Interview: Steve Harvey
When I was overseas in France this summer, everybody who came up to me said, "Obama! Obama! Obama! Please!" So, I think his winning has done a lot for the reputation of America.
Broderick Steven Harvey was born in Welch, West Virginia on January 17, 1956, although he grew up in Cleveland where he graduated from Glenville High School in 1974. After brief stints as a boxer and an insurance salesman, he paid his dues for several years on the Chitlin’ Circuit honing his craft as a stand-up comedian.
Steve found national fame in 1994, when he was picked to emcee "It’s Showtime at the Apollo." Soon thereafter, the versatile funnyman landed his own sitcom, "The Steve Harvey Show" and went on to enjoy an enduring career in show business.
In 2000, he crisscrossed the country with Cedric the Entertainer, D.L. Hughley and the late Bernie Mac as one of The Original Kings of Comedy, a sold out tour filmed and turned into a phenomenally-popular concert flick by Spike Lee. A six-time NAACP Image Award-winner, Steve currently hosts a nationally-syndicated radio show broadcast from New York City.
Here, he talks about his career, the passing of fellow King of Comedy Bernie Mac, and about Still Trippin’, a DVD of his latest stand-up act which was recently filmed in front of a live audience in Newark, New Jersey.
BSN: Hi Steve, thanks again for the time.
SH: Hey man, what’s happening? How you doing?
BSN: I’m fine, thanks. I loved this new concert film, Still Trippin’ and I gave it four stars, but I felt that you were just as funny on your previous DVD, Don’t Trip, which was clean. Why did you add the curse words back into your act?
SH: Well, you know it’s really not that I added them back in. When I did Don’t Trip with Bishop T.D. Jakes, it was really to take me to a place where I’d never gone in my stand-up before, working spotlessly clean before a religious organization. I had to write a lot of material just for that show, and I was very proud of it. It was really a tribute to my mom because she had passed. Since my mother was saved, she never saw me perform because of the profanity. So, I wanted to do something to honor her. That was the one time I worked totally clean, other than on TV and sitcoms and stuff like that. So, I don’t really know that I added it back in, but I dug your review though and I appreciate what you said.
BSN: But didn’t you become a Born Again Christian after your association with Bishop Jakes?
SH: The truth is I’ve always been a Christian. What’s amazing, man, is that the flaws that come with Christianity are really weird, because mine have a microphone and a camera attached to them. Most people don’t have to live under that microscope. I’m still very much a Christian and have a great relationship with God. I love Him, but one of my flaws is that I cuss. I’m just being honest with you, man. But I’ll tell you this, the thing I did with Bishop Jakes, Don’t Trip, is to date my absolute greatest piece of work. Even as crazy as I am, I have enough sense to know that.
BSN: Yeah, that performance wasn’t just funny, but that finale was very powerful, spiritually.
SH: I’m even thinking of doing another concert like that as my farewell DVD, because I don’t know how much longer I’ve got at this in terms of touring. I’m think 2009 and 2010 could be the farewell tour, because I kinda want to walk out of the business leaving a legacy behind that I was clean but a really, really funny guy, before people stop paying to see me.
BSN: You’ve enjoyed so much success in terms of TV, radio, movies and stand-up, that I don’t think you have to worry about your legacy. I think it’s already established as first rate.
SH: I appreciate that. A lot of that is going to be up to you guys in the press and how you write about it.
BSN: Speaking of leaving a legacy, you worked with Bernie Mac on The Kings of Comedy tour and on television. How did you feel when you learned about his passing?
SH: Man, that was tough, because I never knew exactly how old Bernie was. On the Kings tour, we played golf, we swapped cigars, and we told the funniest stories in the dressing rooms, stuff that you couldn’t say on stage. But we must have never mentioned our ages. So, it hit me really hard while I was watching a tribute to him by Larry King, which we all were a part of, when I saw 1957-2008 on the screen under Bernie’s picture. It hit home, because I was born in 1957, too, and except for the grace of God, that could easily have been me. It’s too young to pass, I think, but Bernie’s time was up. It struck me very deeply when I saw the dates on the monitor. That’s what hit me the hardest, to realize how fortunate I am to still be here.
BSN: And then, the day after Bernie died, Isaac Hayes passed away. And both of you were radio show hosts in New York.
SH: Right. And I saw Sam [Samuel L. Jackson] at Bernie’s funeral. And all three of them were in this movie together.
BSN: Soul Men, which opened a couple of months later.
SH: It was kinda weird that Bernie and Isaac Hayes had passed, and Sam was living. It must have been pretty tough for him and it probably had him thinking about a lot of things. I’m pretty sure he didn’t feel like promoting the movie. It was tough, that whole run right there. ’08 was a stressful year, man.
BSN: I want to talk a little about your new DVD. I thought that bit you did about the homely women in that polygamous cult in Texas, comparing them to Aunt Bee from Andy of Mayberry and Jane Hathaway of The Beverly Hillbillies was hilarious. How do you come up with your material?
SH: When you do radio, you’re kept abreast of all these news stories. On the air you have the FCC restrictions, but when you get to the concert stage it’s weird, because I have the same subjects, but I’m just free to adjust my timing, and to add facial expressions whichreflect my thought processes. In actuality, when you hear these news stories as a stand-up comedian, you see them totally differently. For instance, I see these women, and I’m asking, "Wow! Why would anybody want eight of these as a wife?" I’m looking at their outfits, and I’m going, "Man, these ain’t the most appealing-looking outfits." Nobody says, man, these chicks are hot. If I had four of them…" Instead, everybody’s looking at them and asking, "Who the hell does their hair like that?" And then, how do you get away with just loading these women’s kids on a bus? Ain’t nobody trying to turn the bus over?
BSN: And how about the riff you did about the female astronaut arrested in adult diapers?
SH: Nobody can actually plan on driving and just urinating. That cannot be your plan. How pissed off are you? When you stop for gas, that might be a good time to unload yourself. Why would you sit there, when you’ve wet your pants? Now we have some other problems because your urine at this age is very different.
SH: See, what I do is take a situation and extract all the absurdity out of it. That’s what makes the bits great, man
BSN: How do you feel about Obama’s victory?
SH: I think it’s the greatest thing ever for this country. Even deeper than that, I think it’s big for the world. When I was overseas in France this summer, everybody who came up to me said, "Obama! Obama! Obama! Please!" So, I think his winning has done a lot for the reputation of America. I’m also happy for African-Americans that they get to feel a sense of belonging, finally, and that their vote does count, and just being able to point to our children and say, "Okay, here’s the deal, everything is possible now, for real." It’s all possible now. This kills the excuses for everybody, and it helps those of us who are parents to be able to say, "Hey, this can happen for you. You can become the President of the United States. Let’s not use our color as a crutch anymore, but rather as a pole vault stick to get over all these barriers." That’s what I think is great about Obama’s election.
BSN: What was the last book you read?
SH: Ex-Free: 9 Keys to Freedom after Heartbreak by Troy Byer.