Welcome to ACTING UP, the place where we celebrate standout performances in TV, streaming, and film. Other than spotlighting exceptional work from recent projects, this feature also shines a light on how certain actors got where they are today. Have a peek and then check out these notable performances to help hone your craft.
The Performer: T. Murph
The Series: Woke
It’s hard to imagine a world where the concepts of police brutality and comedy occupy the same show. But that’s Woke, the smart new series that creatively tackles a myriad of socially relevant themes based on the life of show co-creator and real-world cartoonist Keith Knight.
The show centers around the character “Keef” Knight (played by the über-talented Lamorne Morris from New Girl on Fox), a cartoonist on the verge of breaking through. Keef is enjoying a privileged existence that includes a successful comic book, a pending deal for syndication, and a full and welcomed embrace from white corporate America. That is, until life takes an unforeseen turn after Keef is very publicly manhandled by a few SFPD cops in a case of mistaken identity.
How the incident affects Keef’s life in numerous serio-comedic ways is what drives the show, and luckily, we have Keef’s best friend/roommate Clovis (T. Murph) to help him deal with his newfound wokeness. Conversations between Keef, Clovis and their stony white roommate Gunther (Blake Anderson) are at the heart of what stirs Woke’s provocative commentary on systemic racism — not to mention the two cents of journalist Ayana (SNL alum Sasheer Zamata), who helps them all ponder how Keef’s action (or inaction) will affect his future.
But it is T. Murph’s Clovis, a more jaded soul, who lays out how Keef’s wokeness could upset the apple cart of fame ahead of him. Clovis’ enlightened perspective comes to light in the first episode — prior to Keef’s encounter with police — when they find a white woman’s lost wallet on the sidewalk. Keef’s initial impulse is to turn it into authorities — Clovis’ isn’t.
Keef: We’ve got to turn it in.
Clovis: Oh, so you want to spend the rest of the night explaining why there’s no money in there? What if she’s missing? What if she’s dead and raped in Golden Gate Park?
Keef: Oh my god, why do you always assume the worst?
Clovis: Because when you assume the worst, you can’t be surprised when it actually happens.
Then, after Keef’s life-altering encounter with the cops, when what’s happened to Keef starts to sink in, Clovis recognizes the effect this woke wake-up call has had on his best friend.
Clovis: Houston, we have a problem. This n**** woke. You worked hard not to be that brother, didn’t you? And you felt special. Then the police showed up, and what? They showed you how they feel about specialness?
T. Murph kills it as the friend who tells it like it is, never mincing words in order to deliver the truth. Unfortunately, Clovis’ lack of filter keeps him striking out with the ladies rather comically, and in impressive ways. It’s in these cringeworthy moments where T. Murph’s standup chops lend themselves well to a memorable supporting role that’s central to the smart, thought-provoking series.
There’s a rich history of comedic actors who’ve come up in the Chicago scene over the years, and the 29-year-old T. Murph is looking to call next on a long list that stars people like Bill Murray, the Belushis, Jane Lynch, Garry Shandling, Robin Williams, and even his Woke co-star Morris.
But being born near the Windy City does not offer immediate birthright to success, and to that end, T. Murph’s been working his way through the ranks for the past decade. Amongst others, his TV credits include appearances on Comedy Central’s Key & Peele (2012), truTV’s standup/storytelling showcase (which evokes Drunk History), Laff Mobb’s Laff Tracks (2019) and NBC’s Chicago Fire (2016), which shoots in Chicago. T. Murph also played the role of “T-Ball” in the Epix crime-dramedy series Get Shorty (2018), co-starring Ray Romano and Chris O’Dowd.
As for his standup performances, T. Murph brings an impressive energy and enthusiasm to the stage, having performed in all sorts of places — from NBC’s Diversity Finals Showcase to appearing in HBO’s American Black Film Festival to the Second City Breakout Festival.
Incidentally, T. Murph’s day job used to be in a barber shop, which he called “a haven for comedy” prior to performing on Kevin Hart Presents: The Next Level on Comedy Central — possibly one reason why he ended up getting cast as “Lead Barber” in a Key & Peele sketch that took place inside a barbershop with the great Billy Dee Williams.
With people just becoming woke to Woke, we’ll soon see if T. Murph gets to cut it up as Clovis in a season two. Let’s hope so, as it seems the chronicles of Keef Knight are only just beginning.
Gregg Rosenzweig has been a writer, creative director and managing editor for various entertainment clients, ad agencies and digital media companies over the past 20 years. He is also a partner in the talent management/production company, The Rosenzweig Group.