Years ago, I knew that Steve Harvey would make a great game show host. As my younger self watched reruns of old shows on the Game Show Network, I wondered how the likes of Match Game and The Newlywed Game would be if genteel hosts like Gene Rayburn and Bob Eubanks were replaced by Harvey—or any Original King of Comedy, for that matter.
My enthusiasm for this continued as Harvey lost weight, traded in his trademark (and suspiciously full-bodied) flattop for a shaved, polished bald scalp and—by the way—got saved. It took a while, but my dream came true a year and a half ago when Harvey became the host of Family Feud. One can imagine that nervous television executives had to be persuaded to let this politically incorrect loose cannon on the air.
Harvey, who takes the stage this Saturday at Durham Performing Arts Center, also doesn't think atheists are good for the sistas to hook up with, something he's stated while promoting his relationship-advice books, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man (which has been turned into a movie, Think Like a Man, to be released in April) and Straight Talk, No Chaser. Ol' Steve has taken heat for writing those books, as critics and detractors have wondered where a thrice-married man like Harvey gets off telling black women what they should look for in a man. (His first book dropped such fortune cookie-style pearls of wisdom for the ladies as, "You simply cannot drive forward if you're focused on what's happening in the rearview mirror." No shit, Steve!)
Nevertheless, Harvey's humorously judgmental, tell-like-it-is swagger works well for him on his latest gig. Ever since he took over Family Feud in the fall of 2010, Harvey has taken it upon himself to serve not just as the host, but as an audience surrogate. You think someone should be cussed out or smacked upside the head for giving a stupid answer? Don't worry—Steve will do it for you, as he has done on more than one occasion. Harvey also has been known to tell contestants to shut up when they get a bit lippy, especially when an answer Harvey thinks is dumb finds its way on the board and the answering contestant, along with that person's family, gloat in his direction. (The man does not take eating crow well.)
Perhaps this is uncouth, unbecoming behavior for a game show host, especially for those who remember watching Family Feud when original host Richard Dawson spread his oily British suaveness all over the TV screen. Notorious for his penchant for slobbing down every female contestant before (or even during) a game, Dawson became a trusted, beloved face, a TV personality with the chummy demeanor that could win over Hell's Angels members. Ever since Dawson left the show in the mid-'80s (he made a brief return to Feud in 1994), every host after him has tried—and failed—to recapture that same appeal. Sometimes the host was too artificial (the late comic Ray Combs), too polished (dapper Dancing with the Stars runner-up John O'Hurley), too bland (former Home Improvement sidekick Richard Karn); some just seemed to be indifferent about the whole damn thing (the persistently sour-pussed Louie Anderson).
Harvey, being the I'm-my-own-damn-man character he's made a career of being, knows he has some big shoes to fill—which might explain his preference for alligator shoes. He sets himself apart from Dawson and the rest of the wack pack by playing to his strength as the sharp-dressed, amusingly arrogant, easily irritated bastard he's always been. Anyone who's followed Harvey's career knows he's not a comic who clowns for the crowd. His knack for hilariously setting people straight is just what this current incarnation of Family Feud needs. On many an episode, Harvey tosses out smutty, double-entendre-inducing questions that the show hopes will incite even smuttier answers from red-faced, usually church-going contestants. Harvey ups the entertainment-value ante by often looking flummoxed, disapproving or just plain shocked and unnerved by the answers.
Last fall, the show reached its naughty nadir when Harvey asked, "Name something you put in your mouth but don't swallow," and one woman (a pastor's wife, mind you) said, "Their sperm." This prompted Harvey to go on an uproarious, face-saving tirade that ended with him proudly exclaiming, "I have kids!" You may get a perverse kick watching the high-and-mighty Harvey put up with all of this. The show has launched popular viral-video clips with the contestants giving insane or inane answers that seem designed to goad Harvey into the stratosphere (go on YouTube and type in "nekkid grandma" to see what I mean).
So far, Harvey has managed to keep his show within acceptable boundaries—it's daytime television, after all. (He's like that unfiltered uncle who shows up at family reunions and jokingly keeps it real with everyone.) However, much like in his standup, Harvey brazenly injects the show with some much-needed, no-nonsense, bullshit-cutting hilarity. He may not be the perfect Family Feud host, but he's the perfect Family Feud host for all those viewers who have always wanted to hear the host tell a contestant, "Get your ass over there and play!"