Sherri Shepherd is known for comedy, both in her standup and her memorable roles on shows like "30 Rock" and "Trial and Error." But during her years on "The View," her relationships with her co-hosts and her private life all became tabloid fodder. Yet Shepherd just keeps on smiling. And in her new Netflix series "Mr. Iglesias," she flexes her comic chops again as the beleaguered principal of a struggling California high school.
Shepherd joined "Salon Talks" recently to discuss working with Gabriel "Fluffy" Iglesias, why she embraces her "View" past — and the teacher who changed her life.
I'm so excited about this show, because it is really cool to have a TV show that you can actually watch with your family.
I think a lot of people are comparing it to “Welcome Back, Kotter,” which was one of my favorite shows. It revolves around this band of misfit kids who are really quite smart. Gabriel Iglesias is a history teacher, and he wants to save them all. So he clashes with the administration, like in “Welcome Back, Kotter.” He clashes with the administration, because we don't care about saving all the kids.
He takes a lot of topical issues, and he really puts the funny underneath. It comes out beautifully, I love working on the show.
It was inspired by his life. His other timeline would be this. So who is the principal? What does she do?
Principal Paula Madison. It's so funny. She has it all together at school. Her professional life is completely perfect, while her personal life is just in shatters. Gabe helps her through that. It's like they took a page from my book. She's been married twice, she's been divorced twice, she's looking for new love, and is not able to find it. That's who the principal is.
I had just come off of my other show, “Trial and Error,” on NBC. It didn't look like it was coming back. Gabe and I were doing something together, and he said, "I have this show coming up, and I would really like you to work with me." Then his executive producer, his partner, Kevin Hench called me. They said, "You have such a great reputation in Hollywood, and Gabe knows you. He wants to work with nice people." I said, "I'm down for it."
Because at this point in my life, I don't want a lot of drama. I want to go to the set, have a really great time, and be thankful, and go home and take care of my child. Literally, that's how this came about.
Sherri, you have had a little drama.
So much drama. I just want something just very cool, and calm, and I can go back home and soak my feet at night.
I think it was also Gabe thought I was really funny. So he offered me this role.
It's full of funny people. It's full of really funny kids.
The kids are phenomenal. I've never worked with more phenomenal kids. They’d never done a four-camera shoot in front of an audience. I said, "I guarantee you're going to love it," and it was electrifying for them. They got to see Gabriel and me, because we're standup comics, how we can improv, and take it even further with the audience.
We have Oscar Nunez from “The Office,” Maggie Geha, from the show “Gotham,” Jacob Vargas, he was in “Crash” and so many other films, and Richard Gant, who was on a show called “Greenleaf” on the OWN Network. So, very strong actors around Gabe, and it's just a good time.
It is hard for me seeing Oscar from “The Office” as the antagonist.
He is the antagonist, and he's so mean. But he's a perfect foil to Gabriel Iglesias, because Gabe is so sweet. In all of the episodes he's so good. I go, "I can't believe you're that evil."
He just leans into it. He doesn’t play it as, "Maybe, secretly, I'm a nice guy."
He is in there. But he gets a lot of glee from playing that kind of character.
This is a show that also has a brain, and also has a heart, and is rooted in real issues. The first episode, I was so stunned and moved, because it's based on things that I have seen in the public school system myself. I have seen kids really pushed out because administration wants the school to be a “desirable” school. That is a real thing that happens.
It is such a real thing. I think we all remember those teachers who gave us a little bit extra, that said something. I remember my teacher said, "You're going to go far." She just spoke these words of life into me, things that I didn't think about. I remember words that she said, to this day, from second grade. Playing this part, Gabe really wanted a message to be in there, but he wanted it to be funny. I think we skirted that line really well.
Without being self-conscious about it. It's based on the real high school where he went.
It's Wilson High, and he went to Wilson High in Long Beach. They love Gabe so much. Everybody knows him as Fluffy the Comic. The love him so much that they allowed him to use the logo, the colors, the front of the school. Even, for Gabe, because that was so real for him, it was real for him to play it.
And to play it in this world where the cast is very diverse, but it's not in a ticking boxes way. It just is the world.
