He has good reason to be optimistic. Harvey, 54, has been a working comedian for half his life, ever since he quit his job after performing at a Cleveland club's amateur night. He hasn't exactly toiled in obscurity — he toured as one of the "Kings of Comedy" with Bernie Mac, Cedric the Entertainer and D.L. Hughley, an act featured in the 2000 Spike Lee film "The Original Kings of Comedy." He starred in "The Steve Harvey Show" on the WB from 1996 to 2002, and his radio show has lasted more than a decade.
The past two years, however, have seen his fame hit a new level. His first book, "Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man," published in 2009, sold 3 million copies, and the follow-up, "Straight Talk, No Chaser," sold 400,000. A spike in ratings followed him to "Family Feud."
These successes, Harvey said, helped him finally convince TV executives he had mainstream appeal. Initially, he said editors at Harper Collins encouraged him to write his book for his already large fan base, but he insisted he could — and should — aim for a wider audience.
"Once I got Harper Collins to understand that it's not a race issue, it allowed America to see what I've known about myself for a long time," he said. "I've always known that I had crossover appeal; it's just corporate sponsors and TV people — they didn't see it. Well, the book opened the door . . . and 'Family Feud' blew the door wide open."
When he was first approached about hosting "Family Feud," Harvey said he hesitated. "I really wasn't interested, because I didn't want to be a traffic cop" steering contestants around, he said. But the show's producers encouraged him to be himself, and his one-liners and trademark reactions revived a show that was, as he put it, "just plodding along."
"I can put my own spin on it, have fun with the families," he said. "These people provide you with the material and they give you the setup — all I have to do is punch line, punch line, punch line. I just punch it — that's all I've got to do. That's TV and stand-up — the things I do absolutely best — folded into one show."
Despite his love of stand-up, Harvey, who lives in Atlanta with his third wife, Marjorie, and two of their seven children from previous marriages, said he plans to give it up, partly to make way for the talk show. He said his last comedy show will be next August, in Las Vegas.
"It's been a complete joy to stand on the stage and tell jokes, but I don't want to be 60, hoping people buy a ticket to come see me," he said. "It's tough, because stand-up is really dear to me. I know it is the thing that led to all of this — the movies, the TV shows. I always know that it comes back to that core gift of being able to make people laugh."