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March 2006
DON'T TRIP... HE AIN'T THROUGH WITH ME YET : An Interview with Steve Harvey

DON'T TRIP... HE AIN'T THROUGH WITH ME YET: An Interview with Steve Harvey


by Kam Williams

Harvey's Change of Heart

Born January 17, 1957, in Welch, West Virginia to Jesse and Eloise Vera Harvey, Steve got his start in stand-up in 1985 after winning an amateur night competition at a bar in Cleveland. He then proceeded to perfect his craft on the Chitlin' Circuit where he put over 100,000 miles on his jalopy making the rounds till he was tapped to emcee the syndicated TV-variety show "It's Showtime at the Apollo" in 1994.

That same year, the 6'2" funnyman landed a starring role on "Me and the Boys," a TV sitcom which was eventually spun-off into "The Steve Harvey Show." With a winning smile and a down-home charm, Steve soon blossomed into one of the most familiar faces in America.

A versatile entertainer, Harvey has also had his own HBO special, hosted comedy and awards shows, handled both dramatic and comedic roles on the big screen, supplied voicework for cartoons and animated features, written a book, and made guest appearances on such television series as "The Parkers" and "My Wife and Kids." Plus he presently has his own syndicated radio morning show emanating from New York City.

In 2000, he toured with Cedric the Entertainer, Bernie Mac and D.L. Hughley as one of The Original Kings of Comedy, bring an off-color brand of humor to sold-out crowds in stadiums all across the country. However, despite all the trappings of success, something didn't sit well with Steve, a six-time, NAACP Image Award-winner.

He admits to having had some misgivings about disappointing his parents, particularly his late mother, with his use of salty language on stage. So, he recently returned to the stage to perform a curse-free concert, which he's turned into his latest movie, namely, Don't Trip... He Ain't Through with Me.

When I initially interviewed Steve about his new film, I later learned that my recorder had malfunctioned and that the tape was blank. Fortunately, he was gracious enough about it to give me another interview the next day.


Kam Williams: Steve, first I have to apologize profusely. My tape recorder malfunctioned somehow and I lost the original interview. And it was a great one.

Steve Harvey: I'm so sick of you. You make me sick. [chuckles] No, man, you're all right with me. You're cool with me, baby.


KW: Okay, let's start over again. What interested you in taking on the challenge of working clean in front of a spiritual congregation?

SH: Well, two things. She passed now, but I always wanted my mother to be able to see me work clean. She'd always say "I sho' wish I could come see you perform, but you cussin', and you know I don't wanna hear that." So, I wanted to do something to honor her request. Besides that reason, I wanted to do it for the under-served church community. I grew up in the church, so I understand it. I've always understood the humor inside of church. I knew it would still be a challenge for me to attempt to do something clean after 20 years of standing around saying what I wanted to say, any kind of way I wanted to phrase it. But I wanted to have a piece of work that I hope people will remember, when it's a wrap for me. I hope this is the one that people play when they say, "Remember Steve Harvey? Remember how good he was?"


KW: Most people find it impossible to make it in show business at even one thing. But you've flourished in a wide variety of endeavors. To what do attribute that success?

SH: Number one, I've never gone outside of the one thing. It's all very relatable. I started as a stand-up comedian. It's a microphone. I've never attempted to make money another way, until I became an expert at the joke-telling business. Then, I got on TV. After I learned how to work in front of cameras, then I got into some movies. But I always kept stand-up in the forefront of all my positions. It's the staple of everything that I do, whether it's a movie, a TV show, a radio show, whatever. Stand-up is the core essence of that performance for the most part, even when I give talks as a motivational speaker in high schools and prisons around the country. I take that skill as a stand-up with me, Ścause while I'm talking, whether it's a serious subject or not, I always use humor to keep it alive and to hold their attention. So, I focus on one thing, and I've gotten pretty good at it on a lot of different levels.


KW: So, how hard was it for you working clean?

SH: [exasperated laugh] I would be kidding for you, if I said it's easy for me to do, Ścause it's not. It very much was a challenge after 20 years of doing it any way I wanted to suddenly have to be conscious of your words, and of how you choose your words, and little phrases which have profanity in them that you naturally throw out. You have to edit all that, and you have to make sure that you're developing punch lines that don't have profanity in them, because you can't clean up a punch line. It is what it is. So, it was a bit challenging, and it took me a while to write the material for the movie.


KW: Did you try it out in a club, first?

SH: No, the stuff had never been performed anywhere before. I just did it all that night. And it turned out pretty well.


KW: I always think of comedians testing their material in tiny clubs first, in order to be able to see what works and tweak the act.