It is the world, and that's what I like, it looks very authentic. It doesn't look like, "We need one black person, we need one Hispanic, we need one Asian.” It's just really diverse, because you're right, it just represents the world.
You're talking about being in front of an audience, and you and Gabe come from this background of standup. You've also been in front of audiences before. Sherri. You’ve done stage, you were on a little TV show called “The View.”
Is that the one with Barbara Walters?
It may be. Maybe you've heard of it. Maybe you remember it from back in your early, early, early career.
I was at a play, “Ain't Too Proud To Beg,” and there was an older man next to me. During one of the songs, he goes, "My wife knows you. I'm not sure who you are." I said, "I'm Sherri Shepherd from ‘The View.”' He goes, “SHE’S FROM ‘THE VIEW’ WITH BARBARA WALTERS.” Barbara, I love her. It's just an iconic show. Everybody knows “The View.”
Earlier this year, you said, it's now you think of it as an old boyfriend. It was great, we had our time, but now that time has passed.
Now that time has passed.
But this is always part of you. There was this bestselling book this year. People can't stop talking about this show. What do you think it is that's just so iconic about this idea of women sitting around and talking?
I think that Barbara Walters is so brilliant, because she just said, "I want a show where it looks like women are sitting around the table just talking. Nothing scripted, they're just giving their opinions." That's the way it started out. She would say, "Women from all different walks of life coming together, and give their opinion." I think we never had that before, and Barbara Walters was just brilliant in bringing it to the screen.
To keep it on the air, she had to call affiliates all over the country, and beg them to carry “The View.” She fought for years for the show. To bring two black women on a talk show, that was never done. Usually people, they have one black woman, and they go, "We're fine.” But she brought two black women on the show. She knew that Whoopi and I were from two different generations, and we had two different viewpoints. We clashed a lot on the show, Whoopi and I.
If you look at all of these panel shows now, they're offshoots of “The View.” “The Real,“ “The Talk,“ “The Chew.” Wendy Williams has Hot Topics. It has spawned so many shows that are like “The View.” I think that people still, even now, look at that show. This is the way women start their day, going, "What are they saying?" I feel so blessed to have been on a show like that for eight years. On my left was Barbara Walters, and on my right was Whoopi Goldberg. I'm going, "You can't pay for this kind of experience." When people come up to me and say, "I loved you on The View," or they still think I'm on ‘The View,’ I don't run from it, I'm so thankful for it.
It's such an important part of, not just television history, but media history. It really did help change the way that women, as consumers of news and stories are seen. You can talk about your family, and then you can talk about the presidential election.
We can do Netanyahu, and Khloe Kardashian, plus who has the best orgasms. It's so great because “The View” was a place that everybody knew. The politicians, even now, you have to come on "The View.: If you want to appeal to this female base, you've got to come on “The View,” and you've got to sit with these women. They are going to grill you, they're not going to be easy on you. That is still the place to come to make any kind of significant difference.
It's still that way today, and it's still going on. The year I was on was the only time we've ever won an Emmy. They'd been nominated every year. The only time that an Emmy was won for best co-host was when I was on there with Whoopi Goldberg.
You got that Emmy. Maybe now you're going to get another one. Maybe we could start with this new show. You know your character, and you know your lane. I think when you become a grownup, you don't realize that, "Oh, nobody else has their act together." Your teachers are people who have lives, and that's very much explored in your character.
That's what I love with “Mr. Iglesias,” because it goes behind the scenes of what the teachers go through, what the administration goes through. My character, her professional life is together. She wants this school to be a blue ribbon school. She’s working hard, she's getting noticed by different administrations. But the personal life is in shambles. She's sad about that, and she's raising her daughter by herself. Those are coming up in subsequent episodes. "Gabe, what I do about this?" Because everything else is falling into place, while it's nothing here.
Then the students start to see that part of her life. I don't know about you, but when I was a a teenager, if you saw a teacher outside of school, you didn't know what to do.
I remember going into a restaurant and I saw my teacher. I kept looking at her like she was some freak in a zoo, like, "What is she doing? She's eating."
Another thing that is so fun about this show, for those of us who did grow up on “Welcome Back, Kotter” or ”Head of the Class,” it is intentionally, clearly, meant to be an homage to that kind of show. For generations who aren't used to that, like the kids who you are working with, it is classic.
