playing a Black cop on 'New Girl.'

There isn't a more relevant time for Hulu's Woke to enter the TV lexicon. Inspired by the life of artist Keith Knight, the half-hour comedy follows Black cartoonist Keef (New Girl's Lamorne Morris) on the cusp of mainstream success. But when a public breakdown goes viral, the promising artist's path to success abruptly ends as his future goes up in flames. Set in current times and featuring partially animated characters, Keef is forced to navigate the new voices and confront the racism and injustices he's spent years trying to avoid and failed to acknowledge. 

Woke infuses comedy into everyday situations Keef finds himself in, whether it be police brutality or systemic racism or performative allyship, which episodes explore. Though the series touches on timely topics, at its core it is meant to entertain, Morris tells ET's Leanne Aguilera. "That's something I don't want to get lost in everything because at the end of the day people just need a break from all the stress, the headaches that are happening in the world and you want to sit down and just enjoy 30 minutes of television." It just so happens that Woke is a show that "has messaging within it," Morris says.

At the beginning of the story, we meet Keef as he has a traumatic run-in with the police, who have mistaken him for a suspect that they're after with a similar build and hoodie. The incident spurs Keef to start to see his comic characters come to life, as he grapples with how to move forward. Woke also stars Blake Anderson, T. Murph, Lara Goldie and Sasheer Zamata.

"It's about a guy who walks the road ambiguously on the political side, so he doesn't really take sides; I notice what's going on. I understand and I'm aware, but I don't want to get involved. I just wanna do my comics and exist. But the caveat here is that he's Black and what's happening out in the world is for Black people, it definitely feels as though we're under attack," the New Girl alum explains. "Sometimes you have that calling that says you have to say something and some people would describe that as being 'woke,' as 'Wow, now I see the wool has been pulled from over our eyes.'"

"And in the case of Keef Knight, that's what has been going on with him. The show is about a guy with this ability to say something and call things out, but inside he's not sure if the moves he's making are correct," Morris continues. "If you as a citizen were in that position, what would you do? That's the question our show asks: If you had all this power to do something, would you do it? Would you use it even if it risks everything you've built?"

The series is dropping at a time when there has been a cultural reckoning in Hollywood and in the world amid the Black Lives Matter movement and continued fights to dismantle racial injustice and systemic racism. Morris said it's "sad" that Woke is entering the TV landscape during a tense moment in America.

"On the creative side, you're like, 'Oh, it's perfect timing,' but on the other side you're like, it sucks because it's always going to be perfect timing. It's always going to be a timely show," Morris thoughtfully answers. "The cool thing about the world now is that we're witnessing it with camera phones. At least it's not hidden, at least Black kids don't go missing in the middle of the night, which happens. When people say it's timely, it genuinely makes me sad."

"But I think a message like Woke needs to be seen and the timeliness will hopefully add to a brighter spectrum, you know what I mean?" he adds. "Like, I can sit down, I can have fun, I can laugh. But let's talk about this for a second, let's talk about what we just saw. I think kids can digest it, younger audiences can become more activated based off something they see and hopefully it gives other artists an opportunity to create whatever their medium may be. Something that can really tell the tale of what's happening in our society."

Morris spent seven seasons playing Winston on New Girl, during which his character became a cop. Morris commented in a June interview with Metro, where he said he felt "strange" playing a police officer and that he was "betraying" the Black community. Months after that interview, he echoed those same sentiments.

"The show, at the time, was [never] really addressing what was happening to people like me. Now it happens to a lot of people, but me speaking for my people, it happens at a higher rate. And so, for me, I was like, 'Can we say something about it? I just feel weird acting like nothing is going on out there,' and it's stuff I never spoke about at the time. My fear as a kid of cops because you grow up wanting to be a police officer, you want to be a firefighter, you want to be all these things, but then on the South Side of Chicago where I grew up, you're taught when you see police you hide a little bit, be on the look out. You're actually looking out for police when you're a kid... That's a fact."

"You get trolls online that want to knock your opinion for that, which is fine, but it's coming directly from a place of sincerity. Wearing a uniform means a lot, especially to the people who put it on, and even if you're going to wear it on a television show, you have to do it justice. I think we were being silly and goofy and joking around a lot and I just thought, 'Man, I don't know if I can rock this uniform that much anymore, and if I have to rock the uniform I'm okay with it as long as we can address... it,'" he explained. "I would still love to play a police officer. Not all police officers behave in a certain way. If I were to play in a project where it was addressing what's going on -- a real look at the reform that needs to happen -- then I think I'd be perfectly fine playing it. Again, it's just a character, but in that moment it kind of hits you in a way where you can't really put your finger on it, but you feel like, 'Man, I don't feel like we're really doing it justice. I feel like we're not addressing the full scope of things.'"

Woke is streaming now on Hulu.

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