Onstage, streetwise and super-sharp comic Steve Harvey always seems about one punch line 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 he heard his mother — a Sunday school teacher — use a curse word. "But the joke didn't make any sense. When I get to Tampa, the a-- goes back in my act."
Harvey, 54, crossed over to mainstream audiences years ago, in part thanks to the unexpected mid '90s blockbuster success of the Kings of Comedy Tour, uniting him with three other standup comedy superstars, mostly famous with black fans.
Now, with a nationally syndicated radio show (airing locally at 6 a.m. on WBPT-FM 95.7), a job hosting the syndicated game show Family Feud (airing at 2 p.m. weekdays on WTTA-Ch. 38), two best-selling books on relationships and stints offering advice on Oprah and Good Morning America, Harvey has become a multiplatform mogul.
While polishing a pair of smoky gray shoes in his office, Harvey dished on everything from his tour to the hazards of staying faithful in the limelight.
Why tour with a gospel star now?
First of all, I've never seen it done before; two guys from these different genres — comedy and gospel — who were at the (highest) level, touring together. People don't think those two (audiences) mix well together. But the truth of the matter is … it's the same crowd, man, it's the same person.
You've started being more open about your faith; what's the toughest part of that?
Because I'm a public figure, my flaws and sins have a microphone, a spotlight and a camera attached. One lady said 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 let's see if something crazy don't come out of your mouth.
Your second ex-wife, Mary, recorded some widely circulated YouTube videos accusing you of cheating on her and disrespecting women. Will you ever respond personally?
Even if I didn't have a gag order, I have a son and that's his mother. 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.
You've said you want to build a career worth $250 million or more. Why?
My father gave me a very important piece of information: 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. . . . I've been striving ever since not to be one of them, so I can help people.