Seemingly operating under no specific set of rules, the series is unapologetically delirious, which might leave audiences dazed, for better or worse.
“As comedy writers, we really desire to be unbound, and because it’s a variety show, it allowed us to open up the format and write about anything that we wanted,” said Salahuddin at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour. “And so the ability for us to do that and also work with talented people who could put their own spin on what we wrote let us know that we had something good here.”
Riddle added: “A lot of the content just came from us having funny conversations in the writers room. It was just such a weird idea to begin with, but we needed to make this unlike any other show on TV right now.”
They pitched the idea to IFC in 2017 as “a show about 40 years of black music and black culture,” influenced by “Documentary Now!” specifically the episode spoofing Talking Heads’ 1984 concert film “Stop Making Sense.” The format, unfolding across eight half-hour episodes, allows Riddle and Salahuddin to toss a lot of ideas against the wall, even if they don’t always stick. Having the freedom to do so is the point.
“We wanted to create the kind of vibe where no one really knows what the hell is going to happen on any given day, and sometimes even we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Salahuddin said, adding that some of the content was too edgy for the audience of “The Tonight Show,” where he and Riddle were writers for a couple of seasons.
Executive produced by John Legend’s Get Lifted Film Co., the series is inspired by shows like “Solid Gold,” “Soul Train,” and “Laugh-In,” and features guest performances from entertainers of all backgrounds – including two EGOT winners – and multiple award-winning artists, many of them pals of the series’ creators.
“A lot of the people on the show were friends of ours from the creative community, and we always would say that we should all work on something together,” Riddle said. “We knew so many talented people, and so we wanted to give them a showcase that would allow them to show off the many sides of all their talents.”
Guest stars throughout the first season of “Sherman’s Showcase” include Andrew “King Bach” Bachelor, Common, Morris Day, Tiffany Haddish, Lil Rel Howery, Quincy Jones, Mike Judge, Kenny and Keith Lucas, John Legend, Nigel Lythgoe, Curt Menefee, Vic Mensa, Tawny Newsome, Ne-Yo, Ray Parker, Jr., Mario Van Peebles, Damon Wayans, Jr., Marlon Wayans, and Bresha Webb.
Each week on the eight-episode series, the show’s host, Sherman McDaniels (played by Salahuddin), opens up the vault for viewers to experience the comedy and musical numbers from the made-up 40-year history of the show. Whether it’s a real artist playing a fake character, or a comedian playing a real artist, the series promises to be always unconventional, irreverent, and most of all, funny.
As for whether they are concerned about what has suddenly become a competitive environment for sketch comedy series starring black actors, Riddle said, “It’s actually super cool to me that we are all coming out with shows at the same time, because, not since the ’90s has there been a time when you feel like you can be on a black show, and people in the industry aren’t asking whether there is room for another one.”
He praised the work of Robin Thede and Issa Rae (“A Black Lady Sketch Show”), and was excited that Kenya Barris is teaming up with comedy troupe the Astronomy Club for an upcoming new sketch show.
“I really don’t think that each of these new shows will have any sketches in common because they are specific to the people who created them, so I think the more the merrier,” said Riddle.
“Sherman’s Showcase” marks the second new series created by Riddle and Salahuddin that will be premiering later this month. The other is the half-hour comedy “South Side,” which debuted on Comedy Central on Wednesday, July 24.