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Comedian With A 'Tude

After paying his dues in blue-collar jobs, brash-talking Steve Harvey has become one of America's top funnymen.
Joel Drucker
From the Print Edition:
Michael Jordan, July/August 2005

It was one in the morning on July 19, 1997, and Steve Harvey was feeling good. Earlier that evening, his son Wynton had entered the world. From Harvey's vantage point, Wynton's birth nicely capped off ten years of hard work. A decade earlier, shortly after he'd left his first wife and children, Harvey lived out of his 1976 Ford Tempo for a year, traveling across the United States in his quest to become a professional comedian.

Success finally came his way a few years later. First, a second chance at marriage, in 1989, to Mary Lee, a woman whom he'd met in a department store. Then, in 1994, Harvey was tapped as host of the legendary TV show "It's Showtime at the Apollo," and two years later, the WB network cast him in his own sitcom, "The Steve Harvey Show." Things were looking up.

So by 1997, his career thriving, his family life entering a new phase, Harvey walked the streets of his adopted hometown of Dallas and paused to take it all in. "It was time to celebrate," the 49-year-old comedian says of that night. "And what better way to celebrate the birth of my boy than with a cigar?"

He headed to Sir Elliot's Tobacco and bought a batch of La Divas. A couple of weeks later, checking out the humidor his manager had received as a birthday present, Harvey felt envious. "There were only four of these humidors in the world," he says. "Two feet tall, high-polished wood. So I got one and filled it up with the cigars that had the prettiest bands. What did I know? Man, you can't believe how much bad stuff I smoked. Mine is definitely not a good way to pick a cigar."

Soon he took a new approach. Over a six-month period, Harvey talked with store owners, studied rating guides and refined his tastes. "One of my favorites early on was the Ashton Maduro," he says. In time, he learned he liked the smooth taste of a Santiago Cabana and the Padrón Anniversary, a cigar Harvey admits he'll savor "anytime, day or night, with any food, no matter what the occasion."

Don't expect to see Harvey enjoy his Padrón mid-routine, however. Nor will he walk the path of many and smoke one while walking the links. "First of all," he says, "I suck at golf. I really do. The cigar for me isn't about work. It's about pleasure. I like cigar smoking when I can chill." For Harvey, that often means sitting down with his buddies such as fellow comic Cedric The Entertainer, Academy Award—winning actor Jamie Foxx or basketball star Gary Payton, breaking out a set of "Steve Harvey Table Classic Dominoes" and trash-talking one another to the point where nothing is sacred—with one exception. "I never tell a joke with a punch line that ends in profanity," says Harvey. "You've got to be able to adapt a joke to work on TV. If you can't be funny clean, you won't make it."

Harvey will gladly dish it out to anyone arrogant or ignorant enough to warrant one of his patented reactions or puzzled facial expressions. This is a man who says, "I get paid to meet some of the most ignorant people in the land." On his current WB TV program, "Steve Harvey's Big Time," he witnessed a prospective guest blow off a testicle. Another week during the show's audition period, Harvey watched a man devour pig feces. "I mean," he asks, "all for the chance to win $10,000? I turned to that guy eating that stuff and asked, 'My man, what are you doing?'" Then there was the guest who intended to shatter a watermelon with his forehead. Harvey pointed out to him that perhaps it wasn't such a good idea to deploy a watermelon in front of an African-American host.

As Cedric says, "Steve's got a point of view that is not necessarily the status quo. He'll put it right up-front. It can be controversial when he says it, but it makes sense, too."

Yet for all his amusement of others, the person Harvey most enjoys mocking is himself. Sitting outdoors at his favorite Los Angeles hotel, he sees a little girl walking alone, obviously unsupervised. As Harvey tries to get the attention of the hotel staff, he segues into a discussion of twenty-first-century family life. "I'm fed up with guys killing their wife and kids," he says. "What about divorce? What happened to that? Just do like a lot of us: go split and don't pay child support."

Harvey's not the first comedian to admit he draws on his personal pain. He also believes people with a keen sense of humor are born, not made. "Those of us who are funny have three eyeballs," says Harvey. "With that third one you see what you're thinking and it tells your mind to say it. It's what everyone is thinking—about your job, about your family, your life—but we've got the nerve to actually say it."

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