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Steve Harvey Says Goodbye to Stand-Up, Alas

By Rich Heldenfels Published: August 1, 2012

Steve Harvey's  final standup will be on Thursday night on pay-per-view as he prepares to add a daytime talk show to his media empire. I have interviewed Steve more than once over the years, and admire his work (and work ethic). Below is the official word of his farewell show, followed by stories I wrote about him in 1994, 1996, 2000 and 2002. The essence of those stories is that he has been  hard-working (he told me one time that ""I'm quitting no jobs."), smart and very, very ambitious.

First, the official word: Comedian Steve Harvey headlines his final stand-up comedy show on August 2 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, celebrating the end of more than 27 years in stand-up comedy. But fans who can’t get to Vegas still have a chance to experience his side-splitting humor via a live Pay-Per-View (PPV) telecast available on cable systems around the country. The two hour special farewell performance, Steve Harvey’s Grand Stand-Up Finale will air live from Las Vegas on cable Pay-Per-View August 2nd at 11 PM EDT/8 PM PDT. After the live show, fans will still be able to access the special via cable PPV for several months and also on Video On Demand (VOD) beginning on August 3. The show is available in both standard and high-definition.* ...  

Plus, cable’s Free On Demand category is now featuring short video pieces featuring a conversation with Mr. Harvey and rare clips from his stand-up career, including reflections on his longtime career and being called a “King of Comedy.” Here is one of his insightful comments: “[Stand-up] is a lonely place. Comedy is crazy because it’s the one thing you can’t take a lesson for. I could take a lesson in being a cameraman, a soundman, an actor, a skydiver. I could take pilot lessons, voice lessons, acting lessons, scuba diving, bungee jumping, kayak, piano, drum lessons. But there’s no schooling for comedy. It’s only God-given. I appreciate it, man. ...

Steve Harvey says, “The road to this final show has been an amazing journey doing stand-up for the past 27 years, and I can’t thank fans enough after reflecting on all those years on stage, and the unforgettable moments and jokes we’ve shared. It’s been a wild ride over these years on stage, radio, TV and more, and taking the stage for my final show, I will have a special blowout performance in store for everyone in Las Vegas and watching at home that will be bigger than any show I’ve done so far.”

The program is $19.95 (SRP**) for the PPV live show and replays as well as the VOD. The show’s rating is TV-PG (L). The following providers will be carrying this seminal event via PPV: Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Charter, Cablevision, Bright House Networks, Bresnan Communications, Verizon, RCN, Metrocast, and other independent systems.

And now, into the vault.  First, from 1994, my first encounter with Steve:

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." 

Here's one from 1996, as he prepared to launch another series,  this time for the old WB network:

