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Sherman's Showcase's Bashir Salahuddin Talks Going From Fallon's 'Slow Jam the News' to Creating One of the Most Brilliant Comedies of the Year

How making his grandma laugh led to the hilarious sketch "Drop It Low for Jesus"

Malcolm Venable

Sherman's Showcaseis the premier comedy hit of the summer, but you can't be blamed for not knowing about it. Airing on IFC, Sherman's Showcase could have been easy to miss given the volume of heavy hitter shows out this summer and the fact Sherman's kooky, untraditional format -- it's a faux retrospective about a fake dance show in the vein of Soul Train -- doesn't exactly make it an easy premise to grasp right away. But thanks to word-of-mouth buzz and a wickedly shareable music video for an inappropriate R&B gospel song from the show called "Drop It Low for Jesus," Sherman's Showcase is slowly gaining fans for its zany brilliance and the ways it lampoons African American culture through music.

Even if the show is unfamiliar, though, one of the creators shouldn't be; Bashir Salahuddin has steadily been growing in omnipresence, with roles in Looking, GLOW, and this summer's South Side, which he co-created with Harvard buddy Diallo Riddle, who, post-Harvard, worked with Salahuddin on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Their years of creating music-based bits on Fallon, including "Slow Jam the News," led to Sherman's Showcase, a hilarious gumbo of uber-specific references (Motown feuds, go-go music, blacksploitation films) and amazing guest stars (Quincy Jones, Mario Van Peebles, John Legend) that make it like no other sketch comedy show ever. TV Guide caught up with Salahuddin to talk about Sherman's Showcase, how "Drop It Low for Jesus" came to be, and how they might nab dream guest Drake.

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First, I wanted to let you know I live very close to Marina Del Rey and you've ruined it for me because every time I'm over there I hear your Hall & Oates parody "Marina Del Rey" in my head.
Bashir Salahuddin: [Laughs.] Diallo [Riddle] is the real spirit behind that song. We've been doing comedy so long we try to challenge ourselves. One day he was like, "Man, they name songs about New York, San Francisco, Chicago... why not Marina Del Rey?" It occurred to us that we wanted to do something yacht rock. It was really important for Sherman's Showcase ... to make sure the songs were hitting; a lot of the music was in conjunction with this group The Knocks. I'm waiting for the mayor of Marina Del Rey to give us the keys to the city.

That's hilarious because it's really small and there's next to nothing over there but boats and parks. It doesn't even have a mayor.
Salahuddin: Exactly. Like as soon as you get there you're already out of it.

Sherman's Showcase is one of the most brilliant shows on TV now, but I find it hard to explain to people who haven't seen it. Can you explain the concept succinctly?
Salahuddin: It's a music-based sketch comedy show. The glue for ours is that it's based around a fictional dance show. It gives everything an anchor and a point of view [so] we can really lean into the things we love the most -- music and comedy -- and lets you try all kinds of things like Alex Haley trying to sell a book on the show, all of Berry Gordy's artists trying to get their money back, so they plan a heist. And the format no longer exists. At some point everyone had a music sketch show: Flip Wilson, Sonny and Cher, and many more people whose shows only lasted half a season. It's a format that allows you to do music, comedy, and dance. Diallo says, "If 30 Rock took place at SNL, Sherman's Showcase took place at Soul Train."

"Drop it Low for Jesus," is hilarious, but a little risqué as it parodies gospel music and mentions Jesus, which are kind of sacrosanct in the black community. How'd that come about and what have you heard from people about it?
Salahuddin: Our music comes from many places. That's performed by my sister Zuri... the melody and the hook she would sing for our late grandmother, who was a devout Christian, and she would laugh so hard. We really don't want anyone to get offended; one of the women on the show -- who does an amazing Mary J. Blige -- is Bresha Webb [and she] is Christian. We ran it by her because, you know, you always have to run your stuff by your friends. And she was like, "You know what, we drop it low for other people, why not for the best man there is?" She got a kick out of it. After she signed off, we produced it, sent to Phonte [of The Foreign Exchange], and what Phonte did was add the real Kirk Franklin vibe... the idea that gospel has gone too far, so he's putting in there really 2019 things like the "Yaah!" [ad libs].

