There’s spoilers ahead for the Woke pilot “Rhymes with Broke,” so you know, you’ve been warned.
This episode’s TL;DR: “I am the sausage. And just so we’re all on the same page, the sausage factory is the systemic oppression directed at people of color here in America and we have got to tear the entire system to shreds!”
Woke is technically a comedy. But it’s that kind of comedy where you’re telling jokes and laughing because the only other option is to cry. It’s inspired by the comix of co-creator Keith Knight. Woke follows Keef (Lamorne Morris), a fictionalized version of Knight. Keef is also a Black cartoonist. But he doesn’t much like rocking the boat when it comes to racial politics. But when police attack him for fitting the description of a “six-foot Black man,” he starts to see things differently—literally. Let’s get into the toast and butter of it all.
We meet Keef and his two roommates, Clovis (T. Murph) and Gunther (Blake Anderson). Keef’s about to make bank because his comic strip, Toast -N- Butter, is getting national syndication. The announcement’s gonna take place at San Francisco’s fictional comic con, Golden Con.
So, this show takes place in San Francisco! I grew up in the Bay Area. It’s truly the perfect setting for this show because so many people there are passively racist. They know all people are created equal. They’ll march in protests. But they still wouldn’t move to that neighborhood. Side note: Woke is cleverly shot in Vancouver, the San Francisco of the neighbours to the north.
Later, while riding the BART, Keef has a microaggressive encounter with a White Fan (Ryan Dumontel). I mean, he’s wearing a hoodless fleece zip up. White Fan is surprised to learn that Keef is
Black so tall. Keef waves off the dude’s racism, saying it happens all the time.
Even later, Keef heads over to a comic shop, where he meets another fan, Ayana (Sasheer Zamata). She tells him her favorite part of Toast -N- Butter is that it talks about racism in America. Keef says she’s reading way too much into it. Eh, she’s a journalist. He asks if people of color are always required to say something with their work. She’s clearly disappointed in him, pointing out he’s making a statement just by existing. They both have valid arguments. Are we, as minority artists, required to do more than make the art we want to make? Or, until we reach equality, has that choice been taken away from us?
Keef and Clovis meet up, just as he’s finishing giving his number to a woman. Turns out, Clovis pretended to be Baron Davis, a basketball player he looks nothing like. But, Clovis makes the dicey comment that he’s Black and Davis is Black and the girl he gave his number to is Filipino (sic) and that anything about 5’5’’ is tall to them. A seemingly small moment, a seemingly throwaway line…
Then, they find a white woman’s wallet on the street. There’s no cash in it. Keef wants to bring it to the police. Clovis asks him if he really wants to spend all night at the station and chucks the wallet across the road.
Whew. That all took place before the opening credits.
Gunther calls a house meeting. He wants to get his buddies to invest in selling cocaine. Except he insists on calling it energy powder. Honestly, Gunther is the whole vibe of white maleness.
Next day, Keef is putting up flyers in the park. Out of nowhere, at least five white SFPD police attack him. They make him drop his “weapon” (a stapler). They knock him to the ground. Cuff him. They say he matches “The Suspect.”
Gunther runs up and starts attacking the police. They put away their weapons, even though he’s poking them in the chest. The cops’ guns are still trained on Keef even as one of them shouts that he’s not the mugger.
Keef is disoriented as he gets up. Gunther “can’t believe they did us like that.” When Gunther asks Keef if he’s OK, he lies and waves it off, like it was NBD. But he’s clearly not alright. I mean he calls their apartment a flat.
So, now the fantastical stuff starts happening. Some 40oz bottles (Nicole Byer and Eddie Griffin) talk to Keef when he goes to the convenience store to buy water. They tell him his third eye is finally open after the police assaulted him. Or, in layman’s terms, he’s woke.
Keef’s syndicates, Bloom & Hill, are stoked that there’s a bread company that wants to license his characters; that there’s now action figures. Keef’s more (correctly) concerned with the fact that they’ve whitened his headshot and that they think it’s great that his readership don’t think he’s “too” Black. Oh and that pictures and objects keep talking to him.
After that mind-eff of a meeting, Keef goes to seek solace in his local barbershop, but it’s been taken over by white hipsters. Who have kept all the original magazines, photos on the wall, and serve Hennessy. What they think is an homage is next-level gentrification. Like me, Keef just can’t. He bolts. Luckily, Cedric the Entertaining Trash Can encourages him to Do the Right Thing and trash the joint. Hipsters are the worst.
That night, Keef is watching an antique show when a spoon (Wes Studi) on screen starts talking. It corrects that, no, thank you, it was not a gift from the Sioux tribe; but, rather an object they stole from the Yocha Nation during a massacre that involved a lot of horse rape.
Clovis and Gunther wanna know why Keef is raving about horse rapists. Gunther wonders if Keef’s rant’s got anything to do with his earlier assault. When Keef mentions that the police would have shot Gunther if he were Black, Clovis realizes that Keef is finally woke. Keef admits that’s it not that he didn’t know that that kinda stuff happens. He just thought it happened to the Clovises of the world, not him. Clovis brushes that off and warns Keef that for the sake of his career, he better maintain his previous attitude at Golden Con the next day. Because “broke” rhymes with woke. Eff.
Next day, at Golden Con, it’s safe to say that Keef does not maintain. He’s motivated by his now-talking trusted Marker (JB Smoove) and a bit of a devil on both shoulders situation with the characters of Toast -N- Butter (Sam Richardson and Tony Hale). It’s what’s probably years and years of suppressed anger finally coming up. The final straw is a white dude in literal blackface (Gabe Khouth) saying green lives matter.
Keef’s manifesto/breakdown is equal parts funny and bizarre, with just a smattering of preachy—Woke in a nutshell. Things go downhill when Keef starts physically attacking the characters only he can see. So, to his audience, it looks like he’s punching thin air—or dancing. The audience starts fleeing when he starts tearing up the posters of Toast and Butter. One member of the audience, however, approves this message—Ayana.
Keef’s roomies and girlfriend (Alvina August) are waiting outside the theater for him, to tell him that maybe, just maybe, he didn’t ruin his career. But Keef just needs some alone time to walk it off. This leads him to get mugged and hugged by the guy the police “mistook” him for. The mugger (Jarret John) is grateful that he didn’t get caught, but you know, not grateful enough to not take Keef’s BART card.
We end with all the words Keef has heard from (usually) inanimate objects throughout the day coming back to him. He’s got a new sense of purpose. What is he gonna do now that he knows about his superpower?
Wow. That was a lot to take in. When it was funny, it was funny. There was also so much being said that it’s gonna take me a while to digest it. It’s also absolutely obvious that Keith Knight knows San Francisco. The vibe, the culture, the people are on point. Also on point? The wardrobe and Lamorne Morris in this role. When Keef feels like he’s losing his mind, I could feel the decades of generational trauma, the gaslighting, the exhaustion piled up—it’s visceral. Fantastical and supernatural elements are a wonderful way to explore things people have a hard time talking about.
That all being said, as far as pilots go, the set up was a mix of interesting and awkward. What did you think about the pilot? Are you excited for more? Join me next time as I recap episode two of Woke, here on Geek Girl Authority.
Season One of Woke is streaming on Hulu now.
Check out more Woke recaps, here!