Move over, James Brown. Steve Harvey figures he's the hardest-working man in show business.
"I'm quitting no jobs," says the actor, comedian and former Clevelander, who instead just adds new ones to the old.
He hosts the syndicated Showtime at the Apollo series. Every weekday he gets up at 3:30 a.m. in Los Angeles, walks into a studio in his home and hosts a 3 1/2-hour radio show for a station in Chicago. He's a national commercial spokesman for the Denny's restaurant chain. Three weekends a month, he takes his stand-up act on the road. And, come fall, he will be starring in The Steve Harvey Show, a new situation comedy for Warner Brothers' WB network.
Asked when he sleeps, he said, "I've never really slept more than six hours. If I get four, four and a half hours of solid sleep, I'm good."
Yet things could be better.
It's not lost on the Kent State alumnus that his series is on a lesser network, rather than on CBS, NBC or ABC, which was the home of his last series, Me and the Boys. Or that most of the new series starring African-Americans are on the smaller networks.
"I got another show, but it's still frustrating because I know there's a big void," Harvey said Monday during interviews to promote The Steve Harvey Show. "Especially with the Big Three (networks). It's highly disappointing.
"It ain't just messed up for black folks. It's just messed up for folks, period. It's a shame that we are not allowed to see each other the way we are and the way we can be. We have to see each other that way.
"You can't just whitewash the TV screen and expect to help race relations. You have to sprinkle it just the way this country is sprinkled. .... Go outside, especially in Los Angeles. It's such a melting pot, but you turn on the TV and the pot ain't melted at all. It's a big glacier, just sitting there in the middle of the screen."
Harvey expects to help things with his new series, in which he plays a former musician who has become a teacher in a Chicago high school. And WB executives see Harvey not merely as a star with African-Americans but as someone like Bill Cosby, who appeals to all audiences.
A year ago, after Me and the Boys was canceled, Harvey was matter-of-fact about the issue, pointing out he still had a deal to develop a new series for ABC. He thinks ABC's new owner Disney also likes him. Still, he wonders how solid the deal ever was.
It should have been perfect. Me and the Boys, with Harvey as a single father, had respectable ratings but was a show ABC saw as appealing to children when the network was looking at more adult comedies. And Harvey's own fame and reputation were demonstrated by his commercials for Denny's, which was trying to repair an image battered by accusations of racism.
"It was a long-fought battle to take the Denny's deal," he said. "I balked at it initially. Then I had my lawyers and my press people and everybody look at Denny's and see that this was a problem they had seriously rectified. .... Denny's started trying to make a real difference, so they had to find someone who was funny but who had a respectable reputation within the community. And that is me. I always try to represent in a positive fashion. ....
"And it would be kind of hard for them to renege on their promises. Because just like you got my big mouth speaking for ya, you could have that same big mouth going the other way."
As ABC is now finding out. Philosophical a year ago when Me and the Boys was canceled, he now calls the move "idiotic."
Although the network did not want him to go to the competition, Harvey said, "People kind of let me know they weren't too serious about my (new) show. We were approaching time to do a pilot and weren't getting it done. Everybody I wanted, they didn't want."
Harvey wanted Winifred Hervey, whose credits include Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and In the House. ABC kept countering with "guys I never heard of. They were supposed to be top-flight, on the A list. I don't know whose A list they was on."
Finally, Harvey said, "It dawned on me, ABC was just trying to keep me off the market. They got money to pay you to hold, and do nothing with it."
Fortunately, the WB went after him and managed to get Harvey out of the ABC deal and into The Steve Harvey Show. And Winifred Hervey is not only the executive producer, she created the series for Harvey.
Not that life is ever perfect. A die-hard Browns fan, Harvey still laments the team's move to Baltimore.
"You thought I was going to start crying didn't you?" he said. "That's a sore subject, man. I can't believe they did that. I've never known nothing but Browns. Now I've got no more Cleveland Browns. You can call them the Baltimore whatever -- they better not come to Cleveland to play. There'll be buckshot in people's helmets."
And what about the new Browns promised by the National Football League?
"That's not the Browns," Harvey said. "That's somebody else."
 

From 2000, talking about "The Original Kings of Comedy":

