Artist Keith Knight keeps it real during visit to Duke Comedy Class

Cartoons can take a simple concept and impact lives.

That was the message cartoonist Keith Knight shared with an audience on a Thursday evening at the NorthStar Church of the Arts. Knight shared slides of his most impactful comic strips, including one that may have potentially influenced national policy.

Knight was the special guest on Oct. 3, for Prof. Mark Anthony Neal’s course, “Dick Gregory and the History of Black Comedy.” The course features guest appearances by professional comedians, critics and screenings of rare and/or classic films. And is free and open to the public on Thursdays where it is held off-campus in a renovated church.

The course is taught with the support of Dr. Christian C. Gregory, executor of the Estate of Dick Gregory and the Estate of Jenny Lillian Semans Koortbojian.

An award-winning artist, Knight showed many of his strips which tackle difficult issues such as police brutality, discrimination and politics – but with a humorous spin.

A particularly resonant comic strip that tackled the issue of gay rights in the military may have influenced President Obama to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” said Knight, zooming in on a photo of the president with Knight’s comic strip visible in a folded newspaper on his desk just months after his strip ran.Mark Anthony Neal introduces Knight

“Drawing helps me work out issues,” said Knight, a Boston-native who now splits his time between Carrboro and Los Angeles where he is the subject an upcoming Hulu series, “Woke,” a live-action, animated comedy.

“I really enjoy the creative process, I really enjoy being in the writer’s room with other funny people and we’re all just trying to make each other laugh,” Knight said.

The series is based on Knight’s autobiographical comic strip, “The K Chronicles,” which was syndicated, running in publications like Salon.com and the San Francisco Chronicle.  Now he shares his work online with subscribers.

“The Internet has been amazingly helpful because people are not reading newspapers anymore,” Knight said. “Syndicates used to sign 15-year deals. And you used to be able to get into 500 to 1000 papers around the world. Now getting in 50 papers in huge.”