Comedian Sheryl Underwood: a UIC degree will take you far

Sheryl Underwood, comedian, UIC graduate and host of “The Talk” CBS daytime show, visited campus and spoke to students.

“I thought I wanted a regular job,” Sheryl Underwood tells students. “Then I come here and someone tells me I can chart my own destiny.” Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

 

CBS talk show host and UIC graduate Sheryl Underwood brought laughter and advice to Student Center East in an inspirational talk session with UIC students, faculty, staff and alumni.

Underwood, comedian and host of daytime show “The Talk,” shared stories Sept. 9 from her early years at UIC and the beginning of her career as a successful entrepreneur and comedian.

Underwood came to UIC as a transfer student majoring in English.

“I thought I wanted a regular job, I thought I did. I thought I wanted to be a general manager or station manager or something like that,” she said.

“And then I come here and someone tells me I can become an entrepreneur, I can chart my own destiny, I can start my own company.”

She is now CEO and founder of Pack Rat Productions and the Pack Rat Foundation for Education, creating mentoring, education and scholarship programs that improve the quality of life for underprivileged youth.

As an undergraduate, Underwood interned with Oprah Winfrey on WLS-TV and with WBBM radio.

“That really opened the door for me for radio — even if I didn’t see myself there, if there were no black females doing it. Because someone told me I could do it here at this school, I really believed I could do it.”

Underwood completed a degree in communication and theatre in 1987. When the going got tough after graduation, Underwood said she got going with all the things she learned as a UIC student.

“When people weren’t hiring me, I pretended to be my own agent,” she said. “From the classes that I took here, I knew contracts, I knew what the Latin was inside of a law book, I knew a little bit about accounting and I knew about business structures.”

Eventually, Underwood says another agency tried to take her from her own company.

“I pretended, like ‘you know, I really don’t like them, they’re not doing too well,’” she said, laughing.

Underwood went on to win the BET Funniest Female Comedian on Comic View in 1994 and the Comedy Awards’ Platinum Mic Viewers Choice Award in 2005.

9/9/15 Sheryl Underwood, comedian, UIC graduate and host of “The Talk” CBS daytime show, visited campus and spoke to students.

Although she saw no black women in radio, her internship with WBBM as a UIC student showed her the possibilities, Underwood says. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

She shared her experience of being part of the Friars Club Earvin “Magic” Johnson roast for a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002, and other experiences with comedy kings Steve Harvey and the late Bernie Mac — members of Omega Psi Phi and Alpha Phi Alpha fraternities.

“It was really all about higher education and Greekdom coming together,” she said.

Underwood has been a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority since 1990. She was the sorority’s 23rd international president in 2008.

Underwood is proud to be UIC, and told students they should be too.

“This is going to carry you further in life than you ever thought,” she said.