Steve Harvey still has crossover dreams. And he hopes a new movie is going to make the dreams real.
Not that the former Clevelander has a bad life. A lot of comics struggle to get one sitcom, let alone Harvey's two: Me and the Boys on ABC in 1994-95 and The Steve Harvey Show, which starts its fifth season on the WB this fall.
Some comics would figure they'd made it if they just played well-filled clubs. Harvey has filled theaters and arenas on the Kings of Comedy tour with D.L. Hughley, Bernie Mac and Steve Harvey Show co-star Cedric the Entertainer.
And when comics have gotten to make movies, they've often settled for less esteemed directors than Spike Lee. But he directed The Original Kings of Comedy, a movie filmed during the comedy tour, which opens today.
Still, Harvey dreams that something bigger is around the corner.
"Success can come to you too early," said the 43-year-old comic. "It can never come too late. Now is a good time. I'm seasoned. I know what I'm doing. I'm good at it. . . . I'm at the pinnacle of what I do."
Harvey hopes that The Original Kings of Comedy will make him more than a famous African-American comedian, more than the star of series popular with African-American audiences.
Harvey wants to be a star with all people, a comedian for all audiences.
It's not only that he likes to make people laugh, and does so. It's that he knows to be considered a really big success, he has to reach white viewers.
In the past he's argued The Steve Harvey Show did not get much respect from the WB because it did not reach white audiences the way other shows on the network did.
He was angry last year when his series and other black-led sitcoms were moved to Friday nights, which the WB had never programmed, and feared the ratings would suffer.
He says now he understands the network's reasoning - it was just using shows with a proven record to establish a new night. (And his series has since moved back to Sundays, where it started.)
In fact, although his contract for the series runs out at the end of the new season, he might be willing to keep the show going if he gets a good deal.
And The Original Kings of Comedy could be his way of getting that good deal, as well as the crossover dream.
MTV, whose film division is one of the companies behind the movie, has been promoting it night and day for more than a month.
"There's going to be huge crossover appeal," Harvey said during a quiet moment at a jammed party for press and WB stars at a Pasadena, Calif., restaurant last month.
"The tour drew predominantly African-American audiences because that's who we approached. We ran our spots on urban radio," said Harvey, using industry jargon for black-targeted media. "We attracted urban newspapers."
MTV's broader-based marketing reaches white audiences, as well, he said.
"I think the movie will do really well, man," he said. "I think it will propel me into another space, to more opportunities. Which is why the WB may be more interested in talking to me (about continuing his series). Because Ced and I happen to be one half of that success. And to tell you the truth, we're a little bit more than one half.
"The first year it was just three of us (Harvey, Cedric and Mac), so we were actually two thirds of that success," Harvey said. "Then they added D.L. The show was more fun with D.L., but the (box-office) numbers duplicated themselves. So, I'm still giving me and Ced two thirds of the credit."
Lee's name as a director also may give the movie a boost, but directing a monologue isn't exactly an opportunity to show off. You want to present the show without getting in the way.
"When it comes to the show, that's all you can do," Harvey said. "It's already written. It's already directed. Spike got some interesting camera angles. I think the best thing Spike did was some ways to approach us behind the scenes. Other than that, it's a stand-up movie, man. You put the cameras out there, it's hard to blow that."
Still, at least one reviewer has worried that the movie's profanity and vulgarity will shock spectators expecting the mildness of Harvey's TV show - not to mention Hughley's family sitcom, The Hughleys.
But MTV's promotion for the movie has been bleep-heavy. And both Hughley and Harvey have done HBO specials that give fair warning of what their stage acts are like.
And Harvey remains an optimist, happy with the movie's chances - and far happier with the WB than he was a year ago.
"I'm beginning to wonder if this ain't maybe still the best place for me," he said. "The company is cool to work for, man. If you look around the block, other places may not be that great of a place to work."
And how could the WB prove it would be a cool place to work in the future?
"Mo' money," he said with a smile. "Mo' money is always a great proving ground."
 

From 2002, as his series was ending:

