Sherman’s Showcase is a hard show to explain but a very easy one to fall in love with. The creators of one of the smartest sketch comedy series being made today have “35 to 40 years” of comedy experience between them, but writers Diallo Riddle and Bashir Salahuddin still get surprised by reality. Their IFC sketch comedy series features a conceit that lets them experiment with all sorts of genres, as the series is framed around a fictional long-running TV show hosted by the titular Sherman (Salahuddin). While the show is reminiscent of Soul Train and other variety shows, it’s also packed with tons of musical parodies, dance numbers, and wildly creative choices.
The first season aired last summer, but IFC greenlit a Black History Month special that ended up getting scheduled for June (don’t worry, they make it part of the joke), and the day after this interview was conducted, Sherman’s Showcase was renewed for a second season. This is great news because as you’ll see below, they have tons of ideas for other musical genres they want to try. Also, their talents extend beyond just celebrating genres: They also have an uncanny knack for things like writing a song about kente cloth months before House Democrats decided to don the traditional fabric. The below interview has edited and condensed for clarity.
Collider What’s your writing process like? Do you write a bunch of sketches and then, especially the first season, figure out what should be in which episode?
RIDDLE: The process of writing the first season was quite different than writing the Spectacular. For the first season, we literally spent the first two weeks just writing anything that made us laugh and really taking a sketch comedy approach to it. It was once we looked at the ideas for sketches that we have, were like “Oh, we can group these together in themes.” And then it was once we were writing the connective tissue between the sketches for the whole season that we were like, “Oh, you guys, you know what would be crazy is if we, or brazy, would be nuts is if we took a little piece of this episode, a little piece of this episode, and we actually told a story that by the time you get to Episode 8, you’re like, “Oh, it actually is kind of a sketch show, but there also is a slight narrative for the entire first season.”
With the Spectacular we were just like, look, they’re giving us an hour of time, that we actually thought was going to be in February during actual Black History Month. we had a whole hour of time. So let’s make sure that every single second of this special pops. Like, we’re not SNL. We don’t have to have every sketch last for eight minutes. We’re going to make sure that every single sketch, whether it’s 30 seconds or five minutes, is going to be great. That was the approach we took with the special.
There are some incredible cameos. Who’s the one you were most surprised said yes?
SALAHUDDIN: For me personally, it was Jemele Hill. Love her, loved her on ESPN and it’s one of those “if you build it, they will come” moments. So many people who you see on the special were there because they saw Diallo’s Instagram of us shooting, and they were like “That looks fun. What are y’all doing down there?”
Jemele had been watching on TV and was like, “I love this show.” One of our favorite TV shows is The Muppet Show. It actually, in some ways, it’s the biggest influence on Sherman with the onstage and backstage craziness. But one of our favorite characters in there is Sam the Eagle, who just doesn’t like anything that they do, so we were like, “Jemele, we know you love our show, but we want you to come on and pretend that this show is just stupid buffoonery and you can’t believe people watch it. And she was down for it and we had a blast.
RIDDLE: I was actually most impressed and pleased with John Legend’s own cameos in the episode.
SALAHUDDIN: That’s true, he killed it.
RIDDLE: Because he’s in a few different sketches, he’s able to play straight man to my buddy Bashir, who it’s hard to play the straight man with. And then he shows up again, as this Duke Ellington character in our Harlem Renaissance sketch. And he is playing the piano and being funny at the same time. It’s nuts to see him use so many different crafts in every single frame. And so I just felt like John killed it.
It almost feels unfair, that he’s that good at both comedy and music.
RIDDLE: Stop being handsome and talented and funny, dude. Come on man. And he’s also a good dad. He disgusts me, if I’m being honest. By the way, that should be the only headline.
For sure, thank you for doing my work for me. I apologize if I missed him, does Michael Ealy only show up for one scene?
RIDDLE: Well, I was going to lie about it, but yes, that’s right. It’s a funny story because he was basically in the area that day and we have a mutual friend, who’s a producer on the show. The producer was like, “Hey, Michael Ealy is around — do you have anything for him to do?”
