Bringing Truth to Comedic Characters: An Interview with ‘WOKE’ Co-Star T. Murph
By Sadie Dean • May 11, 2022
T. Murph who plays Clovis in Hulu's 'Woke' shares with Script his comedic journey to becoming an actor, his connection to Clovis and what he personally brings to his character's voice and overall journey, the collaborative and creative process with fellow castmates and the show's creative team, and so much more.
Cartoonist Keef Knight is now a popular activist on the rise, but he's facing a world where "woke" has become big business. Can Keef and his friends bring about real change, or is it just about the dollar$? And can Keef navigate this new world without destroying what he's become? Inspired by the life and work of artist Keef Knight, Woke continues to upend Black nerd and activist culture, deftly satirizing with a wink and a smile.
The series stars Lamorne Morris, T. Murph, Blake Anderson, Sasheer Zamata and JB Smoove.
The creatives behind Woke are not withholding from bringing societal issues to the forefront with a whimsical blend of artistry and comedy. Which all stem from their character's ever-evolving points of view and where and how they fit in the schism that is the "woke" machine we've found the current social climate in.
I had the great honor of speaking with one of the standout co-stars T. Murph who plays Clovis in Hulu's Woke. We discuss his comedic journey to becoming an actor, his connection to Clovis and what he personally brings to his character's voice and overall journey, the collaborative and creative process with fellow castmates and the show's creative team, and so much more.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Sadie Dean: Tell us about your journey, from becoming a comedian to then landing this role as Clovis on Woke?
T. Murph: I actually started out as a barber in my college town of Carbondale, Illinois. And I was doing extremely well as a barber; I had a great list of clientele. But people would always tell me that I missed my calling as a stand-up, because I would just crack jokes in the shop all day long - have people dying of laughter. So, one day, somebody actually said it again, and I just like, ‘Let me see if there's an open mic.’ And I literally went looking because I was like, ‘There's no open mics,’ [laughs] so I don't have to worry about doing this. And I found one - I found an open mic, which just so happened to be right in Carbondale, Illinois every Wednesday at eight o'clock. And I was like, ‘Ah, man.’ [laughs]
Sadie: [laughs] The reality.
T. Murph: Yeah. [laughs] And one day I was just like, ‘I'm going to try it.’ And I told a couple of friends, which were barbers in the barbershop, I told them, and they started inviting everyone. They're like, ‘Hey, Murph's, gonna try stand up man, you gotta come out!’ [laughs] And I went on stage, and I just told stories about things that happen in my life, for like seven or eight minutes and people were laughing. And I was just like, ‘I am the greatest comedian of all time.’ [laughs] That’s kind of what started it all right there - I fell in love with it. I had never had that type of experience before; I had hosted things in my college town, where I got a chance to just crack a joke here and there, but to just literally go on stage and perform stand up for the first time - it was addictive. And literally, it’s the reason why I'm sitting here talking to you right now, because I had never stopped after that time.
Sadie: Thank God for that for that barbershop moment and having your own built-in audience for your first show. For this role on Woke as Clovis, how did that initially come to you, and was there an opportunity for you in making him your own?
T. Murph: Yeah, so I first got the script. It was sent over by my agent at the time. And the audition that they sent me in for was for Keef - they wanted me to read for Keef. And I didn't even get an opportunity to open it up. But as soon as my manager saw it, he responds, ‘Hey, I don't think this role is right for Murph. Let's look at the role of the friend.’ And so, I went ahead and I checked it out, I read it and I was like, ‘Yo, I love this dude.’ [laughs] I'm like, ‘This dude is awesome.' Now understand the Clovis that you all see now is completely different from the Clovis that I read in the early script. So, when I read it, I was just like, this dude is great. He's hilarious. And so, when I got an opportunity to actually audition for it, I just played it as myself. I had a group of friends, comedians, we were all sitting in my living room, and we were reading it and they were giving me bits and pointers and we shot it and sent it over, and the next day, we get the call, ‘Hey, the director wants to have a call with you.’ And I'm like, ‘Wait, what?’ [laughs] At that time I'm on a college tour and I'm doing like 40 or 50 different colleges across the East Coast. And I was in the mountains of Pennsylvania; it was just like one of those things where if I leave from this college, I'm going to miss this call because there'll be no service. So, I sat there, maybe two or three hours away from my hotel. I just sat there and waited on the call. He called me and we talked and he gave me some direction as far as how he wanted to see me play Clovis.
