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The Best Part of Woke Is Its Animated Cameos

There’s a lot going on in Woke, Hulu’s new comedy about a black cartoonist being forced to grapple with racism after a life spent sidestepping it. Any show that uses talking trashcans and bus ads to fuel a poignant conversation about race is already juggling a lot of balls. But it’s exactly through the weirdest of these celebrity cameos that Woke is at its funniest.

Co-created by Keith Knight and Marshall Todd and based on Knight’s experience as a cartoonist, Woke revolves around the deeply painful evolution of Lamorne Morris’ Keef. A beloved cartoonist known for his comic strip Toast and Butter, Keef’s entire life seems to be devoted to being inoffensive. All he wants to do is work on his cartoons and largely ignore politics or anything too controversial. That changes the minute Keef is held up at gunpoint by a group of officers who misidentify him as a suspected robber. This terrifying encounter bursts Keef’s bubble and forces him to recognize his own blackness and the deeply unfair way he’s been treated. To paraphrase Keef’s best friend Clovis (T. Murph) once you’re woke, you can’t go back.

That heavy premise is offset by the main reason Woke is worth your time: Keef’s hallucinations. As Keef tries to fight against recognizing the systematic oppression around him, his newfound anger takes the form of adorable talking objects and cartoons. And Woke takes the cake for some of the funniest celebrity cameos of the year.

Cedric the Entertainer plays a furious and hard-living trashcan who convinces Keef to throw him at a gentrified barbershop. Eddie Griffin and Nicole Byer voice two drugstore malt liquor bottles who take pleasure in laughing at Keef’s looming insanity. Sam Richardson and Tony Hale star as the happy-go-lucky Toast and Butter, two buds who seem to know nothing but syrupy love and good times. And JB Smoove tackles Keef’s biggest foe in this new world: his trusty marker who won’t let him draw his way back to sleep.

All of these cameos are fun on a surface level. It’s always great to hear Nicole Byer’s laugh, and hearing it come from a raunchy and sarcastic liquor bottle is just icing on the cake. But more than that Woke‘s cameos wonderfully mirror Keef’s evolving understanding of racism. Cedric the Entertainer has long called out racism in America for what it is, and his trashcan counterpart mirrors his unbridled and long-spoken honesty. Griffin and Byer represent a differing reaction to this depressing truth, constantly laughing and joking to keep from being crushed by the weight of it all. Richardson and Hale excel at making their characters sound like clueless idiots, spotlighting how naive Keef’s previous cluelessness seems to him now. And then there’s Smoove, a more radicalized, angrier, and younger brand of Cedric the Entertainer’s fire.

Some of these cameos and lines may be a bit heavy handed and clumsy. But isn’t that the point? Woke isn’t the story about a man who’s conscious of his own oppression. It’s one about a black man who has just started to become actively aware of it. It’s a painful, harsh story to swallow. This weird universe just so happens to come with a plethora of cameos to make the medicine a bit sweeter.

Watch Woke on Hulu

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