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The Self-Made Man: Steve Harvey


If the purpose of this Self Made Men column is to put over work ethic, then we should definitely talk about Steve Harvey.

The great Steve Harvey

Yes, there’s more to Steve Harvey than modified zoot suits and getting divorced; the guy is a born hustler (and that’s not an insult here) who has dedicated and sacrificed a lot to becoming successful. Whatever you think of the man, his achievements weren’t handed to him, and he’s built a great life for himself out of little more than determination and some natural ability.

Steve was born in West Virginia, but grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, which already qualifies as hardship. I mean, coming from either of those places would suck, let alone both. Sheesh. Anyway, Steve attended Kent State for two years before dropping out to work in factories and sell life insurance, so it’s no wonder he became a comedian. He got bitten by the comedy bug after winning an amateur contest, and became a full-time comic when he was 28.

There’s an adage in theatre that if you’re ever looking for a job, you just show up until someone finds a place for you (and unless you’re completely defective, someone will). “Just show up” became the dominant theme of Steve’s life, as he drove all over creation to get gigs and hone his craft. An often-cited illustration of Steve’s persistence is the 120,000 miles he put on his car, a Pontiac Bonneville, in one year; I guess one could count the luck of owning a Pontiac that lasted so long towards his eventual success, but that figure basically says that he spent his life on the road, putting in face time until he got noticed.

He also landed a few shots on It’s Showtime at the Apollo, and wound up hosting the program, but he really broke through at the 1993 Montreal Just For Laughs International Comedy Festival, where he got a TV deal for a sitcom called Me and the Boys. He also opened up his own comedy club, one of four black-owned comedy clubs in the country, in Dallas, so his careers as a comic and as an entrepreneur took off around the same time.

Even though Me and the Boys got decent enough ratings and a People’s Choice Award, it got canned after a season. Steve got right back into his grind though, using his TV exposure to boost his stand-up act and got some more TV time on Def Comedy Jam and Dick Clark’s New Years Rockin’ Eve, where they evidently made a bet to see who could go the longest without visibly aging. Steve won, but it was close.

Steve also landed a morning radio gig in Chicago on WGCI-FM, getting up when most comedians go to bed to host the show, and kept on hosting It’s Showtime at the Apollo and touring. Because of the momentum he was generating, his next foray into television – The Steve Harvey Show – was more successful, with Entertainment Weekly proclaiming that “Harvey [was] terrific in conveying the life of a man raised on ’60s soul who’s trying to retain his dignity in the hip-hop ’90s.” The award-winning show took him from being a successful comedian to being a star.

Steve’s road work continued to pay off, too, as he and his touring buddies – Cedric the Entertainer, D.L. Hughley, and the late Bernie Mac – put together a stand-up concert special that Spike Lee turned into a hugely successful film: The Original Kings of Comedy grossed $38 million in theaters alone, and it’s still hilarious 12 years later.

Any sane person would have given up or burned out about halfway through Steve Harvey’s career, but he has leveraged his hard work into a media fiefdom that spans books, radio, film, and stand-up. And while I’m not here to defend his opinions about atheism or dogfighting, I can’t deny that he’s still funny.

About Dave Kiefaber

Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at

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