Comic Steve Harvey dishes on perils of public piety and his ex-wife's notorious YouTube videos
Onstage, streetwise and super-sharp comic Steve Harvey always seems about one punchline away from a four-letter meltdown.
So when news broke that Harvey would be teaming with gospel star Kirk Franklin for a tour aimed at uniting the church crowd with his nightclub fans, I had one thought: Can he keep it clean enough to avoid a church lady riot?
“I had to do some editing onstage,” said Harvey, laughing as he recalled the pair’s first show Saturday in Atlanta, where he had to clip a certain profanity while describing the only time heard his mother – a Sunday school teacher – use a curse word. “But it didn’t make any sense. When I get to Tampa, the ass goes back in my act.”
Harvey, 54, became a mainstream star years ago, in part thanks to the mid-90s, mega-successful Kings of Comedy Tour, uniting him with three other standup comedy superstars mostly famous with black audiences.
Now, with a nationally-syndicated radio show (airing at 6 a.m. on WBPT-FM, 95.7), a job hosting the syndicated game show Family Feud, two best-selling books on relationships and stints offering advice on Oprah and Good Morning America, Harvey has become a bona-fide, multi-platform mogul. He comes here with Franklin to the St. Pete Times Forum on Saturday; at 6 p.m. Friday, he'll be signing books at the Barnes and Noble in Carrollwood .
While polishing a pair of smoky gray spats in his office and dreaming of the golf he’s going to play at Innisbrook Saturday morning, Harvey dished on everything from why he’s exhausted by public examination of his faith and why he’s never personally responded to his ex-wife’s brutally accusatory YouTube rants.
When I heard you were touring with Kirk Franklin, my first thought was -- uh oh, is Steve ready for the church crowd?
“When Kirk mentioned it to me, first thing I said was uh oh. What am I going to say, how am I going to be? Kirk Franklin was talking to me (at the Essence Music Festival) and he said, 'Man, they’ve been talking to me about doing a tour with a comedian...He said 'I was going to call and get your advice on whether I should do it or not.' I said, 'Naw man, you not going to do it...because we goin’ do it. It’s just the right time in my life where I can work relatively clean. I’m not saying I’m perfect, because there probably will be moments where I have nothing to say but – I’m going to have to sprinkle a little language in there.”
Why is this tour so important?
“First of all, I’ve never seen it done before; two guys from these different genres – comedy and gospel – who are at the level that we are, coming together. I’ts always a big act and a lesser comedian, or a big comedian and a lesser act. Never do you get the gospel world and the comedy worlds, two name acts working on the same show. People don’t think those two (audiences) mix well together. But the truth of the matter is, what Kirk and I were sitting around talking about – it’s the same crowd man, it’s the same person. That’s why we call the tour, The Ain’t Nobody Perfect Tour. Because ain’t nobody perfect. Let’s go from there.”
What aren't you so perfect about?
“There are a lot of people such as myself, who are Christians but would be considered borderline. And quiet as it kept, the majority of people I know are like me – they want to have a relationship with God, but they can’t live 24 hours under that banner. But you know we’re saying on this tour, it’s okay that you can’t live that life 24/7; keep having the life. Don’t give up on it.
“I’m not going drop the f-bomb on you when you come out to see or nothing like that – anymore. I’m a fairly wholesome guy. Even now and then something might slip out. It’s nothing you never heard before. I’m going to tell you this – the Original Kings of Comedy tour was huge. This tour right here – will do more to promote gospel music and more to promote comedy than even did The Kings.”
Your ex-wife Mary and has said some pretty harsh things about you in several YouTube videos, accusing you of infidelity and taking custody of your son. Will you ever answer her accusations directly?
“I’ll never tell my side of the story. Even if I didn’t have gag order, I have a son and that’s his mother. I’ve raised my son, all of them and I have full custody of my son. I’ve raised my sons to honor their mother, with their last breath. What I cannot do, is allow my son to see me disrespectful or making disparaging remarks about his mother. Whatever that costs me, so be it. There’s a court document out there that pretty much cleared my name, that showed I didn’t do any of the stuff she was saying I did. Nobody took a child. I can’t do that, I’m too famous a person. I know she had great lawyers because, hell, I paid for them. With that in mind, I just had to let the court documents speak. God knows my heart and he knows the truth about me and she does too. I won’t allow him to do it. I wish people would understand that. Those who don’t, obviously, they don’t have kids.”
You've taken criticism for insulting atheists; what's the toughest thing about living up to your words as a Christian?
“One of the things that I wrestle with is because I’m a public figure, the scrutiny of claiming to be Christian is so difficult at times. Then people start judging you. When I was just Steve Harvey, people took me as I was. If you say I’m a Christian now, people go – here comes the judgment. Because I’m a public figure, my flaws and sins have a microphone a spotlight and a camera attached to that. I had one lady say to me, 'You supposed to be a Christian now, but I heard you cuss on your radio show.' Well okay lady, I’m on the radio five days a week four hours a morning live. That’s 20 hours a week. Let me see somebody put a microphone on you for 20 hours – any 20 hours you pick – and lets see if something don’t come out of your mouth that don’t sound crazy. I am where I am with it – but I’m really cool with my place right now. I don’t have to live my life according to other people, anyway."
Your morning show has been airing in Tampa for a while now; what's your impression of the fans here?
"They’re trying to get me to move there. They’ve talked to me about Clearwater and Tampa being better than Miami and West Palm Beach. They’re selling me on it. They were saying it's much more economically feasible; they gave me the whole ball of wax. They’re not only kind and nice people but they’re competitive too and obviously they don’t like the other side of the state. (laughs)"
You've said you want to earn $250 million; why?
"My father taught me a very important (lesson): He said, 'Son, the best thing you can do for poor people is not be one of them.' That stuck with me my whole life. The really was the comment I grew up with since I was 12 years old. I’ve been striving ever since not to be one of them so I can help people.”
Is this about uniting all your audiences, across the books, radio show and TV program?
“Kirk was saying that what was surprising him was the fact that I would decided to go with a gospel artist at this point in my career. R&B singers wait until their career ain’t happening no more, then they want to come and do a gospel album. He says, it seems to me like you’re taking an awfully big risk. It is a risk, but change is always a risk. You have got to reinvent yourself constantly. This offers an opportunity to do just what you said – to reinvent myself and invite the Family Feud audience in. Invite all of the media in that never had a reason to write about me or talk about me like they do now. I’m a general market guy now. The core of my fan base has always been African American, but man when you got Family Feud and these books and you on Oprah and Good Morning America, then you become general market.”