In her first week as co-host of the ABC talk show The View, Sherri Shepherd declared that she didn't believe in evolution. When co-host Whoopi Goldberg pressed her to say whether she thought the world was flat, Shepherd responded, "I don't know ... I've never thought about it." That flub and the ensuing media hysteria inspired her to write Permission Slips: Every Woman's Guide to Giving Herself a Break. The comedian, who also stars in the new Lifetime sitcom Sherri, dished to TIME about how the incident played out, why women are too hard on themselves and the difficulties of being a working single mother.
Why did you write this kind of book a sort of self-help memoir?
It started with the fact that it was my very first week on The View and Barbara and Whoopi asked me if I thought the earth was round or flat. The response that came out was, "I don't know. I'm trying to take care of my son." I was really nervous. I was totally outside of my comfort zone, and I made a comment that I didn't mean to make. It was a brain fart. I did not know that people were going to hate me as much as they did. I mean, like hate me. My website crashed. But then the women of The View came together and said, If we didn't think you could be here, you wouldn't be at this table. We love you. We support you. Don't even worry about it. I got a ton of e-mails from women saying, "I don't care if the earth is round or flat either, Sherri. I'm just trying to pay my bills." That's when I realized that we've gotta give ourselves a break or permission to say dumb things and keep moving. I know what a lot of other women are going through. You try to be perfect for everybody. We've gotta give ourselves a break.
What have you given yourself permission to do?
On the one hand, I have a career that I love. On the other hand, it's me by myself taking care of my son. It doesn't matter that I'm on The View and somebody else works at a grocery store. It's the same problem that we have of our kid looking at us going, "Mommy, come home. When are you coming home?" That constantly eats at me, and I've really given myself permission to go, Sherri, at some point Jeffrey is going to look up and go, 'My mom did everything she could to take care of me and to take care of my needs.' It's not like you're out there clubbing and getting with all kinds of men to have a good time. You're working!
Now that you're promoting your book, working on The View and working on your Lifetime sitcom Sherri, how do you manage?
Elisabeth Hasselbeck said, "Sherri, you're going to have a lot of spinning plates. Just make sure your child is not one of them." My first assignment on this earth is being a mother, so if anything conflicts with that or takes away from it, I say no, which is why I'm not on Dancing with the Stars learning the quickstep.
For a while, you felt insecure debating on The View because you didn't grow up in a household where you talked about politics. When you started on the show, what did you feel you brought to the table?
I brought a certain realness to the table, of just being a regular working woman. Yes, I've worked on sitcoms, but I wasn't Star Jones, I wasn't a legal analyst, I wasn't a political pundit. I brought that everyday-woman point of view to it. I wasn't afraid to say I didn't know what stuff meant, and that's how I got through that. But I did set about learning about politics. I felt like Sarah Palin and I were definitely doing the speed-reading version of politics. But I was a Jehovah's Witness. That's how I grew up. Jehovah's Witnesses don't vote. They stay as far away from politics as they possibly can. Last year was my very first year voting.
In the book, you reveal quite a bit about the specifics of being a Jehovah's Witness. Do you think that will affect your friendships with those who are still practicing?
Oh, yeah. They're gonna be mad! [Laughs.] I have one friend, she's one of my best friends still. She made me change her name in the book because she doesn't want them to know that she's still associating with me.
You thank your co-author for helping you convey your faith without making you sound crazy. And you also talk about how important and personal prayer is to you. Does your faith have any effect on your co-hosts on The View?
While they may not agree with it and sometimes they think I'm quite crazy, they respect how I feel. I don't try to shove my views on anybody, but if you ask me, I'm going to tell you. We disagree quite a bit on evolution vs. creationism, but never once have I sat at that table and somebody said, "You're foolish for the way you think" or "You're stupid" or "That's crazy." They listen. Whoopi might make a face. But we have good-natured fun about it.
You also give advice to women about how to make their relationships work, including telling them to give their husbands as much sex as possible, because that's something you think you did not do enough of in your marriage. Do you think you let men off a little easy?
This is really a book aimed at women. I don't know if I let men off a little too easy or not. One thing I did say is to give yourself permission to put that teddy on and go be as freaky as you can be, and if you're single, put it up and go learn about who you are. This is a point Whoopi and I disagree about every time we talk about relationships: men need sex. Sex is like the air men breathe. They need a bunch of sex if they're insecure. If they get a promotion, the first thing they want to go home and do is take the clothes off and have sex. They need it. I tell my girlfriends who are married all the time, it'll take you the same amount of time it takes you to do a load of laundry. Go give him some!