Daytime Upstart

Steve Harvey on Hosting Michelle Obama, His New Talk Show & More

Steve Harvey tells Karu F. Daniels about Michelle Obama, his “unique male perspective” on TV, and more.

Chuck Hodes / NBCUniversal

Steve Harvey is elated. Just a few weeks into his eponymous new talk show, the former stand-up comedian has wrapped a taping at Chicago’s NBC Studios with his biggest and most famous guest to date: first lady Michelle Obama.

“It was such an unbelievable gift,” he says. “Of all the shows, she came on mine. That was pretty important, kind of major for me. That kind of makes me feel very validated, because some other shows have put in requests for her, and she came here first.” Harvey's talk show is the first of the freshman shows to have the First Lady.

On the episode, which airs Wednesday, the Obamas’ 20th wedding anniversary, the first lady reveals details about the couple’s early courtship. “We talked about stuff that I never knew: about her husband, their relationship, whether he was romantic or not, the kids one day dating, where they first met, where was the first date,” Harvey says. “We got pictures of where the first kiss was.”

The West Virginia–born Harvey, who’s been married three times and is the father of seven children, has seen hard times, faced them head on, and learned to overcome them. From dropping out of college to working at a Ford assembly plant and being homeless, he has said laughter has been a good way to break away from the pain. He worked as a stand-up comic for years, making a name for himself on the hit HBO series Def Comedy Jam in the 1990s. Since then, television has been a mainstay on his résumé: hosting Showtime at the Apollo, headlining his own sitcoms Me & the Boys and The Steve Harvey Show, and now juggling hosting duties on Family Feud and the new talk show, which is averaging 1.6 million viewers a day.

“As Steve Harvey approaches the end of its first month, we are very pleased on how the show is performing and gaining momentum—[it] is the only new daytime show to grow over key benchmarks such as lead-in and time period,” says Barry Wallach, president of NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution. “We feel viewers are tuning in to watch Steve be his witty and true self while talking about topics that viewers can get helpful takeaways from in a very engaging and funny format.”

Unlike other chatfests, Steve Harvey hasn’t relied on entertainment news, celebrity interviews, gossip, DNA tests, or catfights. It’s somewhat of an anomaly on the daytime dial. “If you want to stop in the middle of the day and have yourself a good laugh, feel uplifted, and get inspired and come out laughing, I think this is the stop for you,” Harvey, also author of the bestseller Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, says of the show. “All of it with a very unique male perspective that hasn’t been in daytime. I’m not saying I’m the only man on TV. I’m not. I just think that I’m probably more fearless in giving my opinions and thoughts on a wide range of subjects.”

An ardent supporter of President Obama, Harvey has encouraged millions of listeners to his daily nationally syndicated morning radio show to reelect the president in November. “I just think he’s the right man for the job,” he says.

“I don’t think that Mitt Romney is a bad guy at all,” he adds. “Seems like a nice guy to me. I just don’t think that he’s the guy that should be running the country and giving us direction. I just want a man that’s inclusive of all people.

“Hell, I happen to be rich myself, but it’s more advantageous to me if middle- and lower-income people are doing better,” he says, getting warmed up. “I mean, rich people are always going to do good. Hell, what’s not to do good? I mean rich people are always going to be all right. So let’s stop this foolishness here! What you want to do is, you want to take care of the middle-class and the lower-income people, or whoever hasn’t been as fortunate as you for whatever the reason. Some people are low income because they lost their job because it got outsourced to China. So let’s stop. Some people are unemployed; some people done lost their home and have fallen on hard times. It’s our job as Americans who are doing better to help them get back on their feet. People aren’t looking for a handout; they’re looking for a hand up. I think the government should play a role in giving people a hand up. What’s wrong with helping a kid get into college? What’s wrong with making sure everybody can get comprehensive medical care? What’s wrong with that? Come on, man, they got it in Canada, they got it Mexico. Stop!”

Through various initiatives, including the Disney Dreamer’s Academy, the Neighborhood/Hoodie Awards, and the Steve & Marjorie Harvey Foundation, the funnyman has put his money where his mouth is for underprivileged youth and neighborhood-uplift programs. His annual gala benefiting the mentoring programs has drawn the likes of Bill Cosby, Ford CEO Alan Mulally, Tyler Perry, Chris Rock, and Denzel Washington, raising millions of dollars in the process.

Asked for his dream Steve Harvey guest after the first lady, he offers another powerful woman with O in her name: “Oprah Winfrey!”

“Her network, how she’s doing, what she’s doing to turn it around,” he rattles off the subjects he want to talk about with the Queen of All Media. He adds: “It’s starting to turn now, which is really aggravating a lot of the haters out there. That girl is really trying to turn this thing around. She’s a bad girl. I would like to talk to her about how she feels about all of that.”

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“And I want to ask her the secret to her show, the longevity of it.”