Tonight the longest-running series on The WB airs its last original episode. And it doesn't star a teen-ager.
While the network has built its identity on shows like Dawson's Creek, the series in question is The Steve Harvey Show, the sitcom starring the former Clevelander as a musician turned teacher named Steve Hightower.
It premiered on Aug. 25, 1996, one day before 7th Heaven (which now becomes the dowager empress of the WB's lineup) and less than two years after The WB had started.
It was part of a three-night WB lineup that also included the departed Kirk, Brotherly Love, Life With Roger, Savannah and Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher.
The Steve Harvey Show was in many ways a modest effort, a mildly amusing comedy that only rarely took on big social issues. (A notable exception was a 1997 episode where the rappers then known as Snoop Doggy Dogg and Sean "Puffy" Combs appeared together to downplay talk of violent rap rivalries.)
Harvey himself thought the show was never quite what it could have been.
"I'm a much deeper person than Steve Hightower," he said in a recent telephone interview. "I like mattering to people more than Steve Hightower does. . . .
"The show was funny," he said. "It was clean. I'm proud of it. But we didn't break any new ground. We didn't make any statements."
And it was time to wrap it up, Harvey said. "I think in terms of creativity we had reached a point where it had done all it was going to do."
Indeed, the final episode - at 10:30 tonight on WBNX (Channel 55) - seems tired, almost incomplete. The main story tests Steve's relationship with Regina (Wendy Raquel Robinson), who has been offered a new job in another city. At the same time Cedric (Cedric the Entertainer) and Lovita (Terri J. Vaughn) are struggling through Lovita's pregnancy.
But the series had to rush to an end. Harvey was ready to call it quits last season. The WB persuaded him to come back for 13 more episodes, then wanted them taped last spring so the network would have fresh programming if some feared strikes shut down Hollywood. (The strikes did not happen after all.)
Harvey has long since moved on. His current focus is a morning radio show in Los Angeles, which he hopes to syndicate nationally. ("People have no idea how much money there is in radio," he said.)
With his wife Mary, he has set up a foundation that has taken on such projects as feeding the hungry in Los Angeles and buying books for poor schools. Through his radio show, he has also started the Hoodie Awards, recognizing people for good work in their neighborhoods. There are also a couple of movies in the works, and he might come back to television for the right deal.
Still, he got a little wistful talking about The Steve Harvey Show, especially when he thought of his co-star, and comedy touring mate, Cedric the Entertainer.
"I miss Ced," he said. "I was seeing Ced every day, and he made me laugh every day."
Besides, The Steve Harvey Show was an important series for Harvey, and not simply because it helped make him better known on the stand-up circuit, where he has reigned solo and as part of the Original Kings of Comedy tour.
His previous series, Me and the Boys, was dumped by ABC after one season in 1995 in spite of ranking among the 25 most watched shows on TV.
"I thought the show did exactly what it set out to do - set a positive image for fathers, and for African-Americans, and to finish high in the ratings," said Harvey, who played the widowed father of three sons on the sitcom.
But ABC was going through one of its periodic searches for more adult sitcoms. Me and the Boys did not make the cut.
The Steve Harvey Show was also important in how it portrayed African-Americans. The main characters were middle-class, middle-aged (Harvey is 45), committed to education, aware of African-American culture but not bound by it.
Although The WB treated it as a show mainly for African-American viewers - and it became the series most watched by that audience for several years - Harvey himself has always wanted to reach all audiences.
"I don't think it's good to be so slangy that people don't understand what you're saying," he said. "I don't believe in laughing at the expense of black people."
In a town where some comedians will do anything for a laugh, Harvey said, "I have a certain amount of dignity. I am not going to degrade myself."
TV and film critic Donald Bogle has also noted that Harvey's show was part of a wave of comedies of exasperation, ones where African-Americans are neither servile nor even especially polite as they deal with everyday annoyances.
In addition to Harvey's show, that has included Bill Cosby's last sitcom, Cosby; The Hughleys with D.L. Hughley; The Bernie Mac Show; and Damon Wayans's My Wife and Kids.
You might expect Harvey to feel a bit of frustration that Mac and Wayans have had hits for big networks, Fox and ABC respectively, while he was on The WB.
But Harvey was especially pleased with the success of Mac, another of the Kings of Comedy.
"Finally, somebody from African-American stand-up has a show based around his viewpoint," Harvey said, apparently forgetting Cosby and Hughley. "They don't hardly have to write that show for Bernie."
Harvey's series also proved very important for The WB. As the network added nights to its lineup, Harvey's show was often moved to those nights, because the network knew the loyal audience would follow it.
Harvey at times complained about the moves because he thought there was a limit to even faithful fans' patience. Later, he realized that "I had to consider what was in the best interests of the network."
Harvey is not blind to the frustrations of Hollywood. He was frustrated by the distribution of the Original Kings of Comedy movie, which in his view went into too few theaters, many of them inner-city locations.
"We did mainstream press, and MTV, but the studio didn't put us into mainstream theaters," he said. Many fans have caught up to the movie on home video.
At the same time, though, Harvey knows that he has found a large measure of success.
Part of his attitude may stem from being almost 40 when he hit it big. "You can be famous too early," he said, "but you can never be famous too late. . . . You get older, you get smarter."
He said that he and Mary keep firm control over their finances. As much as he loves radio, he still sees stand-up as the centerpiece of his career - and the part that he can most control.
"You can mess up chasing someone else's career," he said. "I'm not Denzel. I'm not Chris Tucker. And you don't need everything to be a success.
"Eight million dollars and $18 million is the same money. If you've got $8 million, you can buy a big house, you can buy a big boat and nice cars, and your kids can go to the best schools. And if you've got $18 million, you can buy a big house, you can buy a big boat. . . . "
 


 

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