LOS ANGELES, Sept. 9 (UPI) -- Woke is a comedy with a message. However, star Lamorne Morris says the show's top priority is to provide entertainment. If viewers learn something from it, that's a bonus.
"It can inform, but at the core of it, it's just to entertain," Morris told UPI in a Zoom call. "At the end of the day, I just want people to rest. Chill, relax, put your feet up, talk about the show."
Morris plays Keef Knight, creator of the hit comic strip Toast and Butter, who experiences a police takedown. The trauma causes him to hear inanimate objects, like a trash can and a magic marker, talk to him about racial issues.
Cedric the Entertainer voices the trash can and JB Smoove voices the marker. Morris hopes the commentary Woke offers about race relations goes down easier since absurd inanimate objects are saying it.
"When you can laugh at something, you're more prone to sharing it or maybe talking about it," Morris said. "The old saying is 'Laughter is the best medicine.'"
One of the issues Woke addresses is an artist's responsibility to speak about issues. Before his arrest, Keef preferred just to draw funny comic strips to make people laugh.
After his encounter with police, Keef struggles with whether to use his fame to raise awareness about racial issues.
Morris feels the ability to simply entertain would be a privilege. Perhaps society's goal should be to create a world in which no more ills exist against which to speak out, he suggests.
"In reality, we do want a world where people can just laugh," Morris said.
He said he related to Keef's struggle because he once was an actor who just wanted to entertain. He went through a similar reckoning while a cast member on New Girl. Morris wrote the 2015 episode "Par 5," inspired by the 2014 Ferguson protests against the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.
In that episode, Winston (Morris), a cop, meets a woman who is going to a police protest. So, Winston lies about being a police officer.
"The reaction that I got was something like I had never gotten before," Morris said. "I started getting asked these political questions and I didn't know anything."
Morris feels he should use his visibility as an actor, and his following on social media, to speak out about social issues. However, he thinks no one should feel pressured to become political if that person wants to stick to entertaining.
"I'll speak to what I do know and try my best to educate myself as much as I can in that field," Morris said. "I don't want to hold anybody hostage to say, 'You must be speaking out.'"
One thing Morris could speak about from personal experience is dealing with police harassment. In 2005 or 2006, Morris recalled, he was leaving the Second City theater in Chicago, Ill., with his friend and his girlfriend.
His car was parked on the street. Even though he had the keys to the car, officers made them lie against the car and handcuffed them.
"[The cops] asked us whose car it was over and over again," Morris said. "I kept saying, 'It's my car. You're literally looking at the registration.'"
The officers told Morris they were investigating reports of someone breaking into vehicles in that neighborhood.
"We were just like, 'Were they also wearing suits? Did they have the keys to those cars they were breaking into?'" Morris said.
When it came time to film the handcuffing scene, it brought back memories of such experiences for Morris. More than for himself, Morris empathized for victims who died during routine police encounters.
"That's happened to pretty much every member of my family, every black dude that I know," Morris said.
Woke completed its first season prior to production shut downs in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In May, video of George Floyd's arrest, which led to his death, surfaced and there were protests against police violence throughout the summer.
The police incident that begins Woke may seem more relevant to viewers now, but Morris said the show would be relevant whenever it was released.
"A lot of times, the conversation stops and we feel like it's over, we cured racism, things are in a better place," Morris said. "Until someone ... posts a video that they just recorded, then again we're faced with that sad truth. It's not going away anytime soon."
As relevant as Woke remains, Morris still hopes it is first seen as a comedy. Any illumination of social issues can come after the show gives you 30 minutes of laughter.
"Hopefully this show will provide some levity and just fun when you want to get a break from all the things going on in the world," Morris said. "The conversation should keep going, but also just laugh."
Woke premieres Wednesday on Hulu.