SH: Yeah, that's how they do it. But I don't like working small rooms anymore, because I can't get hyped for it. The Kings of Comedy kind of ruined that for me. The advantage I have over other comedians is that I have a daily radio show which exercises my comedy muscle. It's really working for four hours every morning, creating comedy. So, when I go on stage, my timing is always still good, because that comedy muscle has been working out everyday. So, when I write a joke, all I have to do is have the faith that it's funny. And, anyway, after doing it for 20 years, you have a real good idea of what's funny, because I know what fits my style. I don't have to wonder, "Man, will they accept this joke from me?" No, I already know, because this fits the charisma and style of the animal that I am on stage.


KW: How has your adjustment to living in New York gone?

SH: [snickers] This city, man. It's such a pace up here. The people are great. Some of the best people I've met anywhere live here in New York. People are wrong about New Yorkers not being nice people. They're honest. There are some great people up here. But the street... the hustle and bustle... the traffic... the cabs not caring that you're crossing the street in the crosswalk, and you have the light and the walk emblem. They don't care. That don't matter. They're turning anyway and blowing their horn.


KW: It's a tough city.

SH: I saw this guy the other day feeding a pack of pigeons and this just sums up how tough New York is. I was watching him and he snapped, "You wanna feed the pigeons?" And I said, "Nah, no thanks." He said, "You're Steve Harvey, right?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "You think New York's tough, don't you?" I answered, "Yes, it's been pretty hard on me." Then, he said, "Well, let me ask you something. You ever notice that you've never seen any baby pigeons?" I said, "Wow, you know, you're right, I've never seen a baby pigeon." He said, "You know why? Because when you come down here you've got to be ready!" And I thought, that's true, you've never seen a baby pigeon, because when you fly down here onto the streets of New York, you've got to be ready. And that sums up New York for me, when you come here, you've got to ready.


KW: Yesterday, you also told me that there's quite a difference living in an apartment when you're used to living on 9 acres back in Texas.

SH: 95 acres.


KW: Whoa, 95 acres. That's a lot of real estate.

SH: Oh yeah. I got a lot of space. My front door is a half mile from the road. I can walk outside naked and nobody would know it. I got three lakes dug on it, plus I have huge Lake Lewisville that I live off of. Man, that gives you space, and it's great. It's where I go bass fishing, and just lay around. I wear t-shirts, and let go for a minute. It's a breath of fresh air. No people.


KW: I was surprised in the movie to hear you mention that you'd been in jail, you'd been shot, and that you'd lived in your career for a couple of years when you were younger. Is all that true?

SH: Oh, yeah, very much so. Some of the film had to be edited for time restraints. So, the live audience got more of an explanation about what actually happened in jail. All that other stuff has been one of those lives for me. And living in my car was a part of it that people don't know about. I never told anybody about. I just did what I had to do. I was just trying to make it. I wanted to be something so badly that I was willing to go through some things to get here. People just see the end results. They look up there and see you on stage. They just see that part. They don't know really what it cost, and what it takes, and what you may have to go through to get here which makes you appreciate it.


KW: So, what advice, then, do you have for anyone who follows in your footsteps?

SH: My advice is, if you can get yourself an education and a good job, do it. This is rough. This is the New York City of entertainment. [shouts] If you come down here, you gotta be ready! [laughs] I tell my son, who wants to be a comedian, "Hey, man, this is not what you want to do." It's just such a tough business, man. It's so difficult to get through all of the cracks and stuff. I recommend that you just follow your gift. Don't worry about what you have a burning desire to be. You've got to match that up with your gift. See, I had the wrong desire when I was young. I had a burning desire to be in the NBA, but a few things kind of slowed that up, like dribbling, shooting and running.


KW: At the end of this film, it looks like you were emotionally drained and maybe even crying on stage. Was that actually the case?

SH: Yeah, it was emotional for me. When the lights went out and they came back up, I tried to walk back out and say something to the crowd, but I was overcome. It was a big night for me. I had finished. I had done it without cussing. There was a lot of pressure on me. A lot of expectations, a lot of judgment that I was fighting against. And, at the same time, there was a lot of love. The last piece, my introduction of God, had really affected me while I was doing it.


KW: Why so?

SH: Because I was feeling the reaction from the crowd to this piece that I had never done before in front of anybody. It was just a very emotional and overwhelming experience for me. I couldn't talk at the end. I just had to stop. Then when I walked off, I went into my dressing room and cried for 20 minutes. I couldn't pull it back together. It was just the emotion of the night and being able to accomplish it. I had a feeling my Mom was watching. A lot of that was in my head at the time, so it was really deep for me for me to know that she was finally able to watch me work and that she was very proud of me at that moment. All of that was going on inside in me.


KW: Well, Steve, thanks again for giving me the do-over. I really apologize.

SH: It's no problem, man. You're a good guy.


KW: I promise to do a good job spreading the word about the movie.

SH: I sho' appreciate it, man.


KW: Later, bro.


DON'T TRIP... HE AIN'T THROUGH WITH ME YET opens on March 17th, 2006


 

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