Q&A: Sherri Shepherd
Diabetes nearly derailed Sherri Shepherd’s career, but after a lifestyle overhaul and a change in her relationship to food—depicted in her 2013 bestseller Plan D: How to Lose Weight and Beat Diabetes—the former cohost of The View and sitcom star (Everybody Loves Raymond, 30 Rock) is directing her renewed energy into a plethora of projects and a return to stand-up shows such as her May 21 date at The Venetian as part of the Lipshtick series of femme fatale comedians.
I was just watching an early set of yours from BET. You were talking about getting propositioned at a women’s festival: “I’ll take care of you, I’ll take care of you. I’ve got $400,000.” You were like, “No, I’m really not … did you say $400,000?”
(Laughs) Oh, gosh. That was back in my early days. Oh my goodness! That’s so funny.
Where are you calling from? New Jersey?
I am in New Jersey. I just actually flew back in town because I was in LA filming a pilot for NBC with John Lithgow.
What’s it about?
It’s called The Trail, and John Lithgow is accused of murdering his wife, but he’s in this weird town where everybody’s crazy. It’s like The Office, but very dark. Very, very dark comedy, and I’m on his defense team. I suffer from facial blindness. I have no tear ducts. I have short-term memory loss. I have inappropriate responses to situations and I’m dyslexic, and I am part of his legal team.
That sounds challenging.
It is challenging, but I love the creativity. I’m just really excited to be doing it. I finished up that with Lithgow, and then I’ve got a recurring role on Rosewood with Morris Chestnut. I play a medical examiner, so I was simultaneously doing that. And then I leave in a couple of days to promote my film, which is in a film festival. It’s called Jean of the Joneses. It’s my first dramatic lead.
Did you just promote that at the Atlanta Film Festival, or are you about to?
It was at the Atlanta Film Festival, so it’s about to come to the New York Film Festival. It’s another dark comedy about a family of second-generation Jamaican women. I play one of the sisters, and Taylour Paige, who is one of the stars on Hit the Floor on VH-1, plays my daughter. I’m very emotionally distant from her, and we have to find out way back to getting to know each other. It is also a dark comedy. Everybody got to laugh except me.
Is filmmaker Stella Meghie of Jamaican descent?
Yeah, she’s Jamaican but she lives in Toronto. It was at SXSW. It got accepted there, and it’s going to the LA film festival so I’m really excited! And I’m doing something else. I’m executive producing a show, a black Bachelor, on WE tv. They’re running the trailer now, and it’s coming out in May.
It’s like a black The Bachelor?
Yeah, because I’ve always been very vocal on The View. Elisabeth Hasselbeck always loved The Bachelor. I was very vocal about the fact that they didn’t have a bachelor of color. They never did, so when this show Match Made in Heaven came to me for their second season and asked me to executive produce, I put my money where my mouth is and I said, “Heck, yeah!” So I’m very excited. I had so much fun with this guy. He’s a retired pro footballer, and we had 18 women vying for his attention and wanting to get married. I had to use all my comedic skills.
I want to talk about Lipshtick and your stand-up, but I read the beginning of your book Plan D: How to Lose Weight and Beat Diabetes (Even If You Don’t Have It). I’m pre-diabetic and had already adapted the lifestyle, so it resonated with me. The key is, like you wrote, “changing your relationship to food” instead of dieting. Why don’t you explain that a little bit? You’re a type-2 diabetic now.
Right. I’m type-2 diabetic now, and I control my diabetes through diet and exercise. When I say it’s only about the relationship with food … and I’m so glad you’re only pre-diabetic, Matt, because you just have the opportunity to make some changes in your lifestyle without having to get that diagnosis of diabetes. When you get the diagnosis of diabetes there are some things that even in moderation is going to mess you up. I haven’t had a piña colada in years because it’s sweet. When you’re pre-diabetic you can do a lot of stuff in moderation, but “relationship to food” is really changing the way you look at food, and knowing that food is really about fuel for your body, especially being a diabetic or pre-diabetic. Food has a direct relationship to how you feel and how you operate. If you eat a lot of carbs and a lot of sugar, then your body can’t produce the insulin to break that sugar down, you are going to feel like crap. You’re going to be so groggy and sleepy, and if you start eating foods that are … like I’m making right now. I’m sautéing a whole bunch of vegetables with some ground turkey, and I’m going to put it on a whole-wheat tortilla with Greek yogurt and avocado. That’s going to be like a burrito, but it’s really, really healthy.
Are you making a lot of food so you can have some later?
That’s one of the keys, right? You have to eat frequently, not just change the way you eat but the way you plan and prepare food.
Exactly. You really want to turn your body into a food-burning machine, and if you eat frequently you do that. I’ve already lost 11 pounds because I’ve started cooking all of the time. I really actually am making a lot because my son is going to see me eating this burrito and he’s going to want some. And I’ll have some for tomorrow. I’ll put some in Tupperware, and I’m driving around and I won’t be able to cook. And I’ll have it ready, and I’ll pull over and have my little burrito.
What do you call the diet? Is it a grazing diet or a hypoglycemic diet, or do you call it anything at all?
You know what, I don’t even call it a diet. I just say I changed the way I eat. I just want to eat more healthy.
And it’s not a diet.
