When IU’s first stand-up comedy major, senior Rob Sherrell, approached his adviser and sponsor in the Individualized Major Program with an idea for his final project, he heard a familiar warning — this will be cumbersome.
“The word they always use is always ‘overambitious,’ and I realized that is the word people use to describe what I want to do very often,” Sherrell said. “I told them I know it’s ambitious, I know it’s hard to do, but I think we can do it.”
Sherrell’s vision, a late-night show called “Hella Late,” is now a few episodes in and doing better than he said he expected. Episode four debuted on IUSTV on Wednesday, and production will continue throughout the semester.
The show was a combination of Sherrell’s ambitions as a comedian and his response to the current political climate, starting when President Trump first announced his bid for the Republican candidacy.
“The things that he stood for and stood behind made me really concerned about representation to see people like myself — people of color — and how we were going to be viewed and maintain the visibility we have in the world of entertainment,” Sherrell said. “Personally, I’ve always felt that there’s been a gross underrepresentation of people of color and appreciation for black entertainment.”
The inspiration for the show’s title, “Hella Late,” and the subsequent concept stemmed from the idea of relatable conversation and an Arsenio Hall-style show that brings important contemporary issues to its forefront, Sherrell said.
Sherrell said he starting planning intensely after he planted the seed for the idea. He read a book called “Comedy Writing for Late-Night TV” by Joe Toplyn on advice from a visiting NBC employee. He crafted a “show bible” with the format, segments, direction and more. He made his own logo, then gave the design to a professional to perfect.
Executive producer and senior Brendon BeMent said it was one of the most thoughtful and thorough presentations for an idea he has heard during his time with IUSTV.
“The biggest thing that stood out to me was how passionate he was about his show and how prepared he was,” BeMent said. “We’ve had many pitches before him, and they come in with a basic idea of a show like a ‘Good Morning America’-type show. Rob came to us with handouts with the show bible, the mantra of his show written up and other types of shows that have come before that would serve as inspiration.”
Sherrell said he did not want to leave any doubts in the minds of those hearing his proposal that he was prepared for the challenges of such a show. BeMent said seeing Sherrell’s passion and dedication to the idea made the decision to move forward a no-brainer. The show has allowed Sherrell the opportunity to touch on real issues, which he said has become fundamental to him throughout his comedic career, he said.
“Creating a show like this is pointless if it doesn’t touch on important things,” Sherrell said. “What’s the point of being funny and producing entertaining content if it’s not saying anything important? There’s a way to be both funny and culturally relevant.”
One such segment that blends entertainment with cultural awareness is called “Woke in an Elevator.” The idea behind the segment — in which a hidden camera captures Sherrell engaging in serious conversations in an elevator — is that certain uncomfortable topics get proper attention.
“We don’t talk about things like hyper-masculinity or toxic masculinity, gender, and sexuality being more spectral based more so than binary,” he said. “We don’t talk about institutionalized racism or patriarchy. I was like, ‘How do we take that idea and make people talk about it? How do we put people in a place where they can’t escape from that?’ We put them in an elevator.”
Thanks to BeMent, IUSTV and social media, Sherrell said he has been able to build a team of about 45 people with various levels of experience to help run the show every week.
Sherrell, who’s also taking more than 18 credit hours, said he could not be nearly as successful with this show without the backing of his team.
“I wanted the show staff to feel like a family,” Sherrell said. “You get to know them. You get to know how they work, and it was very important that we become a family for the show because that’s how we’re going to make this thing stick.”
The goal is that the show will be sustainable even after Sherrell graduates. He said the show has been positive and he is thankful for the opportunity to study and practice what he loves.
“I started the show also as a means to take my comedy career in a new direction,” Sherrell said. “I was wondering what can I do next, and I thought of trying to produce a talk show. I hope to find a job after I graduate this semester in television production or writing, so I wanted to expand my portfolio.”