In the second episode of Adult Swim’s new live-action comedy Black Jesus, Maggie—a member of the titular character’s crew of disciples—is glued to her phone. The sharp-tongued woman, played by Kali Hawk (Peeples, Bridesmaids) is having a Facebook moment. Someone she knows on the social network has taken her comment the wrong way, and an insult war begins. Not one to shy away from confrontation, online or in real life, Maggie shoots off a “come at me” challenge, despite getting some much better advice from her pal, Black Jesus.
“The thing that I like about Maggie is that she doesn’t back down,” says Hawk. “Well, she doesn’t back down—but sometimes she should.” Hawk adds that telling a Facebook foe to come find you is not something she would advise doing.
“Don’t let internet anger cause you to suffer real world consequences.”
Maggie’s various situations contribute to the various comical events that make up every half-hour episode of Black Jesus. Set in Compton, California, Jesus has returned to befriend, and maybe help out, a small group of people. He tries to persuade his pals to make the right decision, to stay away from the squabbles and drama that just make life more difficult. The good advice he doles out—like, “don’t respond to the girl mocking you on Facebook and don’t end up in a street fight with her later tonight”—is often ignored. Hawk notes that this is where a lot of the show’s comedy comes from. She points to the frustration that’s evident every time Jesus tries to point his friends away from the decisions that will cause more problems later. She likens him to Willy Wonka trying to deal with the kids in the chocolate factory.
“He’s just exhausted in trying to help people,” Hawk says, adding, “but they never take his advice, and have to learn the hard way.”
Hawk’s character came along later in the development of the show. Once Maggie did appear, it took some time and care to nail down the character. During table readings, co-creator Aaron McGruder encouraged Hawk to use her everyday voice for Maggie. Hawk realized that he was watching how she, not the character, interacted with the rest of the cast, and that made all the difference. Moreover, Hawk worked with the costume designer to help establish a look for Maggie that would reveal parts of her character.
“[We were] building the character from the outside in,” she says. It was important to be aware of the fact that Maggie is the only girl in the group. The letterman’s jacket and beanie that Maggie wears is part of that image, giving a “masculine edge” to a female character. “She almost kind of seems like she goes the extra mile to fit in with these dudes, and that’s where the comedy is,” says Hawk. Later on, she adds that we’ll see some changes in Maggie’s personality and style over the course of the show.
Prior to its premiere Black Jesus, caused quite a stir amongst religious groups who automatically wrote off the series as blasphemous. At the height of the hoopla, Hawk’s attitude was “Watch the show.” Now, four episodes into the series, she says that the sentiments are changing. “A lot of the haters have turned into fans,” Hawk says. Now that people have actually seen the show, she says, they also see that Jesus’ role is to try and help others. That turn of the tide has been good for a show that has brought in a very healthy audience.
Hawk says she wish it could have happened even sooner, but she’s happy that Black Jesus has “found a warm place in their hearts”.
Liz Ohanesian writes about pop culture from her base in Los Angeles. For updates, follow her on Twitter or Facebook.