SALAHUDDIN: But even before that, he told us Ealy likes the show and was like, “Yeah he’s on set today because we are shooting something else.” And then we’re like, “So, can he come over here right now real quick?” Because we definitely have a more-the-merrier vibe. We called some of the writers, me and Diallo sat there and wrote a sketch for him. And we loved it because it was the right amount of size and time for what he could do. But we’re also so stoked that he liked the show and wanted to be a part of it. Sometimes all you need is one good joke, and we loved the joke we wrote for him. Then he comes in, and he kills it. So it was really great.
It’s great that he was game.
RIDDLE: Yeah, because you know, sometimes people are not game to make fun of themselves. And I feel like that’s one thing that really Sherman’s Showcase really allows people to do. We’re not mean people. So, I always think a lot of people who will come on and do like one or two lines that sort of poke fun at themselves and then they move on. That’s pretty cool.
So, one sketch I really want to make sure we talk about is “Add Some Kente,” because did you have any conception that it would become extraordinarily relevant?
RIDDLE: Well, we’re psychic. We have our little crystal balls and we saw that visual humor and we were like, “Let’s do a sketch about that.” No, it’s really weird that cause we, here’s the story behind Add Some Kente. We had the very rhythm in her hand, a melody that we really liked. We wanted to do a house song with it, Bashir was actually the one who, after we were like tormenting ourselves, trying to up with a subject matter for the song. He was like, what about Add Some Kente? And again, it’s one of those times when you hear it, you’re immediately like, “Oh, that’s a good idea.” And so we proceeded to write the song based on that concept. And then, because I felt like any black person either has some Kente or knows somebody with some Kente cloth.
SALAHUDDIN: It’s a big thing in Black culture. In fact, growing up, I thought, much like the holiday of Kwanzaa, that Kente cloth was a African-American creation. I didn’t know that it came from West Africa, because it was just so prevalent in our household, and so prevalent in our communities. If you mentioned Kente cloth, Black folks know what that is. We all grew up with it. And so, for us to say, “Alright, it’s Black History Month, Add Some Kente,” all the writers were like, “We get it, we love it. We know what it means.”
RIDDLE: But obviously, we couldn’t have known what was coming.
SALAHUDDIN: We had no idea.
RIDDLE: By the way, even in the video for “Add Some Kente,” I play the DJ and I have a mask on and people were like, “So wait, y’all have on a COVID mask, and you’re wearing Kente, like the House Democrats — how did this happen?” It’s just one of those weird things. The only reason I’m wearing a mask is because I’ve always looked up to Daft Punk and Deadmau5 and all these DJs who have things that obscure their face and I just thought that would be cool. So, it’s just by happenstance that it’s a gas mask.
Did you guys immediately text each other when those photos came out?
RIDDLE: My family on the East coast was texting me, like within seconds of the visual, they were like, “Oh my God, y’all got Pelosi to do Add Some Kente. It was like, I wish I had that pull man. They were like, “This is the ultimate celebrity shout out.” So we just, yeah, people were texting all that morning and I actually called up the record label, Mad Decent, which is putting out our soundtrack. And I was like, Hey guys, let’s move up the release of “Add Some Kente” to this week. And so they released it in like two days, but people definitely thought that we had like some quick-strike sketch team that jumped into action seconds after that visual aired and just shot something. But no, that’s not the case. We just lucked out.
You got to play with a lot of genres in this episode and in general, you’ve gotten to play with a lot of genres over the course of the series. What’s on your bucket list of things you still need to try?
SALAHUDDIN: I kind of want to say everything because we just love every kind of music. I mean, once I would love to do something in the vein, for example, of the Pet Shop Boys. We did a little bit of soul, but I wouldn’t mind doing another sort of like a Teddy Pendergrass-type of soul character. And Diallo’s had this idea for a while to do one of those big black bands that has way too many members. The Commodores, back in the day, had 11 people and there’s always like, “How y’all going to get 11 checks cut, to make everybody happy?” So, this idea that you have this band that has way too many members.
