LOS ANGELES — Host extraordinaire Steve Harvey got his start in standup comedy. But Harvey hasn’t executed standup for six years and may never again.
“Because it’s so politically correct out here now,” he said. “It’s so PC. (Dave) Chappelle’s special broke a lot of the rules, and so did (Chris) Rock, but they’re not television stars. And I’m connected to a radio show and TV that’s very much sponsor-driven. If I had said anything that those two guys said, and somebody wrote in (to) a sponsor talking about it, ‘I can’t believe he said THAT!’ then my whole television empire crumbles.”
Harvey has always kept his TV empire clean. And an empire it is. On May 24 he’ll be celebrating the season finale of his popular Fox series, “Showtime at the Apollo.”
He also hosts a TV talk show, a morning radio gig, NBC’s “Little Big Shots” and the syndicated “Family Feud.”
A bit of a workaholic, Harvey, 61, admits hosting is what he does best. He says he learned the intricacies of that job in 1991 when he emceed at his own comedy club.
“Hosting is a specialized talent because you have to be gracious,” he said. “Most people are not successful hosts because they make the show about them. It’s really about the other person.
“You have to be gracious when people are succeeding. Now if they’re losing, you can do your thing. But I’ve always hosted. Then when I became host of ‘Showtime at the Apollo,’ I had so much experience bringing up acts at this one-nighter club that I had in Dallas, and my own comedy club, I became good at it.”
He’s so good at it that he’s the go-to guy when anybody needs a host. That’s why Harvey is holding down five jobs on a schedule that would exhaust a tsunami. “I just decided that I wanted to do something exceptional, and the only thing I know is work,” he said.
“I’ve slowly been turning my brand into a global entrepreneur. It takes work to make dreams come true. I don’t know any other way to do it.”
But at times he’s overwhelmed, he confesses. “There are a lot of days that I wish I was off, but I can’t be. But also at the same time, I’m really grateful and proud of the fact that I don’t miss — I’ve been on ‘Family Feud’ 200 episodes. This is the ninth year. I’ve never missed a day — never missed a show.
"I’ve been on my talk show — this is the end of the sixth year. I’ve never missed a show. Never missed ‘Showtime at the Apollo.’ Never missed an episode of ‘Little Big Shots,’ ‘Little Big Shots: Forever Young,’ ‘Funderdome.’
“I’ve never missed an episode of television, except one episode of television back in the ’90s — ‘The Steve Harvey Show’ — my mom passed. Other than that, I’ve never missed a day. I’m very grateful for being healthy to be able to work.”
It didn’t start out so propitious for the kid from the projects in Cleveland. When he was a little boy he began to stutter. “I stuttered all the way up to the sixth grade,” he said.
“A guy who owned the corner store called Moore’s Deli, he saw that I stuttered, and he used to give me candy if I could read my mother’s note or say what my mother wanted without stuttering. And he helped me stop stuttering.”
Harvey says he always entertained comic thoughts. “I just couldn’t get them out. Then when I stopped stuttering, I was still so bashful from stuttering in public that even when I was in high school, I would just say stuff under my breath to the students sitting close to me.
“They would be on the floor laughing. And then they’d have to go to the principal’s office, and I’d be sitting there with the same deadpan look on my face.
“I had a real dry sense of humor. I didn’t really come out of that until I went to college and I was away from my parents and getting up going like I wanted, and that freedom made me say stuff out loud. And there was a lot of loud, brash kids in college, and I couldn’t let them think that I was some little sissy,” he says.
“In college guys would be sitting round in the room, and I would pull out a desk-chair and stand up on it and just start talking about something that happened on campus that day. And they would be screaming. They’d all be drinking beer, eating pizza, and it was like a show. They were doing drugs, and I’ve never done a drug. They’d be smoking marijuana, getting high, drinking beer, laughing. And I’d just be standing up in the chair because I never drank or took drugs.”