“I think people are not ready for how good the music on the show is going to be.”
It’s a bold but justified proclamation from Bashir Salahuddin, co-creator with Diallo Riddle, of the new sketch comedy series Sherman’s Showcase, which centers on a long-running fictional musical variety show but has some very real bona fides to back the swagger: The show comes from John Legend’s Get Lifted Film Co. It features an array of guest turns including Legend, Quincy Jones, Tiffany Haddish, Common, Morris Day and Ne-Yo. It’s already spawned a soundtrack, and a tour may be in the offing.
In short, the music — all “hits” from various periods in Sherman’s illustrious 40-year history — is legit.
“When you get John Legend involved in something… and by the way it’s not just John, but his studio guru Harvey Mason Jr. mastered all of our songs,” Salahuddin says, the project gains an automatic seal of approval. Additionally, The Knocks‘ James Patterson and Benjamin Ruttner produced the tracks, written by Salahuddin and Riddle. “I’ve been a big fan of The Knocks going all the way back to ‘Dancing With the DJ.’ We have up-and-comers that you may not know of yet, but once people hear these guys produced that song? I think they’re going to be fine.”
The series, which gleefully time-travels from a questionably attired funk supergroup in the ’70s to an R&B diva from the ’90s to commercial parodies to faux-game show segments and more, premieres Wednesday night (July 31) on IFC. What’s evident from the start is that its creators, who met while performing in an a cappella group at Harvard in the ’90s, are music-obsessed. And they want viewers to go down the wormhole with them.
“This is a show for music nerds,” Riddle says. “We dive into little small details… We can talk about music all day. It never gets old.”
Self-described frustrated music artists — “We are just really sad we never got the chance to be in singing groups,” Riddle deadpans — Salahuddin and Riddle spent four years writing on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, where they conjured classics like “History of Rap” with Justin Timberlake and “Slow Jam the News.” They riff off each other like seasoned band mates as they recall how their experience led them to their current program.
“What we learned is something Dave Chappelle said,” Salahuddin says. “Every comedian wants to be a musician, and every musician thinks they’re funny.”
Diallo points to the time Pharrell pitched them on a comedic preacher character he wanted to introduce on Fallon. “It was a telltale moment,” he says. “It was really, really funny, but it was way off-brand for Fallon and way off-brand for NBC. But even back then we were like, ‘Maybe one day we’ll have an outlet where all these talented musicians can come be funny and all these talented comedians can come do music.’”
Which brings us to Sherman’s Showcase, whose DNA is steeped in the likes of Soul Train, Solid Gold and Laugh-In. With Salahuddin playing host Sherman McDaniels and Riddle as his producer Dutch (the two also tackle numerous other roles), each episode hovers around a theme, such as the show’s dancers or 1995. Another is titled “Dedicated to White Music,” while still another is a tribute to Prince, with rapper Vic Mensa as Prince-esque fictional character Charade and Day in a cameo.
In all, original music has a starring role. Mensa’s “Vicky, Is the Water Warm Enough?” and guest Eliza Coupe (as a Debbie Harry clone) on “Thursday Night” are among the show’s standouts.
“Most sketch comedy shows, you spend all night writing them. On our show, we spent all night writing, then we had to spend all day music-producing, and then we had to spend all night recording and listening. There were a lot of different hats we had to wear,” Salahuddin says. “Honestly, doing the season was like putting together an album.”
The wealth of music led to a deal with Mad Decent for a soundtrack featuring full-length versions of songs from the show that the Diplo-founded label will drop digitally on Aug. 9.
First single,“Marina Del Rey,” a breezy 1979-era frolic, finds a way to weave in “I am the captain now,” the now-famous line from the Tom Hanks 2013 drama Captain Phillips.
“It’s sort of our yacht rock song,” Riddle says. “It was the last song to come together. We had the script for that episode, and we had a lot of lyrics we had written in the room. But… Did. Not. Have a melody. At one point I was like, ‘Oh shit, we’re going to be done with the writers room in a week and I have no idea what that song sounds like.’ So we got with The Knocks and sent the track back and forth, and we eventually ended up with this track everybody loves.”
Salahuddin and Riddle envision taking Sherman’s musical and comedic aesthetic on the road. “What if we find a way to merge those things together and go out on tour and do live shows together?” Salahuddin says. “For us, the show on IFC is almost like the kick-off. It’s whatever we make it.”
Their wish list of guest artists for season 2 includes Snoop Dogg, Drake, Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O, Childish Gambino and a host of on-the cusp talent they’d like to expose to new audiences.
“We just want to work with some of our favorite indie hip-hop and EDM artists,” Salahuddin says of upcoming guests. “The fact that we had Tiffany Haddish and Common and John Legend and Quincy Jones already… technically we can only go down.”