Comedian Steve Harvey has always known how to make us laugh. After spending several years away from television, the Glenville High School graduate is back as the host of the new Family Feud and ready to prove that regular folks are really funny. John Hitch
"When people talk about 'the big one,' what do they refer to?"
An earthquake. Hurricane. Maybe a heart attack. Anything but what Iris is going to say. Oh Iris, innocent-looking Iris, who quickly slaps her buzzer and sheepishly blurts out ...
"A man's privates?"
The camera cuts to Steve Harvey and holds for just a second before zooming in on his face. It's frozen in silence, his jaw ever so slightly dropped open. The host lets the audience's laughter fill the moment. All the while Harvey's heat-seeking humor closes in on its embarrassed target: poor Iris, poor never-going-to-live-this-down Iris.
Harvey milks the moment, holding his gaze until the last laugh drips out. He then raises his note card with the show's logo on it and mouths a word barely loud enough for his microphone to pick up: "Family." Then a touch louder, "Family." Iris is mortified, but he's not going to let her off the hook just yet. He gives her a pleading, faux scolding in a whisper-like yell. "I just got the job, what are you trying to do?"
Not since Richard Dawson ruled the original version of Family Feud has the popular game show had a host who carried Harvey's alpha-dog appeal. And while his flirtatious predecessor killed them, especially the ladies, with kindness, kisses and wry humor, the sharp-dressed Harvey levels them with mock aggression and razor-sharp wit.
But Harvey, whose first episode aired Sept. 13, doesn't just crack jokes. Following a truly awful response, he'll disdainfully drop all his question cards or feign a heart attack.
"He feeds off these perfectly crazy kind of answers that people give," says Family Feud executive producer Gaby Johnston. "He made this show fresh again."
Harvey, who grew up in Cleveland and graduated from Glenville High School, had been away from television for five years before the Family Feud job. He had hosted It's Showtime at the Apollo for years and had two WB Network shows between 1996 and 2005. He also traveled with Bernie Mac, D.L. Hughley and Cedric the Entertainer on the Kings of Comedy tour, which culminated in 2000 with the Spike Lee documentary The Original Kings of Comedy.
But just because Harvey's been away from television, doesn't mean he hasn't been busy. Since 2000, he's hosted a syndicated morning talk-radio show and last year wrote a best-selling book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy, and Commitment.
The Family Feud job started with a cryptic phone call last winter in which producers asked Harvey to fly from his Atlanta home to Los Angeles to discuss his involvement in a "very big game show." Harvey arrived to learn it was Family Feud and was offered the job on the spot.
"I told them the greatest person I ever saw do it was Richard Dawson," Harvey recalls. "If you just let me be me, that's when I'll do the show."
Harvey's approach is simple: Let people be themselves and react to it. "Real people are some really funny people, man, especially if you put them under a little bit of pressure with some lights, a clock ticking and trying to race and be first — you get some really funny stuff."
Harvey says real folks have been the foundation of his career, whether it was on It's Showtime at the Apollo or Steve Harvey's Big Time Challenge. But Harvey's foundation as a man was built on East 112th Street, where his mother often said, "If you do not have a tie on, mister, you are not dressed up," and his father told him, "Do what you say you're gonna do, be a man of your word, be respectful, be a law-abiding citizen."
And though he hasn't been back much since both his parents passed away more than a decade ago, Harvey says the city that shaped him is never far from his mind.
"When you learn comedy in Cleveland, audiences are tough," he says. "It makes you tough, man, and it gets you ready for the world. ... I'm a Cleveland boy — make no mistake about it."