WOKE Exclusive: Cartoonist Keith "Keef" Knight On How The Hulu Series Adapted His Real-Life Racism Experience

WOKE <font color=red>Exclusive:</font> Cartoonist Keith "Keef" Knight On How The Hulu Series Adapted His Real-Life Racism Experience

The new Hulu series Woke is a semi-autobiographical story based on the comics of Keith "Keef" Knight, and in our recent chat with him we learned about the events in his real life that led to the show!

Cartoonist and comic book creator Keith "Keef" Knight is best known for his comic strips such as The K Chronicles, which have been running since the 1990s. Although his comics have been tackling the status of racism in America since he began his career, his experience with police brutality really helped him define and focus his work.

Woke, which recently launched on Hulu, is a semi-autobiographical take on Keith's life. After watching the series, we were touched by Keith's experience and Lamorne Morris's (New Girl, Game Night, Desperados) portrayal of the lead and wanted to learn more about the real incident.

After chatting with Tigtone actor Blake Anderson, who also stars in Woke, we decided to reach out to Keef ourselves and snag an exclusive interview with him. Knight was happy to chat with us, and we had a really in-depth conversation regarding racism and his description of the events that the show adapted.

To hear our exclusive conversation with Knight, click the podcast player below. We've also included our chat with star Blake Anderson (Workaholics) in the transcript below.

2m 43s Literary Joe: I've been watching your videos. There was one called Red, White, Black, and Blue. It came out before Woke, and I was like, wow, a lot of these things are word for word. One thing that touches me the most is "stop saying slavery was a long time ago. Do you know what else was a long time ago? Jesus. And you all can't get over that."

People pointed out how you talked about Jesus. I'm like, dude, you're talking about an entire race of human beings.

5m 7s Keef Knight: A lot of that stuff was me getting out a lot of my frustrations. We gloss over this ugly history of America so quickly that when you sit to think about it, you're like, wait for a second, this is like 350 years of treating people like things. You can sell them, and you can rape them and make more to sell and stuff like that. We are just glossing over it.

And in my book, my history book, many slave masters treated their slaves like family. And that's what we need to take the time and look at and not treat it like this should only be a February thing, like we should only talk about it in February. Don't talk about anything negative; talk about positive stuff, because we have the vestiges of this stuff happening today. There's so much that we don't talk about.

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So I've made it a point to express it through my comics and through the work that I do and through presentations. Because I found that when they bring diversity or inclusion for people into the workplace, people look at it as like this horror, as this burden, white people will look at it as a burden to go to.

People of color are not comfortable speaking up in any of those situations because, ultimately, that diversity and inclusion person will leave at the end of the day. And what you have left is many white people going, so this is how you feel, working here. You know, they still have to work there, so it's not effective at all.

Everybody who does that work that I've spoken to say, people whispered to them and said, I would like to talk, but I can't talk here. With the work that I do when I go into workplaces or a school and do these presentations, I'm not trying to get anybody else to talk. I'm just telling them about my experience.

And I think because of that, I think people hear what they go through both as a minority in the workplace, but also as white folks who sit there and go, Oh yeah, I've said I don't see color. Which is such a silly - it's not a compliment to say, I am ignoring that you are a black person as if that's like a negative. Like that's the only way I can see you is if I ignore your race, which is what we've been taught that not to see color and this and that. And we should value that. That's what makes this country so amazing and powerful is its diversity.

6m 29s Literary Joe: When I talk about watching Woke, everybody always says that the big difference between Lamorne's character and your actual life is that you were "woke" before you had your experience.

From what I understand, your work has always been willing to challenge the status quo. What happened in your life and the situation that occurred, and how did that affect your work?

7m 9s Keef Knight: I must say the word woke is sort of a loaded term. I can't say I was woke before this happened to me. I was doing comics, addressing racism and police brutality before my incident with the cops. That's what I will say. But I think we all become woke at different times in our lives about different things.

When I was young, a toilet would be so stuffed that the water would start to come up. I'd run out of the bathroom to get help. And then at one point, one time, I don't know what age it was, I lifted the tank. I saw how it works, and I lifted the thing so the water would stop. I became woke about the toilet and how the toilet works. I think that we can become woke about several different things.