Yeah. When you say it’s a diet it seems like it’s just temporary, and I literally just changed the way I eat. I eat healthy because, No. 1, I have a 10-year-old son, and I want to be here for him. Like I said in my book, I don’t want to be going to his graduation in a wheelchair with him looking at how they amputated my leg.
When you say 11 pounds, starting from when?
Well, I just recently lost 11 pounds. I think last month is when I was doing it. But when I first got diagnosed with diabetes I lost 50 pounds. And then, you know, sometimes life just gets you. I was going through a big divorce. Every time I got an attorney’s bill I was like “Okay, I need a slice of pizza because that’s the only thing that’s going to numb me when I see I’ve got to pay all this money. Alimony—ooo, a cheesecake sounds so good!” So like hits you sometimes and you’ve got to go “Okay, I’ve gotten off track. What do I need to do to get back on track?” Don’t beat yourself up. You’ve got to learn to forgive yourself. Just get back on track. Don’t go crazy and keep going crazy and keep going crazy. So I said, “Alright, I need to start cooking.” … Once I started cooking and getting healthy foods into my refrigerator, natural foods, the weight started coming off. And also forgiving my ex-husband.
Are you saying you came to some sort of personal resolution that helped?
One of the things that can distract you from this diet is a stressful situation in your personal life.
Yeah, I’m just not eating healthy and recognizing triggers. … It’s ,“What can you do to correct and change?” It’s not like I’m going on the diet and off the diet. I’m correcting my path and making my path a little bit straighter.
I was probably on that path for a week before I noticed profound differences, and I started thinking, “Man, I’ve been looking at food wrong my entire life.” And you start to go, “I’d rather feel the way I feel after that multi-grain bread or blueberry flax granola than I feel after that pizza.”
Exactly. That’s the thing. You’ve got to start listening to your body because you feel so much better. We’re so used to—especially with diabetes—you’re so used to feeling bad it becomes your normal. Diabetes 2 responds to what you put in your body, and when you start changing what you put in your body, you feel better. I used to be in a stupor for years. When I went on dates they were like, “Are you a narcoleptic, because you’re always sleeping.” But it was like I was always groggy and tired. Well, that’s because I had a cheeseburger with French fries and onion rings or pancakes with syrup and sausage, and I had a big desert so it made my blood sugar spike. I was always sleepy.
Plus your career was on a roller coaster ride. At the time you probably couldn’t see how much stress that was, but now you can.
Exactly, so now I just take steps. Right now I’m spreading on this Greek yogurt on this whole-wheat tortilla that’s like multigrain and high fiber, and I’m loading it up with vegetables. I’m just very aware, and I like the way I’m starting to look.
But you are more concerned with how you feel than how you look.
For me right now it’s more about the way I feel. The side benefits are, “Oh, wow. I can fit into my clothes.” The side benefits are I can wear certain things now, but for me that’s not my goal, to get into a bikini in six months. My goal is I want to feel good, because in order for me to do four TV shows at one time I’ve got to have energy. In order for me to go flying all over the place promoting stuff, and they call me to do Ride Along 2, and then after that I’ve got to do stand-up comedy in another city, I need energy. That’s more important to me than wearing a bikini.
Have you incorporated your nutritional evolution into your material?
You know what? I haven’t, but I suppose I will now.
How many shows have you done for Lipshtick so far?
This is my first one, actually. I’ve never done it before, so this would be my first time coming. Loni Love told me about it last year, and she said, “You need to do it. It’s such a great room and the crowd is really great. I said, “Oh my gosh! Definitely!”
What’s it like to reconnect with standup after being away from it?
I love getting on stage and doing standup because it’s a way for me to connect with an audience about my stuff. When you’re on TV it’s not about you. Even on The View; it’s a panel, and you have five different viewpoints. When you do a sitcom you’ve got other people that you’re serving, and you got a script. Stand-up, it’s just you and your journey, and hopefully you can connect with somebody and they can go on that same journey with you.
Did you notice a change in the audiences after you started appearing on The View?
Yeah, it definitely got more diverse. No question about it. I started seeing a smattering of white faces, and then one day I was at a club in Atlanta and there was only a few white people. I went, “Oh my God, what happened?”
In Atlanta. People came out that didn’t know about other stuff I did. They watched me on The View. The loved me on The View and they came out to see me.
I mentioned I found that early stand-up, and it was very clear you were addressing the African-American women in the audience. They were looking back at you going, “Yeah!” You could almost see it in their faces: “This is somebody talking to us.” I imagine after your crowds started to become more diverse there could be a change in the way you spoke to them.
There was. It was that, and as I got older my worldview changed. Doing The View was so great for me because it exposed me to things I had never been exposed to. My worldview started changing, therefore is affected my comedy. My comedy became more where different people and different ethnicities could relate to. It became more about, “Okay, I’m a mother now.” There’s a ton of women who are mothers. You don’t need to be black to be a mother to say what I’m going through with my son, or going through a divorce. That’s something that affects so many people. I remember one time Chris Rock said when he was 19 everything was about sex. That all he talked about because that’s all his life was about. As you get older your view, hopefully, expands. Your life expands. Your experiences get bigger. I’m hanging out with a woman named Barbara Walters. I’m living in the Trump Building in New York City. I’m dating different types of men. Before when I was younger it was all … some of them were thugs, some of them were doing things we shouldn’t tell the police about. I didn’t date those kinds of guys anymore as I got older, especially working on The View. I seriously doubt Barbara would have wanted to see one of those walking in the hallway.