I think definitely the funk soul era of the big bands is another thing we want to do. Old school big band stuff might be good. I mean, we want to do pretty much everything.
RIDDLE: There are two genres that, and I was really happy that in the Spectacular, we finally did a house song. Cause I wanted to do that in Season 1, but we never got around to it. We finally did a dance hall song, “Whoop De Kids,” which I hope nobody actually whoops their kids when they hear that song. But I was so happy that Phonte Coleman delivered an amazing dance hall track in the Spectacular.
The two genres that I really want to hit the next time we do something with Sherman, I want to do some Reggaeton. We’ve never done a Spanish song. And I feel like we got to do it for all our Dominican, Panamanian fans, we got to do that in some wonderful Spanish language. And I also want to do African. I want to do the new Afrobeat that’s out there with artists like Wizkid and Joanna, I want to do something with the Afrobeat pop. The Afro-pop that’s really big right now.
And I definitely want to do it a Miami bass song, cause I grew up in the South in the 90s and we had 2 Live Crew and Uncle Luke and like, Gucci Crew and like all these forgotten groups doing that.
One thing I wanted to ask about is the dancing, because it’s one of those things where, I feel like there’s maybe the expectation that if you’re doing a comedy show, certain details don’t need to be extremely well done. But the dancing is always just like on its own level, just objectively fantastic.
RIDDLE: I’m so happy you brought that up. Cause we haven’t talked about that enough. The Spectacular opens with an incredible opening dance number. My wife is a choreographer on the show. She’s danced for Beyonce. She’s been a dancer her entire life and when we were casting the showcase dancers who, quite honestly, we want them to be just as famous as The Fly Girls and the Solid Gold Dancers. We really see them as like their own comedic group. We found great dancers, but we also did a second audition where we tested their comedy chops.
SALAHUDDIN: Triple threat, man. It’s kind of old school. We wanted triple threats, acting and dancing, people deserve to see that. So, we got some great people, and Diallo’s wife is an incredible choreographer who, the dancers aren’t just good, they’re specific. They’re so specific. There’s nothing generic about the dancers you see on Sherman’s Showcase.
In terms of looking forward, where do things stand with Season 2?
RIDDLE: Right now, yes, we are waiting to hear what comes next for Sherman’s. But you know, we talk about it all the time. Whether we do a whole other season or we just come back for a couple of specials, we’re always anxious and ready and excited to enter the weird, unique world that Sherman McDaniels has created.
Do you feel like that world kind of, do you feel like you already knew exactly what that world was when you first started writing the show?
SALAHUDDIN: I think between the two of us, we have so much experience — we probably have 35 to 40 years of comedy experience. And so, the thing about it is, we didn’t know what Sherman’s Showcase was going to look like when we started. But I think we were very aware of knowing the feeling we were expecting when we got it right. And I think that when we started looking at the edits and things started coming together and we started seeing how all of the music and comedy and dance came together, and then some of the pieces we did begin to transcend our own expectations — then we knew we were on the right track.
RIDDLE: And by the way, I think that the real truth is that we can do anything on Sherman’s. If we have an idea for a movie, we do a fake movie trailer. If we have an idea for a song, we’d make it. If we have an idea for a TV show, we do an ad for it, like really Sherman’s Showcase is the opportunity for us to really just do whatever we want. And, this is the result of it. It’s just an explosion of every sort of fun idea that we’ve had sort of executed for that. I’m just so grateful.
Are you already writing, or do you just have a mental list of ideas that you have in mind for the future?
RIDDLE: We keep a running document. I know for a fact that I have saved to my email drafts an email like “Sherman ideas” and that anytime something happens — whether it’s a song, a movie or a TV show, a weird character, something that Sherman can do, I put it in that email. I keep it locked and loaded for the second that they say, “Hey guys, we want to do some more.”
Sherman’s Showcase: Black History Month Spectacular premieres Friday, June 19 at 10PM ET/PT on AMC and 11PM ET/PT on IFC.