They scheduled for me to come out for a chemistry read with Lamorne. It was one of those things where Lamorne talks about it often, but he had a friend of his that he wanted to get the role, they were good friends, I didn't know Lamorne at the time. And he was like, ‘My friend came in, he did his thing. He's got the role booked. Next up was Murph. And I was thinking when my friend came, we started to riff, and throw some stuff out, so I'm gonna do the same thing with this guy.’ He goes, ‘I started to improv with this guy. And literally, I couldn't keep up.’ [laughs] Lamorne was like, ‘You were out improving me,’ and I was like, ‘Dude as a comic, people are throwing stuff at you all the time from the audience, screaming out stuff or saying things and you got to be able to riff on that.’ And Lamorne said that when I left the room, they all looked at each other and was like, [laughs] 'Well, I guess we know who Clovis is.'
Sadie: That’s amazing. Clovis’ journey from the first season to the second season is really great, in terms of you shaping his voice and making him your own from what you initially read to your personal transformation essentially bleeding into his character – what has that been like for you?
T. Murph: For me, it's been a great journey; one because the writers are very responsive. They're always wanting to know, how would Murph say this? Or how would Murph do this? Or how do you feel Clovis would react in this particular situation? And I love the fact that they actually allow me input in the character, because that allows for it to be believable. And that's one of the things that we want to see come through on screen is that you want to see the character in realistic situations and scenarios. First of all, they write amazing scripts, and then there'll be times where they allow me to freestyle or riff or add my own comedy and or button at the end of a joke or something of that sort. So, this has just been an overall amazing experience, working with everyone on the team, just because everyone is always receptive to your ideas. It's never a situation where they just shut you down, like, ‘Oh, no, that's not gonna happen.’ It’s been a great journey for me, even with the transformation of losing almost 30 or 40 pounds, to coming back, and then the writers are like, ‘OK, we're going to put that in the script.’ A lot of people would have been like, ‘Oh, we got to recast Clovis.’ [laughs]
Sadie: What are you bringing from your background to your characters and comedy as an actor?
T. Murph: Honestly, out of everything that I bring, I just want to bring truth. A lot of times, when you see me on screen, I try to really bring those emotions from past situations or scenarios that have happened, bring those out on screen. One of the things that was added from just the conversation that I had with the writers was the line when I was talking to my dad on the show. And there was an issue where I was talking to him about my mom, and I got upset. And I told him, ‘Do you know how hard it is to take care of someone that never took care of you?’ And that was a line from my real life. Because my father and I had a very similar relationship - actually Clovis and his dad were closer than me and my father ever were. I could remember seeing my dad maybe once or twice in my life. And when he got sick, I'm his oldest child, so I became the power of attorney, and I became responsible for this person. And so now, all of the decisions on his life and his well-being had to come from me. And that's one of the things that I said. And it struck a nerve with the writers, and they were just like, ‘Yo, that is deep.’ And I mean, that's kind of what a lot of children in this country go through in having to take care of people that literally held no responsibility for them. So yeah, that's one of the things with me and this role, just being able to actually bring truth to the character.
Sadie: I’m curious, does the comedy power trio that is you, Lamorne, and Blake all sit in a room with the writers and offer thoughts on character arcs and motivations?
T. Murph: Well, for season one, we definitely did that. We have days where we would literally go and sit with the showrunner and all of the writers in the room. And we would just come up with ideas or read over the script. Or even after a table read, like, ‘Hey, guys, how do you feel about this joke?’ Like I said, the writers are always very receptive to certain jokes, or if they feel like, you could potentially as a comedian, add another button or another option to a joke. And I know, Lamorne a lot of times will sit with the real Keef Knight and discuss Keef's life and the direction that Keef would want the show to go in and how Lamorne could really help take the show to a higher level, as far as like portraying Keef and things that I saw. There are a lot of times where we sit and we talk with the writers or talk with the director, Maurice Marable, who as much as Mo wants to say that he's not a writer or not a showrunner, he's very hands-on. [laughs] And again, very open-minded. Any questions or concerns that we have, we can always give him a call or just talk to him on set. So yeah, we always take the opportunities to meet up with the writers and the creatives to discuss our characters.
Sadie: Is there any inkling for you to ever step into writing?
T. Murph: Definitely. One of the things that I wanted to do is I want to start to talk about, whether it be my college years and that experience, going to college as a Black man at a PWI [laughs] and what having a large Black community where it's like we literally had, we like to say we had an HBCU within a PWI. [laughs] And we're all still very close to this day; we throw parties and throw events, I went to Southern Illinois University, but we have Black Alumni at that school and literally 1,000s of people show up every year to come back, to just celebrate the college experience. I would love to step into a writer role and come up with something along the lines of that.
Woke seasons one and two are available to stream on Hulu.