Coming back to the classic, four-camera shooting and being in front of an audience is just something so different. I love doing single camera, because I did single camera on “Trial and Error,“ and on “30 Rock,“ “How I Met Your Mother." Those are all single cameras, and those are great. But as a standup, to get back to being in front of a live audience, and do those jokes? Gabe is so wonderful at allowing me and Oscar really fly, and improv, and take it even further. You can do that because you hear if it works, because the audience gives you the immediate feedback.
Sherri, I don't know too many people who have had the kind of diversity in a career that you have had. You have done standup and scripted shows and talk shows. To go from "Trial and Error" to this. "Trial and Error" was such an outside of the box type of a show, and such an outside of the box character.
It was a very small town, and we were trying to solve a murder with a city boy from New York. It was in this really weird, quirky town. It was really my favorite role because I played the paralegal, research assistant and receptionist, named Anne Flatch. I had all these neurological disorders. I had facial blindness, I fainted when I saw beautiful artwork, I walked backwards when I got my flu shots, I spoke in a British accent when I had a cold. They were all really, really true neurological symptoms. I jumped 10 feet in the air if you startled me.
It wasn't that sassy kind of girl, she just was very sweet. I got the role because when I went in to audition for them, and I just kept smiling, because I forgot my reading glasses and I couldn't see anybody's face. So I just had a smile on my face the entire time. They said to me, "Can you read part of the script?" I went, "OK." I'm reading, and I'm like, "I don't know what the lines say." I was at the Ice House in Pasadena, on stage, and I got the word that they said, "You were perfect. That's exactly who this woman is. She just has a gentle spirit, and she smiles a lot. I was like, "Oh my God, thank you. I didn't have my reading glasses." It was my favorite role.
Because getting a little bit older, and losing a little bit of our eyesight, turns out to be a career advantage.
Girl, it was a career advantage for me. I think my son hides my reading glasses. I'm like Fred Sanford. You remember watching "Sanford and Son"? He would go in that drawer, and have all these reading glasses? That's me. I have a wig with reading glasses attached to it. When I put the wig on, it's got the reading glasses pinned down. So I've got my reading glasses wig.
Sherri, I'm going to give you a tip. You know what they have now? They make these little tiny glasses, and you fold them. You can slap them onto the back of your iPhone, or you can have them on a keyring. Then you never don't have a pair of glasses.
See, but I fight that. I'm newly single, and I can't go to a club and be pulling my glasses off the back of my phone. That's not sexy. I already got the reading glasses you put on, that you can bring them down. This boy was looking at me, and I was like, “Heyyyyyy." I found out my reading glasses were folded down. I said, "Oh, good grief."
Having your reading glasses folded down is the new having spinach between your teeth.
You know when you just give up, and you put them on that chain, because your girlfriend trying to sell jewelry from a little jewelry business. So you put them on a chain with the little sparkly things.
Meanwhile, your font is so huge. I was at a restaurant, and somebody went, "Ms. Sherri.” I said, "Do I know you?" He's like, "I can read everything on your phone." Like, "How big is that font?"
If you're worried about digital privacy, just get a pair of glasses, that's the key.
Just look at my phone. You can see it a block away because my font is so big.
I want to ask you one more thing. Because this is a show that is based on a real person, a real history teacher. You started talking earlier about a teacher who changed your life. I want to hear more about this teacher.
She was in second grade. She gave me my love of reading, and doing characters, and being funny. I remember, because I grew up in the inner city of Chicago. She was this white lady with blonde hair, and I used to go, "You got pretty, pretty hair," because we had our little pigtails. She read to us all the time, and she would do characters. I don't know if you remember the song, “Chicken Soup with Rice.” She would play these songs, and she would be the character. I was fascinated by the characters that she would do. I took that with me. She would always say, "Sherri, you're so smart. You're so funny.” I just remember those words. That words that you impart to somebody can really make a difference in their life. Even as an actress, if I see somebody on the street, I like to be so positive, because they will never meet me again, but I think they'll remember what I said.
For a child, to have someone make them feel like, "You are smart, you are seen,” that's what this show is about.
That's what they love about Gabriel Iglesias. Because these kids feel like, "You see me. When nobody else acknowledges me, you see me." I think that really touches people.