You can find one report about his announcement here. (I wanted to access the Eurweb report but could not.) I'm kind of bummed. Sure, the former Clevelander is doing fine as a radio talker, TV host and best-selling philosopher. But I remember seeing him do standup in 1994 and he tore up the room.
After the jump is my Beacon Journal story about that moment.
From the Akron Beacon Journal, July 19, 1994:
Early one Saturday evening in Los Angeles, ABC showed off four stand-up comics-turned-sitcom-stars to the out-of-town press.
Bob Saget of Full House hosted but the showcase was really for the players from three new shows: Margaret Cho of All-American Girl, Ralph Harris from On Our Own and former Clevelander Steve Harvey of Me and the Boys.
The pressure was high, Harvey told the crowd. "I'd like to thank ABC for providing me with this wonderful opportunity to perform in front of a group of people who have the power to destroy my career."
Cho did all right with some well-worn material. Harris fared badly, not least because his routine centered on the different ways his mother abused him. Then Harvey took the stage. And took charge.
Saget, Harvey recalled, "said we won't do no O.J. Simpson jokes. Well, that's Bob.
'I don't care nothin' about O.J. He ain't never been no hero of mine. You know, if he did it, he did it. He's stupid. He's a football player. Stick to football.
"If you don't know how to commit murder, don't do it.
"He's stupid. He left too much evidence around. Somebody's saying he found a Heisman Trophy in the bushes.
"Under the ski mask he had his helmet on.
"And the cleat marks in the mud didn't help."
The room rocked with laughter, and Harvey rolled. He went beyond the touchy territory of Simpson to the World Cup ("between Brazil and Italy, two countries known for gunfire"), Michael Jackson and taking cruises.
"There wasn't a lot of black people on the cruise. It suddenly dawned on me, hell, after that first big boat ride, we kind of lost our taste for sailing."
And he wasn't done. He tackled an even riskier subject, the shooting of 22 people in a Texas cafeteria.
"I don't have a problem with the people getting shot. I didn't know none of them. I don't have a problem with the trigger man. It wasn't my pistol. I have a problem with one person in that whole story: Person Number 22.
"What the hell was he thinkin' about? How you gonna sit there and let 21 other people get shot and killed? Why is yo' ass still in the building?"
Oh, he was funny. But you also have to wonder what ABC was thinking when it looked at this guy, heard him talk about the edge to his comedy, and said, yeah, great, we'll make him a father in a family sitcom.
The short answer is, Harvey has a story to tell.
In Me and the Boys the 37-year-old comic plays Steve Hayes, who like Harvey grew up in Cleveland and as an adult settled in Dallas. Unlike Harvey, who has moved to Los Angeles (although he still owns a comedy club in the Cowboy City), Hayes is still in Dallas, widowed about four years and raising three sons. (Harvey himself has twin daughters.)
For both actor and character, the series came after a hard climb.
"I didn't know I wanted to be a stand-up as a child, but I always wanted to be on TV. And that's a pretty wild thing to say when you grow up on 112th and Superior in Cleveland. ... Man, you're a long way from television."
But not far from a set, where he watched Red Buttons, Red Skelton, Jonathan Winters and later George Carlin and Richard Pryor, Cleveland also proved fertile comic ground, "the butt-end of a lot of jokes" and the home of comics like Arsenio Hall and A.J. Jamal.
Besides, Harvey loves the place.
"I'm a Browns fan," he said, " 'cause that's my heart, man. I'm a Cleveland man. I'm from Cleveland. Nobody can say I'm from Dallas. Cleveland is where my heart is. That's my home. My parents live there.
"I'm a Dawg Pound man. I was the guy in the Dawg Pound that first came up with the idea of packing a D-cell battery in a snowball and throwing it at John Elway. That was me, thank you very much. ... When you're from Cleveland that never goes out of you.
"And now look at the Indians. Awwwww, look at the Indians. Look at us."
Despite a fairly strict life at home -- "I wasn't a class clown because my mother made sure of that" -- Harvey drifted in early adulthood, attending Kent State University but not graduating, trying by his count 80 to 85 jobs and realizing "I have no skills at all whatsoever.'
What he had, he finally realized, was a gift. "There is no class for this," he said of comedy. "You can't go to school and pick it up. You can't be taught timing. ... It is strictly from God."
First writing jokes for other comics, he began performing at Hilarities in Cuyahoga Falls in October 1985, winning the amateur-night competition. Expecting to perform the following week, he just happened to be in the club when they called him onstage.
"I ran on with absolutely nothing prepared at all, so I immediately stole these jokes that I had written for A.J. Jamal," he said. Club owner Nick Costas saw something he liked in Harvey and encouraged him.
"Nick Costas is one of the main reasons I'm here," Harvey said. "He's a good friend, too, man. When I was really broke, he bought my (publicity) pictures. When I went on the road, my car (payments) note got behind and he caught my car note so they wouldn't repo the car. He was just there. He was there in the beginning."
While on the road, Harvey played a club in Dallas that was about to close. He started booking acts into the club, then opened his own place down the street in 1993. Owning a club gave him a place to develop a lot of material. Success not only got him noticed by ABC, it gave him an opportunity to work with youth around the country.
He tells them, "Education is the key and you've got to be drug-free. ... I'm trying to help them understand that you can be from an impoverished neighborhood, as myself, you can grow up in the projects, you can be very poor, you can come from a society that doesn't put emphasis on dream-building, and you can still overcome all of that."
That's the story in Me and the Boys, too. Viewers may see a sitcom, but Harvey also sees a man who works hard, sons who have to learn you can't get away with stuff in life, a family pulling together and pulling itself up.
Harvey does not pretend to be an actor. Stand-up, he maintains, is "my true gift" and the series will succeed if it gets him large enough stand-up audiences to get out of clubs and into theaters. But he also knows from his youth work what comedy can accomplish.
"When you got people laughing," he said, "that's when you got people listening."
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