Steve Harvey has done a lot of things that have made him famous: He’s been stand-up comedian, an actor, a talk-show host and a best-selling author. But Harvey says that nothing he’s done has given a more diverse fan base than being the star and host of “Family Feud,” the nationally syndicated game show in which families compete for a cash prize by trying to guess the most popular answers in surveys.
And aside from Richard Dawson, Harvey has turned out to be one of the most memorable hosts of “Family Feud,” which has been on the air since 1976. Harvey began hosting the show in 2010. He recently did a telephone conference call with reporters to talk about the past, present and future of “Family Feud.”
Before we talk about “Family Feud,” can you comment on the passing of Joan Rivers?
Yes. I liked her so much. I actually loved her. This has been a rough month for comedy with the passing of Robin Williams and now Joan. Joan was an absolute, genius and I hate the way this happened. I’m just heartbroken about the whole thing. I’ve been on her show a couple times. She did my show just recently, she and her daughter.
I know her daughter, I’m really feeling for her daughter, for her grandchildren, just for everybody. It’s such a blow. I almost really can’t wrap my mind around it because, I mean, it’s Joan Rivers, you know?
This is an icon in comedy. It’s the business that I’ve been in for 30 years. Some people I really admired and respected the whole time. She’s been one of them.
When I was younger, I saw her, I used to crack up. My condolences go out to her family. They’ve got to be heartbroken. They’ve got to be because a lot of us are. Those are my real thoughts about it.
Our condolences. On to “Family Feud.” Can you talk a little bit about how often people blurt out answers that are too racy for broadcast TV, and whether you think all of it is authentic or sometimes people are maybe just trying to be funny for the cameras when these videos go viral? Does that help the show in some kind of weird way in this social media age?
First of all, there is not enough time for these people to come up with funny answers. These are real people. These aren’t comedians, you know. The thing that’s sad is when I ask a question, you have three seconds to answer or you get a strike. You get three seconds, so they’re under the gun the moment I ask a question.
Now, they can kill a little time with, “Oh, Steve, you know, I was thinking that that would be great, but here’s what I’m really saying.” They don’t count that as three. But if you begin your answer, we’re talking three seconds. That stops the average person from standing on there trying to be a comedian, because they’ve already got one. I’m actually pretty good at that. I don’t really see them trying to be funny.
I know when they’re on their last gasp, I know when they have two strikes on the board and that clock is ticking, you’re going to get your best answer then because all of the regular answers are taken. That’s usually when you get some of those jewels like that.
As far as the social media aspect of it goes, I think the people at Fremantle and Family Feud are pretty smart in that they’re taking advantage of the social media aspect that I think has helped promote the show. You see, these viral videos, I have nothing to do with, but they put them out there. I just help create them. Which ones they select and put on, that’s entirely up to them.
You’re probably one of the most entertaining “Family Feud hosts” we’ve had. How does it feel to be considered one of the most entertaining hosts of the show?
That’s pretty special for me because my mark for the host of this show has always been Richard Dawson. When I was a lot younger, I watched “Family Feud.” I just marveled at the guy. He was so witty. He kissed everybody. That’s not going to happen these days, but, there’s too much going on to start that kissing thing. I just marveled at his wit and his sincerity with people.
Richard Dawson, to me, he really liked people and that’s the person I’ve become. I’ve always been a good-hearted person. I didn’t always have the life around me that allowed me to be that, but I do now and it allows the real me to come out more and more. I am genuine with people. Whatever it is, I’m going to be genuine with them.
I think that my genuine attitude, my integrity, my willingness to be, what else can I say, transparent. I think that helps in making me be one of the favorites. That’s just how I chose to be and it’s paid off. I think integrity and honesty go a long way in television because there ain’t a lot of it on there.
Last season, the Honey Boo Boo family was on”Family Feud.” Is there going to be another celebrity family this season that you think rivals the Honey Boo Boo family?
There is no family that can rival the Honey Boo Boo family. Nothing. There is only one Honey Boo Boo family. See, I had an opportunity to interview them for my TV [talk] show, too. I sat down with some people you’ve never met before. I promise you, I promise you, you don’t know this family nowhere. I promise you, you don’t.
Have you ever had to counsel some of the families in commercial breaks that might be turning on each other?
It happens. Very, very rarely, but every now and then there is an actual family feud, and not between the opposing families. It’s always something internal. You got to understand, here’s a family, oftentimes, that is really here to win the $20,000. They’re not here to have fun. They’re going to act excited, but they’re really here to win $20,000.
When they get close to that, the golden egg, and there’s a chance to win $20,000 and they don’t win it, and it’s because of something another family member said or didn’t say, sometimes on a commercial break, the coaches, the family coaches that we have that keep them enthusiastic and tells them, hey, you’re doing good, and, you can still win it, one more answer, that’s all it takes.
