Although Black History Month is in February, Bashir Salahuddin and Diallo Riddle, creators and stars of the fictional musical variety show ‘Sherman’s Showcase,’ have still found a way to celebrate—and it’s quite spectacular.
Sherman’s Showcase’s one-hour special, the “Black History Month Spectacular,” will be premiering this Friday, June 19, and the 60 minute extravaganza will have everything you know and love about the popular comedy series, but with a hyper-focus on black history and an influx of star-studded guests. Although the celebration was originally delayed, the show seems to be coming out at a pivotal moment in American history. With the country’s current climate still in unrest over the death of George Floyd and the upcoming anniversary of Juneteenth, this showcase actually holds meaning now more than ever.
Both Salahuddin and Riddle sat down with Metro to give a more in depth look at why they made this particular special and how they took inspiration from their own experience growing up to make it.
Why did you decide to do a special?
Riddle: Initially, we were told that we would be able to do a special at some point during the year, and we asked for the month of February so we could do a Black History Month special. They said sounds great, but then at some point, they came back and said well we don’t have any slots available in February…how do you feel about June? We were like, it’s a Black History Month special, and that’s in February—but then we actually realized we can use this to our advantage, let’s just call it ‘The Black History Month Spectacular….in June.’ No idea obviously that June would turn out to be sort of a flashpoint in American history, and there are all these people that have been online recently that have said we need our Black History Month moment now. It wasn’t by design that it would end up in June and it definitely wasn’t by design that it would end up on Juneteenth, but as it turns out, there’s probably no better time to be doing this special episode of ‘Sherman’s Showcase’ than right now.
You’re right. I was going to ask what you thought of the timing with this special and currently what’s happening in the country.
Salahuddin: Absolutely. First and foremost, we are just grateful to have a TV show period. I always looked at ‘Sherman’s Showcase’ as a big toy box of Diallo and my’s interests. I think oftentimes when it comes to the black viewer and the black tv creator, there’s an assumption that there is only certain things they will do and certain things they like. But you know, when we were taking the show out for the first time and going to festivals with it—we would always ask people and especially the black folks there, what do you watch on TV, what do you like? Invariably, the answers were always different and unique to that person. So for us, that just emboldened our results, let’s just make this thing. We love it, this is the stuff we watch and this is the kind of show that we want to see and we feel blessed that the audience showed up and said hey we like a lot of this, let’s have fun.
What went into creating this specific special airing on June 19?
Riddle: We shoot over the course of two and a half days, we’re a very tightly budgeted show, but that’s sort of the industry standard. The less money they give you, the more creative input you have, and I think in this case, the reason why ‘Sherman’s Showcase’ has come out as unique as it is, is because we don’t have a lot of money to do it and we’ve been really able to stretch our dollar. A lot of that really has to do with a person who’s not in this conversation, Matt Piedmont, he’s our director and genius. He knows how to shoot something to make it look like we have a million-dollar budget. He really knows where to put the lights, his whole team and his whole creative staff—because he tends to work with the same DP and the same art director—everybody came to ‘Sherman’s’ out of love for the project, and that was no different here with the ‘Spectacular.’ We learned a lot shooting season 1, and so when we got the band back together for the special, everyone knew what our limitations were but we also knew how to use those limitations in a weird way to really push the envelope.
Salahuddin: I really feel like ‘Sherman’s Showcase’ represents in some way for us, our PhD thesis, because Diallo and I got our start doing sketch comedy just in LA, with two different sketch comedy groups and finally formed our own group. That whole time doing that, we both had to have crappy 9 to 5 jobs and then on Saturday mornings, he’s calling me saying, “Hey you gotta go to Hollywood and get that wizard costume for the sketch tonight.” So we’re over there paying as little as possible for this wizard’s costume and we’re asking friends who even had remote core competencies in filmmaking to come and please be our DP, please be our lighting person—we did that for years and then we had some stuff go viral, and then we ended up working with Jimmy Fallon where you have to be your own producer, I think it’s the same for ‘SNL’ where you produce your own sketches. So you’re responsible for your sketch’s set design, production design, what the music is going to be in it, what cast is going to be in it, what the costumes will look like—you have to do all that stuff and we had already been doing that. So Jimmy was really grateful to us and we brought those competencies. I think Sherman’s Showcase is an incredibly hard show to be in and do, but I think we’ve had the training to do it for a very long time. I see it like running a marathon but we’ve been practicing doing our 5ks and 10ks for years.
Riddle: One of most fun things about ‘Sherman’s Showcase’ is that there is literally a story behind every character, every joke, every visual on the screen—we like to create lure, and we’re the kind of guys that if we weren’t doing this for a living, we would probably be writing fan fiction online for some of our favorite characters. I was so into the TV show ‘Lost,’ I would write literal papers about theories for what was going on in that island, which probably would have ended up better then what it turned out to be. I’ve wasted a lot of time on ‘Lost,’ that’s all I have to say. But, we have ideas about anything you’ve seen on any episode of ‘Sherman’s Showcase’ and there are some things, for example, the fact that Sherman has not aged over time, we’ve never really explained, but we have a reason for it and we might one day get into that.
Salahuddin: For those who watch the first season of our show, unlike any other sketch experience, we decided to create a framework loosely so you feel like it’s heading towards something. Then in the final episode, you find out it was headed towards something, and nobody saw that coming and we had some fun with that. Really, it’s just a labor of love, and we wanted to do a show that we felt like nobody else was making on TV. In that sense, we feel very fulfilled.
With this whole format, why is this also a good way to spark people’s interest into learning more about black history?
Salahuddin: Diallo and I come from similar backgrounds—we spent our weekends in the south side of Chicago cleaning up the neighborhood, going door to door and we just spent a lot of time on the streets in our neighborhood. I do think that community awareness has always been apart of anything we’ve done because we were raised like that. [Diallo’s] father was a Civil Rights era painter who ended up having pieces all over the city of Atlanta, and so Diallo’s experience is directly from black protests at the heart of the Civil Rights movement which was in Atlanta, Georgia at the time. So for us, even though we are sort of the goofy sillies of the family, we didn’t forget those lessons. I think no matter what we would have done it would have come from our background and the families we came from. You see that with ‘Southside’ and with ‘Sherman’s Showcase’ even more so because we get to move through ideas and stories more quickly and more fluidly than we could even on ‘Southside.’ We could just jump between ideas and jump between concepts quickly and so I think that no matter what we did, it would have always had that sense of black culture and black history.
‘Sherman’s Showcase: The Black History Month Spectacular’ premieres June 19 on AMC and IFC.