Since he began hosting the nationally syndicated game show “Family Feud” in 2010, Steve Harvey has taken the show to new ratings heights. According to the Nielsen Company, ratings have jumped up significantly in the years since Harvey has hosted “Family Feud.” The game show went from strength to strength in 2012-2013 TV season, by increasing ratings 44 percent to a 4.6 household rating season-to-date from the 2011-2012 TV season. Among women ages 25 to 54, “Family Feud” tied “Wheel of Fortune” at a 2.4 rating, surpassing “Jeopardy” for the first time since the advent of people meters in 1988.
“Family Feud’s” 2013-2014 TV season began on Sept. 16, 2013. The season features a special episode with the cast members of the reality shows “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” and “Cake Boss” facing off in the competition to support their favorite charities: GLAAD and the Momma Mary Foundation. Harvey (who is also a stand-up comedian, radio host, best-selling author and host of a self-titled TV talk show) took time out of his busy schedule to do this interview with journalists via a telephone conference call.
“Family Feud” is such an iconic show. How does it feel like to be a part of that?
It’s an honor for me, something I never saw coming from the days of Richard Dawson. There’s no way I saw this coming, so to be selected to be one of the hosts of a TV show that will, no doubt, go down in history as one of the longest running game shows, I believe, probably when it’s all over; it’s a real thrill for me.
How do you want to be remembered as a host?
I can’t say I want to be remembered as the best. I thought that Richard Dawson was pretty good, but I’ll take the funniest host to ever host a game show in the history of all game shows known to mankind in the free world. That’s a cool title.
You’ve had some amazing moments where you’ve ad-libbed and made us laugh on Family Feud. What has been your personal favorite?
Wow. That’s a tough one. Man, there’s so many. I love the response to the question of “Name a word or phrase that starts with the word ‘pork’,” and this guy’s answer was “cupine,” as in “porcupine.”
I said, “OK.” That did it for me. That was pretty good. I didn’t know that porcupine was spelled with a "k" in it anywhere, but he did, so obviously that was important to him. That was one of the best moments.
What can we expect from “Family Feud” in 2013?
We taped and it’s a lot of what I do, it’s a lot of what the families do. It’s another funny season, man. It’s never the same. It’s just never the same because you never know what they’re going to say, so it’s the same format, but it’s a different laugh every time. It’s the same format with just big laughs attached to it. It’s hard to explain this show. You know it really is, because the way it’s set up, it’s not set up for you to laugh this much.
Although they give you questions and answers that lead to it, can you believe how many different ways they’ve come up with to describe the male genitalia?
The questions don’t always bend their selves to that, what the answers meant. If you’re there and there are two answers left on the board and you’ve got two strikes, you got to say something and that has led to some things. Now, in the survey questions, “Family Feud” has been really smart in that they’ve found clever, cornball ways to address the sexual answers, so it’s more of a joke-joke as opposed to in your face.
We can’t stop the 100 people from giving the answers that they give. For example, penis could be the answer, but they may call it the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory, or something like that, or, you know, the Oscar Mayer bird song. They just give it a more comical name because a lot of people in the survey are saying.
Since you’ve been the host of “Family Feud,” the show’s ratings have improved drastically, and it’s actually now the fifth highest syndicated show. Why do you feel that is?
Well, thanks to Gaby [Johnston], the executive producer, she’s allowed me to put my own spin on it, and I think it’s a spin that hasn’t been on the game show before. The host is taught and trained to just be congenial, to be non-biased, and to just keep it moving. Well, I love to do all of that. The only thing is I’m non-biased except to a stupid answer.
Now, if you give me an utterly ridiculous answer, I don’t know why I have to act like it’s up there, when everybody in this room and everybody watching on TV knows that this cannot be up here. And I think that her allowing me to kid the contestants, I think that’s been a big difference. I think them allowing me to use my God-given skill set of being a comedian, I think that’s the other part of it, and I think that the other part of it is just the realness.
If you were at home playing a game with your family, whether it’s Uno or anything, and if somebody does something that is against the rules, or not part of it, or strange, you would all say something. You wouldn’t just go, “Well it’s your turn.” No, and that’s what I’ve done with this game show. I went, “No, no, it’s not just your turn. Hold on. What did you say?” and I think that’s been the difference. Most hosts of shows either don’t have the opportunity to have the flexibility or they just don’t know how.
When we were talking about Richard Dawson, he kissed all the women, and that was his trademark. Do you have a trademark or do you think eventually you will have something that we will remember you by, like we did with Richard Dawson with the kissing?
Well, we won’t be doing the kissing, not in 2013, because in 2013, they have stuff where your lips can end up in your plate. We won’t be doing kissing. I fix guy’s ties, I name women queen of the day when they’re the queens of the family and stuff like that, but I don’t know. I’m just probably going to get known for the humor that I brought to the show.
You have such a good rapport with the families when they’re on screen. Do you meet them before taping at all or have any conversations with them?
No, that’s the one thing I’ve never done. I don’t rehearse on either of my shows, “Family Feud” or my talk show. I never rehearse with the guests. I don’t want to have any preconceived thoughts, notions, because that kills my creativity as a host and as a stand up. If you go out there and prep a bunch of stuff, then everyone has got to say the line at the right time and hope you nail it.
The best timed joke or the best timed phrase comes at spontaneous moments and just relies on me as the host to be very quick, and that’s what I do. If I rehearsed it would come across as stale and not real, because I can’t depend on these regular folks, who have regular jobs, and are the core and essence of our show to be required to act, or say a thing, or say a line, or remember to say it a certain way, so I can come back with this prepared joke. I think that would ruin the show for me.
Since you’re a natural advice giver and into relationships and stuff, has there ever been any family squabbles or anything that you’ve had to help solve?
Well, you know, everybody ain’t happy when they lose. They get off in the back, they have some pretty heated discussions with each other, but I haven’t been called into any of that. I see it and keep moving. I don’t have “The Jerry Springer Show.” I just got “Family Feud,” but some of them families, when they lose, man, they have some real conversations with each other back behind that wall, but I’ve never been involved in any of them.
What is your favorite moment of this coming season of “Family Feud”?
I can’t say that it’s one of my favorite moments, but I’ll say one of my most alarming moments of the new coming season was we did one celebrity show with Honey Boo Boo’s family on there, and God have mercy! No, I just did not know. I did not know that there were people really like that. I didn’t know. I didn’t know.
I hadn’t met any, especially on TV, so Honey Boo Boo’s family was alarming. I mean, whipped. I mean, it had me off balance the whole day, because I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know. Very, very rarely am I speechless, but they had me couple of times going, "Wow. Wow, man. These people right here, they’re different. They are truly, truly different."
Being host of “Family Feud” is part of your bigger empire of your talk show and your radio show. How would you give, what advice would you give to people that are looking to emulate what you’ve done?
Here’s the key: A person has to remember that the road to success is always under construction. You have to get that through your head. That it is not easy becoming successful. Expect pitfalls, and barrels, and detour signs, and men working, and flag men out on the road, and you got to stop and get off at an exit and go around the long way.
Most people, when that happens, they think it’s not meant to be, their success, and they turn around. Well, in essence, those are the moments that you have to fight through. You’ve got to understand that the road to success is always under construction.
And then, the other part of it that I would tell anyone is you have to tend to every minute of the day. See, I account for every minute of my day. I don’t just have time where I’m sitting around, and I don’t know where I’m going, or I don’t know what I have to do, or I’m going to just chill for four hours today. I don’t have that, and I don’t look for that during the work week. I look for filling those minutes up with effort, and if you do that, that’s your best chance, right there. There are a few other things, but those two things are imperative.
What can you tell us more about the “Honey Boo Boo”/“Cake Boss” episode?
Well, I mean, the answers were stunning. They give you honest answers of their life, but it’s stuff you can’t imagine. It’s just stuff that you can’t even think along those lines, like, one of the questions was, “Name something that you have to remind your children or tell your children not to pick at.”
And you know, your other siblings, the bully at school, your nose, you think these are the regular answers. Well, when I got over there to them, Honey Boo Boo’s mama’s answer to that question was “toe jam.” Now, who has to ask their children not to pick at toe jam?
So, when she said it, it just froze me, cause I was like, I’m dumbfounded at how this is a conversation, when all these kids you got is girls. Then, she said, “Well, you don’t ever tell your children not to pick at toe jam?”
I said, “No, because me and my wife have a little rule at the house that requires everybody bathe at least once a day, so that prohibits the buildup of toe jam.” That concept of that was not … it was really just some amazing answers they gave.
Have you ever spoken to any past “Family Feud” hosts?
No, not at all. I mean, not at all, not in any way. I’d never spoke to anybody. I’m telling you, this was so far from anything. I’d never had a game show on my bucket list, let alone “Family Feud.” As a matter of fact, when we took the meeting they didn’t tell us it was “Family Feud.” They just asked would you come and take a meeting about a very important show that we’re interested in having you take over. I didn’t know what it was.
When we got out there we found out that it was “Family Feud,” and I didn’t want to do it, because since Richard Dawson, I didn’t really, you know, that’s the last time I remembered it, and I haven’t seen anyone do it as well as him, so I wasn’t even interested.
What made you decide to say yes?
Well, they have a check, and they told me how much it was, and that’s when I said, “Well, let me look at this.” Let’s keep it real here.
They didn’t say, “Come on down here for free.” They’d still be looking for a host, but after I told them what I thought about it, and they asked me what I’d do, and I told them, and the executive producer Gaby [Johnston] said, “I’d like to see you do that if you tell me you can do it.”
I said, “I want to be funny and have fun with it.” They said, “You think you can be funny every day?” I said, “I tell you what, you cut that check and cut that camera on and watch this,” and the rest of it is the numbers are pretty good.
You are very open about being religious. Is there a scripture or a quote that you use that helps you get through the tough times?
All my tough times are involved in two scriptures, Isaiah 54:17 and Isaiah 43:1 and 2. It’s very simply put, to paraphrase Isaiah 43:1 and 2, is that if I keep my faith I can walk through the waters and not be drowned, and I can walk through fire and I won’t get burned, nor would kindling set upon my clothing. So that means I can go through pretty much any situation and when I come out on the other side I come out and there will be no kindling on my clothing meaning there won’t be any signs that I was even in a fire.
Now the important thing that I always remember is it did not say that you were not going to be ungodly hot, that you would not be ungodly uncomfortable. It just promised me that you wouldn’t burn up, and that’s the part that I hold onto when I’m going through my tough times, and then when my naysayers and haters attack me I send them all the same scripture, Isaiah 54:17, no work informed against me shall …. So I keep them two handy, those are my two favorites.
You came to “Family Feud” with a pretty established stand-up comedy personality, especially in terms of how men and women deal with each other. You’ve had books about that and such. Is that something that they’ve been catering to you with the survey questions?
No, I don’t think so. I think that it’s more how I bend the show. I think that what happens is I pull on so much of my history that it turns out to appear that way, but I know how to play to my own strong suits, but I think that’s more or less what it is because no matter what you say I got something to say about something because my life has led me to all these points.
As a guy who’s spent many years working the clubs and having to read the room and know what people want to hear and what they don’t want to hear, how would you fit the “Family Feud” set into that?
That’s been a tremendous advantage for me. I think what has helped me probably more than anything as the host of “Family Feud” is that stand-up career of 28 years, of standing in front of people. I’ve been dealing with everyday people in my career for 28 years. All the jokes I wrote over 28 years was about everyday people.
I never wrote one joke about being rich or famous or hanging with famous friends that I know, because I know don’t nobody care. I wrote 28 years of relatable comedy from my past, from my situation, how I handled things. And I think that right there has helped me with my situation more than anything.
For more info: "Family Feud" website