Sometimes, those families sit over there and they’re not real happy. Some people will put on the team as alternative because who the captain’s first choice couldn’t make it. They couldn’t get out of their jobs or something and if the family member they picked, if the alternate blows it, it’s pretty good.
How much input do you have in the questions you ask?
I have absolutely zero. Zero. I’m reading the questions for the first time when I get the card. Now, I have the right, if I turn it over, I can throw it out, but I’ve never really done that, except one time. I just didn’t think that it was worded correctly and I didn’t think the people were going to get it and they threw it out. Really, other than that, I don’t really have any say so in it at all.
Is there any one thing that surprises you about the show?
The thing that surprises me about the show is the popularity. I don’t mean in the ratings, but I mean what has happened to my life since I became the host of “Family Feud.” It’s incredible, the wide spectrum of people. I’ve been a stand-up for 30 years, so my biggest claim to fame, for me, and the thing I enjoy the most was being on tour as a comedian and touring with The Original Kings of Comedy and having the highest-grossing comedy tour in the history of comedy.
That was, for me, what I was born to do, so I thought. But, God, in His infinite wisdom and His plan, he has other things if you just sit still and pay attention. I learned to do that and in 2005, I started paying close attention to Him and He gave me this game show.
I wasn’t going to do it at first because I’ve never wanted to be a game show host. It was never on the bucket list. That was never on my list of things to do. When it came along, I wasn’t enthused about it at all. Then I decided to go ahead and give it shot because they said they would let me do it my way.
I told them what I wanted to do and they said they’d let me do it and I did it. But what happens when I’m in the airport, what happens when I’m at Disney doing my Dreamers Academy, what happens if I go into a Whole Foods, what happens if I’m walking down the streets smoking a cigar in Chicago, it has absolutely floored me. Just stunned at the wide-range of people who know who I am now.
From elderly people, to kids, to middle range, it doesn’t matter. They know me and they invite me to their homes, which is the coolest compliment. They invite you to their house, so Uncle Steve comes over every evening and I’m the host of “Family Feud.”
Why do you think the show resonates with so many people in such a core level, that it’s so popular, even starting back from the 1970s?
I think what happens is, here’s the show, really if you shake it loose, this is a show based around surveys. I mean, who does that? You think about it, that don’t make no sense. I’m going to tell you what the top 100 people said about a very basic, simple, and often ridiculous question, and you’re going to tell me what you think they said. You sit down and say that. Folks, that don’t make no sense.
Well, that’s what I was grappling with when they asked me to host the show. What it is is it’s a game that everybody can play along. This is not “Jeopardy!”
Look, you know the answer to this one here. Everybody can answer this question here. I don’t care how old you are. You can play along.
That’s an appeal to people. You can sit in your house and go, what did he say that for? And you can be right and you can guess all of these at your house. Now when you come play the game on TV with the three seconds, and the clock, and your name in lights, you’re not going to get any of them hardly. But that’s the appeal.
Then I think when they allowed me to put my twist on it, and allowed me to elaborate on what these answers really meant, and really get into the interviews with these people, because that’s what’s interesting. These are families that stay next door to a lot of people, so it’s interesting to find out what they do, and why they do it, and why they say what they say, and what is the reasoning behind what they said. I took it and I put that sprinkle on it and I think that has a lot to do with it and I’m glad they like it.
What questions make you nervous or uncomfortable?
When I flip the card over and I see a question, and I’m in the question, it actually makes me a little nervous because now, I got to deal with what 100 people actually think. When I shaved my head, I didn’t really ask 100 people what they thought so, now, I opened myself to [scrutiny].
I mean, it could be anything and especially when you get down to those last two answers on the board, that’s usually where two or four people said this answer. Those are usually the people in our society that we don’t like to interview and they have a voice all of a sudden. So it’s always a little crazy for me.
What is coming up this season on “Family Feud”?
We just finished taping, so I got to tell you, it’s really, really some good stuff. There are some hysterical moments on here. Probably one of my favorite moments, but it just wasn’t funny to everybody but, to me, I went home and I laughed for two days, but I have a different sense of humor.
The question was, other than chicken, name a bird that people eat. You had quail, pheasant, on the board. You had ostrich on the board. I got to this one lady … when they asked her, other than chicken, name a bird people eat and she said, “Venison.”
My comedic mind starts going, “OK, does she really still think that there’s a Santa Claus and that reindeer actually fly, and that they’ve landed on her rooftop, and she thought that since she had some venison and since they actually fly, pulling this guy named Santa Claus on the sled.” That was her answer. She was looking at me with a face like, “Hey, nailed it. