I have to admit. I raised my eyebrows when my friend asked me to attend the Women of Faith conference. Visions of Dana Carvey’s Church Lady filled my head and I didn’t want to be lectured by a bunch of blue-hairs thumping Bibles and telling me where I’d gone wrong with my life. On the bright side, I would get to interview Sherri Shepherd of The View, Everybody Loves Raymond, and 30 Rock, so I could handle the casserole crusade for a day and assumed that would be the end of it.
Remember what the saying is about assuming? (To assume is to make an ass out of u and me.)
Not only did I hear incredible women speaking of their spiritual journey with Christ, I met wonderful ladies who loved life and loved to laugh.
Mixed in that group of inspiring women sat Sherri, a petite spitfire who has what we Texans like to call Shoot-from-the-hip personality.
As I sat down with Sherri, she had a smile on her face, a knockout dress, and a pair of stiletto platforms, that she held in her hand.
I started the interview with, “cute shoes.” (Always a good opener.)
Her response, “Yeah, they’re comfortable for about 10 minutes and I knew it when I bought them, but I bought them anyway.”
I truly didn’t know what to expect when I interviewed her as I had seen her only in a comedic situation, but during interview and in her talk for the conference, Sherri shared with me a side of her life most probably aren’t even aware of.
In the early 1990’s, while she worked full-time and establish herself at the Los Angeles clubs The Comedy Store and The Laugh Factory for her stand up act, Sherri had a large part of her life that was all but funny. Her mother was dying from diabetes and her sister was hooked on crack cocaine. “I was taking care of her four kids, dragging her out of crack houses, trying to work, and take care of my mom. It was a stressful time.”
She tried to kill herself a few times, but “obviously, I wasn’t successful.” Shrugging, she continued, “I’d been raised Jehovah’s Witness, so I’d always been taught there is no heaven or hell, you just go to sleep when you die. So I thought, what’s the big deal (suicide)? I’ll just go to sleep.” She explained she didn’t want to actually die, what she wanted was all the chaos, the pain and frustration to stop.
Then one day, a chance meeting would change her life.
“I remember I was riding the bus to go to a comedy club in LA and there was this guy on the bus being nice to this old lady. And I thought to myself ‘I think I’ll give him some’ because that’s what I used to do.” Sherri nods. “Yeah, the more I watched him and how nice he was, I thought ‘yep, I’m gonna give him some’ and about that time, he turned to me and asked ‘How’s your relationship with Jesus Christ?’”
She starts to laugh about the incident. “I kept thinking it was a line and waiting for him to want something, you know. But he didn’t. When I realized he was serious, I said ‘oh, my relationship with him is good. Real good.”
As fate would have, it Sherri was about to find out God has a great sense of humor.
“Really?” The man replied.
“Oh yeah.” Sherri pointed to a church the bus had just passed. “In fact, that’s my church right there.”
“Wow. That’s my church.” He smiled.
And it was.
As it turned out, after talking to the man for a bit longer, Sherri realized he had no alternative motive and why not actually check out the church she said she attended. From the moment she walked in, she knew was a 180° change from what she’d been taught.
“Now you have to understand something,” she laughed. “I’d been raised Jehovah’s Witness where everything was nice and soft and now I walk into this Pentecostal Church where people have their arms up, hands out, yelling ‘halleluiah’. The woman with fruit on her hat is running up and down the aisle, people are speaking in tongues. Big change, real big change for me.” Despite this new experience being far out of her comfort zone, she embraced her new church and found faith, friends, and freedom from an unhappy life. In 1993, she became reborn in the Christian faith and since then, she’s walked the walk, even though in Hollywood, it’s hard. “You have to be careful mentioning Jesus,” she explained. “Most people don’t want to hear about it.”
I told her it surprised me to hear people in Tinsletown weren’t spiritual since everyone seems to be talking about being one with nature, God, and giving off good karma. Rolling her eyes, she said, “Yeah, I remember talking to an actress one day about God and she and I were having a good conversation. Then she pulled out a joint and I pointed to her and said ‘what God are you talking about because that’s not the God I’ve been talking about.’ To mention God is one thing, to mention Jesus, that’s another.”
I asked her once she found her faith, did all go well? Did her life get better?
“Yep, I found Jesus and went to jail a year later.” Shrugging, she continued, “I had some outstanding parking tickets and I went to jail for eight days, became homeless for a month. Had all my belongings in a pillowcase and slept on friends’ couches until I got back on my feet, but I had Jesus.”
Soon after, her career started moving forward. She appeared at the opening act for comedians Richard Pryor, Sinbad, and Martin Lawrence and had roles on Friends, The Jamie Foxx Show, Less than Perfect, and Suddenly Susan with Brooke Shields.
During her time on Suddenly Susan, Sherri told me a voice in her head encouraged her to go pray with Brooke. “I was added to the show right after David (Strickland) killed himself,” Sherri said. “I kept hearing that voice, but I was scared to say anything to her (Brooke) because of how so many people are about praying.” But the voice wouldn’t stop and finally Sherri faced her fear and asked Brooke if she could pray with her. “She said yes, but when I was supposed to go to her dressing room to pray, I couldn’t do it. I was so scared of putting myself out there, so I didn’t go.”
The following day, Brooke came up to Sherri and said, “You didn’t come, I waited for you and you didn’t come.” Sherri said thankfully, someone else prayed with Brooke.
Life continued forward for Sherri. In 2001, she married actor Jeff Tarpley and in 2005, they welcomed their son, Jeffery Charles Tarpley into the world earlier than they expected. Born at 25 weeks, Jeffery spent four months in the hospital before being sent home. During those critical weeks, Sherri called on her faith to keep her afloat and sane.
Even with the survival of their son, Sherri and Jeff’s marriage started to have problems and in late 2007, she filed for divorce. During that time, she’d already been added as a permanent co-host to The View.
Sherri did receive a bit of backlash for “leaving her son with her estranged husband” when she joined The View cast, but she told me, “what many people don’t know is the contract came so fast for the show (The View) and it was during the custody battle for Jeffery, I had to go to New York. There was no work in LA because of the strike and I was the primary provider.”
As I listened to her tell me of her journey, her honesty is what moved me the most.
“I’m not a debater,” she said. “I’m not good a quoting scripture, so I wasn’t sure if the show (The View) would be a good thing for me, but I kept praying to Jesus, asking him to give me guidance and he told me to do this (job). I ask him to tell me what I’m supposed to be doing because I feel like such a ding-dong sometimes.”
Her time as a co-host hasn’t been without bumps in the road and she knows there will be more, but she smiles as she speaks, “I have my faith and I know if I have to be a ding-dong for anyone, I’ll be one for Jesus.”