Bashir Salahuddin, Sherman's Showcase

Bashir Salahuddin, Sherman's Showcase

Michael Moriatis/IFC

That Mary J. Blige parody had me literally on the floor crying laughing. It digs into that dark theory about Mary, that she makes her best music when her personal life is messed up. Did you speak with her before doing it?
Salahuddin: It's so funny. If you listen closely, you can hear the crew laughing; it's so funny we just left it in. We didn't talk with her but it comes from a place of love. Bresha loves Mary to death. She was like, "This is my goddess. I'm trying to make sure that when she watches she laughs too." We really don't come from a place of trying to hurt anyone's feelings. We don't enjoy being like, "A ha! We got them!" We love these artists and their music. The details are specific because we love them, we buy their records. We take a page from Saturday Night Live where musicians and other actors delight in the ability to poke fun at themselves.

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Everyone on the show is super talented; the dancers aren't just background fodder, they're really great performers.
Salahuddin: One of them, Joe Brown, was in Beyonce's Homecoming. For us, it was like so many times the dancers are pushed to the background. Diallo's wife is a choreographer; we're a friends and family show. Every dancer had to audition and do a sketch too -- so they had to be funny, sing and dance, and act. They had to be multi-hyphenates.

You got so many high profile guests: John Legend, Ne-Yo, Vic Mensa. How'd you get them all on board for such a concept that must've been hard to explain without them having seen it?
Salahuddin: We were very educated in how to talk with them. When we worked at Fallon we had to go talk to Diddy, Pharrell, all these big named people who came through. We developed that ability to connect them to what we were trying to do. One of the things Dave Chappelle said in Block Party was that every comedian wants to play music and every musician thinks they're funny. Sometimes we had to be creative in how we got in contact; sometimes you connect through a hair stylist, or someone who had the real number and not the agent info. We're building this structure where actors, musicians, and other people can come and everybody have fun in a way they want. That's appealing to people who are like "Everybody knows I do music, let me show my other talents."

The music is really good. It's got genuine bops, like "Time Loop" with Ne-Yo could easily be a real radio hit.
Salahuddin: That's the whole point. Diallo and I were in a group at Harvard, Brothers -- Ryan Leslie was in it. It was dope. Diallo played drums, I sung. I did musical theater forever. When we got to Fallon, luckily he loves music -- Jimmy plays guitar -- we ended up being the guys that did the most musical sketches. When it came to our show, we took a page from The Lonely Island. The first time I heard "Lazy Sunday," I was like, "This is a legit banger; the beat is so hard." We made sure that this is the level we rise to. Not only are we in league with John Legend, who knows more than anything we could possibly know about music, we reached out to Phonte and he was incredible both as a musician and as a comedic actor. I'm so proud that when it comes to the music, it's written by musicians.

How come Sherman doesn't age?
Salahuddin: I think he does age, he just takes really good care of himself. Practically, for me, it didn't feel like it would be fun if he has grey hair and visible signs of aging. It's like Pee Wee Herman. I could give all these lore, sci-fi reasons 'cause Diallo and I are really into that. But the truth is that it's easy to keep him the way he looks -- except Diallo. At a point he has an eye patch, but the reason why will be revealed in another season.

Please tell me there's a Season 2 already in the works.
Salahuddin: We haven't heard yet but we're feeling pretty good about it. It's such a strong world. There are definitely people we'd want to work with. Drake is someone we've written for, and he loves comedy. Once he sees the show he's someone we'd love to have fun with next season. For the first season, a lot of great musicians and actors took a chance but now that it's done, it's much clearer [what it's about]. They don't even need to give us too much time, they can just come in for two hours and have an experience they enjoy.

Sherman's Showcase airs Wednesdays at 10/9 c on IFC.