But I will tell you a big woke moment for me. I've talked about this in different interviews. I didn't have an official black teacher until I was a junior in college. That's a huge thing. Some studies say if a black student with a black teacher between kindergarten and 12th grade, one black teacher, just one, the likelihood of them going to college goes up 30 to 35% by having one black teacher. Teachers of color across all races are generally the favorite teacher of students. 

It should be a priority. Here's the reason why I think people respond, kids, respond to it. It's because they see such negative images about black men or people of color in general, that when they meet someone in person who is a mentor, who's a teacher, they're like, this does not fit the narrative I've been given, and they respond to that. It's super important.

I had a black American literature teacher when I was a junior in college, and for assignments, he gave us Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, and Ralph Ellison. And when someone said, why are you giving us all-black writers? He said I'm giving you all American writers. That was awoke moment for me. My comics went from keg parties to what it's like to be a black man growing up in America. That was a big moment for me. 

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But the police incident, I lived in San Francisco for at least ten years by that time. I was hanging up posters for my band, the Marginal Prophets, and a police car drove across two lanes of traffic to stop in front of me. He jumps out of the car, and he said, "what are you doing"? I said, "hanging up posters."

I had a stapler in my hand, though, I was like, I'm going to put the stapler down. And he gets on the horn, on the radio, and he says, "I have the suspect." And I said, "what suspect, what are you talking about"? He says, "you fit the description of someone that's been robbing houses in the neighborhood." I said, "what's his description." He said, "six-foot-tall black man." And that's it.

At that time, I had these crazy dreads. I looked like a black sideshow Bob, and anyone would've said that I looked like a black sideshow Bob. So cops started coming in from all over the place. I remember thinking, wow, "this is the thing that I've been writing about." And I took the time as a Cartoonist to observe what's going on and trying to catch people's eyes.

But that wasn't the thing that freaked me out so much as my white roommate jumping off the bus and then coming at the cops and screaming bloody hell and going "get the F away from him" and seeing the cops turnaround and be like, "take it easy, man." They were mellow. And we do that on the show with Blake Anderson's character.

That was super important for me to get that because it was the real moment that made me double and triple down the work that I was doing. And I was probably doing it once every three weeks. After that, I was probably doing it three weeks out of four weeks, running about this stuff.

It's just one of those things, and it happened to me 20 years ago. So when people sit there and go, "Whoa, how did you know this! It's so right on time". Racism is evergreen. It's all the time. Police brutality has been going on forever. That's what I talk about a little bit in the slideshow.

Police evolved from slave patrols. They were poor whites hired to track down black slaves to keep them in order. That's exactly what police departments do; they keep the black and brown community in order—nickel and diming them in different ways. It's called different things, but it's the same.

I was listening to a guy the other day on some podcast about how, when he was first going to prison, they put him in chains, they put all these guys in chains, and they linked them all up, and they load them onto a bus. And he said, it felt like a slave ship, and they get stuffed onto this bus, and their names are no longer valid. They are numbers and these dudes are screaming at them, the guards, and they lose their lives.

And they get shipped to this penitentiary and its the same thing as a slave ship, going to this place and becoming a slave because it is still legal in this country to make somebody work. Now they pay them pennies a day. But prisoners make lingerie, car parts, computer parts, fight fires, and get paid pennies a day. We do this with millions of people in this country.

If it takes drawing cartoons to get people to get this stuff. It's ironic. More Americans learned about the Tulsa, Oklahoma riots through Watchmen, and the show Lovecraft Country about how racist Lovecraft was. Thank goodness for this art that we're able to use it to teach people. If that's how people are going to learn, then we have to do more of it.

*This interview has been edited for clarity. Audio is co-hosted by fellow writer Comic Brooks and cosplay actress Darth Lexii.*


 
New comedy series, Woke, follows Keef, An African-American Cartoonist finally on the verge of mainstream success when an unexpected incident changes everything. Keef must now navigate the new voices and ideas that confront and challenge him, all without setting aflame everything he’s already built.

Season 1 of Woke is now streaming on Hulu.

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