Attempting to describe the IFC comedy Sherman’s Showcase feels like haphazardly pulling a handful of TV genres from a grab bag. Ostensibly a parody of dance variety shows à la Soul Train, this sketch comedy casts a wide pop culture net; it’s the kind of show that has original songs, fake ads starring Frederick Douglass as pitchman, a heist sketch about classic ‘60s Motown artists planning to rob Berry Gordy (with Gordy coming out on top, of course), and, oh yeah, a sci-fi subplot that runs through the whole first season. There’s no term that pithily sums all of that up, and even if there was it wouldn’t fully encapsulate the unadulterated creative joy that is Sherman.
“I think the thing about Sherman that I like is that it is so incredibly original,” co-creator Bashir Salahuddin tells me over the phone. Salahuddin stars as the magnanimous host himself, Sherman McDaniels, alongside his longtime collaborator and fellow co-creator Diallo Riddle, who appears on screen as the showcase’s producer, Dutch Shepherd.
“Even though the form of it looks like something from the ancient past, the variety show—that’s from the ‘60s and ‘70s, we don’t even have those nowadays—and yet, because we have that format, because we have this ability in that show to do whatever we want to do, we can do spaghetti westerns, we can do, you know, commercials for like cheap cologne,” Salahuddin says.
“In the Sherman’s Showcase ‘Spectacular’ we have this really great sketch based on Downton Abbey about the Harlem Renaissance,” he continues. “Because it allowed Diallo and I to have fun with every single one of our interests, it then now becomes something that is unlike anything else on television, and I think that’s actually the strength and power of it.”
The timing of their “Black History Month Spectacular”—out on Juneteenth because hey, that’s just how Sherman operates—couldn’t be more apt considering the ongoing George Floyd protests.
“I certainly feel like this is one of the few times in my life, even more so than 9/11, where there is a sense that everybody’s doing the same thing, everybody’s affected,” Salahuddin explains. “Folks either have to be home [due to the pandemic] or those who are out protesting are out going protesting with their neighbors, friends and families, etc., so this does feel like we’re in one of those moments and I think for us as people who’ve been blessed to create comedy, you know, we feel like we’re going to continue to do the thing that God blessed us to do. We’re thankful for the platform to do it and we’re thankful that we get to try and at least give people a little bit of an oasis.”
“As far as being a creator of comedy in this period, I’ve been telling people that what Bashir and I tend to do day-to-day has not changed drastically, ‘cause we’ve always written our humor from a place of truth and that truth is now, you know, becoming more apparent to more and more people,” Riddle adds. “And I think that, you know, when they watch things like our ‘Spectacular,’ our Black History Month episode on Friday, they will—they’re gonna laugh at it and hopefully they’ll realize that, you know what? People from backgrounds not like mine, we can all laugh at a lot of the same stuff because truth is universal.”
Embracing truth while also honoring the variety of Black experiences is what makes Sherman’s Showcase work so well (beyond, obviously, how hilarious it is). Salahuddin recalls asking the show’s fans at the ATX Television Festival what else they were watching or listening to in order to get a sense of their cultural palates, and found himself heartened when each answer was different. The mix of responses echoed his own feelings about the diversity of Black experiences.
“Look, the idea that there is a singular Black experience is false,” Salahuddin says, later adding, “Each of us comes from a different place. Each of us has a different life. There’s lots of overlap and there’s obviously a shared culture, but there’s so many differences.”
The duo’s upending of expectations also adds to the appeal of Sherman’s Showcase. On the “Black History Month Spectacular,” they bring in reality stars Tom Sandoval and Tom Schwartz from Bravo’s notoriously very white show Vanderpump Rules. Riddle was familiar with the pair thanks to his wife’s love for the Real Housewives spin-off, and was surprised when he saw them at the Sherman’s Showcase premiere party.
“They have sort of a two-hander dynamic the same way that Bashir and I do,” Riddle explains. When he met them at the party, inspiration struck. They needed white actors for the special, and the Toms fit the bill.
“I was like, ‘I think we can use them in the Black History Month Spectacular,’ which is not something I think Schwartz and Sandoval ever predicted would be said about them,” Riddle says with a laugh. “They came on, they’re funny, they’re very talented comedic actors and they were willing to do some very risky, edgy material, but I think that speaks to the fact that they are open. You know, a lot of the Vanderpump Rules people are going down for being the opposite. Those two guys, you know, they’re open to the perspectives of people who don’t look like them, and that’s to their credit.”
Riddle and Salahuddin’s senses of humor are also informed by their large families. Growing up, they found joy in goofing off with their loved ones, and coincidentally, Sherman’s Showcase itself has evolved into a family affair. Riddle’s nephew Songe works as the show’s animator, creating the Funk Monster cartoon for the colorful opening credits and the charming Peanuts tribute on the “Black History Month Spectacular.” Salahuddin’s younger sister Zuri shines as one of the show’s breakout performers. She sings the sexy-meets-spiritual number “Drop It Low (For Jesus)” and the Spectacular’s strangely prophetic song, “Add Some Kente” (recorded months before Democratic leaders decided that donning some kente cloth would be a good response to protests against police brutality).
“If you put Zuri in your show, Hollywood… it’s gonna hit different,” Riddle says.
Sherman’s Showcase has thankfully been renewed for a second season, this time on both AMC and IFC. Even though Riddle and Salahuddin are in no rush to film until conditions are safe, they already have ideas for more guest stars, from the Obamas to rapper DaBaby. The likes of Vic Mensa, Tiffany Haddish, Ne-Yo, executive producer John Legend and others appeared during the first season.
“I found out last night Lil Jon is a fan of Sherman’s Showcase. I feel like we gotta figure out something for Lil Jon,” Riddle mentions. “Snoop has said he wants to do something on Sherman’s.”
Needless to say, the sophomore season of Sherman’s Showcase promises to be just as wildly entertaining as the first. Until then, we can tide ourselves over with their “Black History Month Spectacular” and find plenty of laughs and universal truths in a time when both are wholly necessary.
The Sherman’s Showcase “Black History Month Spectacular” airs on AMC and IFC tonight, June 19.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast, hibernophile and contributing writer for Paste’s music and comedy sections. She also exercises her love for reality TV at HelloGiggles every now and then. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.