Sherri Shepherd and Kym Whitley on Finding Female Allies, From Kathy Griffin to Rosie O'Donnell (Exclusive)
By Antoinette Bueno
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Sherri Shepherd and Kym Whitley want to pay it forward when it comes to their years of experience in show business. ET's Nischelle Turner spoke to the women in an exclusive interview ahead of the two teaming up for The CW's variety show special, Women in Film Presents: Make It Work!, airing on Wednesday, and they talked about being Black women in the entertainment industry.
Shepherd named two women in particular that helped her in her career to get paid for what she's worth -- her Suddenly Susan co-star, Kathy Griffin, and her The View co-star, Rosie O'Donnell.
"I am a big proponent on, you know, sharing your experience with other women," she says. "Because a lot of times, you know, even with the salary, there's a big disparity in what women make versus our male counterparts. It's a big disparity with women of color on what we make compared to our white counterparts."
"You know, there's so many experiences where we find out that, wait a minute, the person who is my counterpart who is white is making four times as much as what I'm making and so I find that it helps, if you're doing the same thing that I'm doing, I'm going to let you know what I'm making so that you know what to go in and negotiate for," she continues. "I'm very thankful when I did Suddenly Susan, Kathy Griffin told me what she was making and I was like, 'For real!?' Making nowhere near that. Rosie O'Donnell helped me negotiate my salary on The View because what they offered me was so low and then Rosie O'Donnell came in and said, 'Uh, sister, this is what so-and-so is making, and this is what I'm making. This is what you need to ask for.' My negotiations all the way went with Rosie O'Donnell, so I think that is so important. We have to share because it's this level of secrecy and then you don't know."
Whitley adds, "And you know, that's the truth because Sherri helps me. She thinks she's my manager but still to this day, a lot of women don't share their information. It's like a big secret and ... your job is going to be your job and so what if you tell me how much you made? That will only help me know how to negotiate."
Shepherd also advised women to never take the first offer that's given to them.
"I really feel like, you know, with that first offer, women, we've been so conditioned to take what they give us because we usually need the money," she notes. "But typically I tell people, do not say yes to the first offer. Because they have more money. That's just where you start negotiating from that point, so never say yes to the first offer."
However, Whitley joked that the same advice didn't apply to men.
"Hey, at a certain age, Sherri, ain't nobody waiting, OK?" she cracks.
On a more serious note, Whitley had advice for up-and-coming female comedians -- don't sleep with other comics or club owners, and also, get a mentor.
"Get a mentor, that's what I didn’t do," she acknowledges. "Like, I was friends with Jenifer Lewis but I didn't really get in there and ask her questions. I think it's really important to get someone who came ahead of you to really, like Sherri said, they give you information."
"But also, they've got to understand, this is a marathon, this ain't a sprint, you know?" she adds. "And that's why I feel like I've been in the business so long. We're not just, 'I got to get it. I got to have it.' You have that in you, but along the way, you know, we're taking it. You're just chipping off that brick a little bit at a time, making the right choices. And don't burn bridges because one day you might have to walk back across that bridge in this town."
The two also talked to ET about what they've been up to while quarantining amid the coronavirus pandemic. Whitley shared that she's lost 25 pounds, and Shepherd revealed she's been going on virtual dates.
"Literally, I sat in the car and he sat in his car and we sat in the parking lot of Starbucks and screamed at each other," Shepherd describes one date. "Through the window, we got to know each other at the Starbucks but that's... I don't know how long that can last. Then we had another... I had another virtual date where we watched Dexter together and we FaceTimed, so Kym is right, it forces you to really slow down and learn to talk to somebody and, you know, I have realized, I have very boring fantasies. I need to up my fantasy game."
Both Shepherd and Whitley are certainly keeping busy these days. The variety show airing on Aug. 26 on The CW benefits Women in Film -- a nonprofit that advocates for and advances the careers of women working in the screen industries -- and will focus on helping women get back to work as the industry recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. The two also have their weekly podcast, Two Funny Mamas. Individually, Shepherd stars in the comedy series Mr. Iglesias, streaming now on Netflix, and will begin her permanent co-host job on DishNation on Aug. 21. As for Whitley, she stars in the film The Weekend, which is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video.
Shepherd says of the upcoming star-studded benefit that will feature Hillary Clinton, Jennifer Garner, Rosario Dawson and more, "We wanted to do it because it’s the Women in Film that was sponsoring it and we wanted to really help amplify and shine the light on the fact that women find themselves in a really dire situation during this pandemic. Because it’s hard enough for women to find a job -- during the pandemic, after the pandemic -- but statistics show that it’s harder for Latinx women and for women of color. So, it's just like, you know, across-the-board crew -- makeup, camera people, caterers -- they are having a hard time finding a job and so we wanted to be involved to help raise some funds so that we can help these women and also shine a light on, 'Hey, people who are in power, hire women.'"