Chicago native Bashir Salahuddin has written for shows like “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” “Maya & Marty” and “The Last O.G.” for years — but now he fulfills another lifelong dream with “South Side,” a spunky and affectionate sitcom currently filming in Chicago and premiering on Comedy Central next year. Co-written by Diallo Riddle and Salahuddin’s brother, Sultan, the show presents a different perspective on life in the city. Here, we chat with Salahuddin about his journey from talk TV to creating the close-to-home series.
What has it been like transitioning from late-night to Comedy Central? Anybody who’s ever worked on a daily talk show knows that it’s an incredible undertaking. You’re in [NBC’s New York headquarters] 30 Rock and you have all the history and the pressure and they’re relying on you to carry that torch forward. Coming here, our only real goal was to try to be authentic and keep everybody laughing. All of [the show’s writers] came up in late-night comedy; we all have those battle scars. To be able to do it here with more years under our belts, it’s a dream come true.
Why is it so important to you to get this new series right? The purpose is to bring to light a fuller picture of Chicago. We live and laugh and we have fun and we make jokes. Some of us are scientists and some of us are engineers and some of us sell socks on the side of the highway. … It was really important for me to show the broader South Side.
What in particular do you hope viewers grasp about the area? What [people] read in the news about violence and economic difficulty, those are moments that have to be dealt with. … But my experience [growing up there] was so different from [that]. What I watch is gut wrenching; it [speaks] to this very small percentage of people who are up to no good. … There’s a certain love on the South Side that can be experienced nowhere else in the world.
How is your show different from other representations of the city? There’s [nothing showing] a hard comedy set on the South Side of Chicago — and yet, the city is so synonymous with comedy. Everything from Second to City to the likes of Bill Murray, John Cusack [and] Bob Odenkirk. There are so many great comedy luminaries and yet, when you think of Chicago, you associate it with [crime]. We don’t want to be ignorant of the challenges; we just want to say that’s only part of the picture. The larger picture is a lot more beautiful.