Chicago is the grooming ground for a pool of diverse and unique talent. It doesn’t matter if a person relocates and moves across the ocean — if you were born and semi-raised in the area, guess what? We are claiming you as our own.
Sherri Shepherd is one of our own. At a young age, she and her family lived on the South Side, where she attended Stagg Elementary, later relocating to the northwest suburbs. After high school, the family moved to Los Angeles, where she pursued a career as a stand-up comic and took on small supporting roles.
Gradually, her star began to rise as she took on more recognizable roles in television sitcoms and films, but the invitation to become a part of ABC’s The View is when her career took off on another level.
For nearly six seasons, she and her colleagues rocked daytime television, earning a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Talk Show Host in 2009. Her evocative style of humor has secured her roles on television series 30 Rock, Rosewood and How I Met Your Mother, as well as co-starring in feature films Beauty Shop, Ride Along 2, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa and Top Five with Chris Rock. Her transition from comedy to more dramatic roles has garnered her critical acclaim in the Lifetime movie Abducted: The Carlina White Story, playing the lead of Joy White.
As a New York Times bestselling author, she’s successfully brought awareness to maintaining good health as well as children and adults with disabilities through the YAI National Institute.
Shepherd, a mother and working actress, enters a fresh chapter in her career, co-starring on the new break-out NBC sitcomTrial and Error, as Anne Flatch.
Back in her hometown, the Chicago Defender sat down with Shepherd to discuss several hot topics, including her new television role.
Q:Tell me about Trial and Error. Is this a new experience for you to be a part of an incredible ensemble cast?
A:It’s so surreal to have a show that’s been so well received by press, by critics, and the network is behind it. It’s like The Office and Parks and Recreation, it’s sort of How to Get Away With Murder, if that was a comedy. I’m just having a ball doing it. I’m excited. The character who I play, Anne Flatch, brings me such joy to play her every day. I was talking with my dad and he said the other day, ”Boy, you sure know how to play stupid’ (she laughs). He said, ‘Look at that stare right there, like you don’t have nothing in your brain going on.”
Anne Flatch has this host of disorders. I’m like a combination of Dora and Finding Nemo with two legs. I’m just thrilled to be a part of this.
Q:When you initially received the script, what was the first thought that came to mind?
A:I laughed at every page. I didn’t know who they were casting, but it was so smartly written. I love smartly written scripts. I told my people, “Please get me an audition for this. I know this woman. It’s a part of me that is in this woman.” I had a meeting with them. That day, I had gotten into a car accident. So, they had a bowl of Advil sitting on the table.
We were talking about Africa and we were talking about Nelson Mandela, and I couldn’t remember anything and I just blankly said, “‘Oh” and they said, ”Oh my God, that’s the character, she would be like that!” So, they said, “Let’s read the script.” But, I didn’t have my reading glasses and I couldn’t read the words, so I just kind of smiled slowly.
Later, I went to headline at a comedy club and I got the call and they said, “You are Anne.” They offered me the role. They said they called around on how it was working with you because we want to work with nice people. We could find anybody, but we want to work with nice people.
Q:You continue to keep work. Where does this kind of work ethic come from?
A:Probably my grandmother and dad. My dad told me early on, I was on a show with Scott Baio and I think I was feeling myself. I quit my job and everybody runs and do what you want, and I was really feeling myself. I flew my dad out there, he and my grandmother, and he didn’t like what he saw. I was getting Hollywood and he came and said, “Let me tell you something little girl, a hundred girls can do what you do — you ain’t no different.”
He just checked me so hard and it really made me be grateful. I’m grateful for being a part of Trial and Error. I’m grateful for doing Dancing with the Stars. I’m just so grateful. So, I think that’s what keeps me working. I love what I do and I don’t take it for granted. I know that I don’t want people to wonder, “Whatever happened to Sherri, she got divorced — did they kill her? Where is she at?” I want to continue to do this and be Marla Gibbs or the Black Betty White. That’s what I want for my career.
Q:We’ve seen you grow on The View. What are some of the things that you learned from that experience?
A:I learned from my first week being on the show saying that I didn’t know if the Earth was round or flat — having a brain fart. Being nervous and intimidated, making a mistake. If you’re not dead, you can get back up and have another chance to get it right — that almost destroyed me. I went from Black women loving the fact that I was on the show and people saying “she’s a breath of fresh of air.” They brought me down by saying, “Every Black woman in America hates you.” I cried.
It almost broke my spirit in that one moment, but then you know what, my sister friends gathered around me in the form of Whoopi Goldberg, Elizabeth Hasselbeck and Joy Behar. Barbara Walters said if “I didn’t think you could do this, I wouldn’t have hired you, dear.”
I can defend what I believe. I learned to be curious about people. So that’s what I learned from being on The View. Don’t worry about the ”no.” Barbara taught me that. It was probably one of the best training grounds and working under the woman who is a perfectionist and a hard taskmaster. I cried for three years, every single day. I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.
Barbara Walters made me find my voice.
Q:What is your advice to the next line of comedians, actresses and filmmakers who can work behind the camera?
A: Be fearless. What’s the worst that can happen? They can say “no.” Go for it. It was all about stability, you wouldn’t need faith. Do it scared because it’s got to get done. There’s so many blessings on the other side. I said it’s an amazing day and age to be ”chocolate” — it really it is. If you can’t get through the regular channels, create. You want to be a talk-show host and you can’t get on a regular network, utilize YouTube.
People will find a way to get it done. If it’s bugging your spirit, don’t do it. I wish if I could have told my younger self that, “It’s okay if people don’t like you — not everyone is going to like you and it’s okay.”
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