When Steve Harvey talks about stand up comedy, he can sound like a physicist. "My job is to draw an instant reaction and measure that reaction and that act upon that action again," he says after a recent taping of his daytime talk show at the NBC Tower in Chicago. "That's what stand up is. I have to make an observation that makes 85 percent of that room laugh every eight to 12 seconds for an hour an a half to be successful and make money at this. I figured that out."
On the syndicated Steve Harvey, the comic has successfully combined that theorem with advice on relationships, parenting, health, fashion and other topics that matter to the daytime audience. His program drew an average of 2.1 million viewers during the February sweep, improving upon the shows he replaced by 42 percent. He has also recently started to out-rate Katie Couric's freshman talk show among the women aged 25 to 54 that advertisers want to reach during the day. NBC, which produces the show with Endemol USA, is expected to soon announce a deal to renew Harvey on its owned television stations through 2016. One top syndication executive at a rival company says the move would help the show get better time periods and higher license fees from other stations across the country, paving the way for it to become an even bigger hit. Harvey, 56, recently told TV Guide Magazine why he thinks he's connecting with the audience.
TV Guide Magazine: Who is the viewer at home you envision in your mind when you're doing the show?
Steve Harvey: An adult woman. She's not to be played with. She wants valuable information, she wants to be treated with respect, she loves to laugh and she would love if somebody would defend her. Guys, you may not care for me sharing this information, but at the end of the day, you know I'm right.
TV Guide Magazine: For years, you wanted to follow Arsenio Hall and do a late-night show. What made you realize you should try daytime instead?
Harvey: Life happened to me along the way, and I began to change as a person. I became happily married; I got my family unified. I think the success of my book [Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man] and the success of Family Feud [he took over as host in 2010] made people see what I was trying to get them to see: "Look, man, stop putting me in the color box and just let me be the guy I am."
TV Guide Magazine: You cover a lot of material every day. At the show you just taped, you moved seamlessly from sex therapists to a demonstration by kid-brother pizza twirlers.
Harvey: My life has been crowded with it all. I used to not understand why God would allow so many things to happen to me that I thought were so negative at the time. Why did my marriages fail like this? Why was I homeless? Why did I have to struggle so hard? Why was my credit ruined? Why did I get in tax trouble? Why? It finally got revealed to me where I said, "Where you're going, you're going to need all that information." And I have a ton of information about relationships, about child rearing, credit, men, women, boys, girls. I'm talking to the everyday person. I've been the everyday person way longer than I've been the celebrity.
TV Guide Magazine: We also watched you became very passionate about stronger gun control legislation. Do get a lot of letters and e-mail when you take a stand like that?
Harvey: Yeah, I figure I've got some mail coming. I didn't know I was going to get that mad about it, but it really just irritates me, man. How we act like the NRA is not this huge lobbyist and there's nothing we can do about it? What do you mean there's nothing we can do about it? Who are these guys? This isn't the membership that's keeping this up. You take Smith & Wesson and all these people who make guns out of the mix, that's a very weak organization.
TV Guide Magazine: How hard is it to decide whether to address a polarizing political issue on your show? Are there topics where you say, "That's not worth it. I'm not going to go there."
Harvey: I can't get up on a soapbox on every issue because I'd just be up on the soapbox. I wouldn't have the show that I have. I wouldn't be entertaining or funny or people wouldn't come to me to get relief during the day. But anything that you ask me that I have thought about, I will give you my opinion. Anything. How you feel about me for saying it — I wish everybody loved me, but that's not the case.
TV Guide Magazine: So how many suits do you have?
Harvey: A couple hundred. Could be a little bit more than that because I've got to tape 180 shows here and 185 at Family Feud. Then I've got to have personal clothes. Then I have events. So it's a lot of suits, man, it's a lot of suits. And I have to buy new ones all the time. But I have a program where if I buy 10 suits, I give away 10 suits.
TV Guide Magazine: Who gets them?
Harvey: Young men in job programs. Inmates who get out of prison and are trying to find jobs. I give them suits. I've got some relatives I give some suits to, some friends that are my same size. But a lot of people really need and could use suits. And instead of me hoarding them, who needs that many suits on hand at once?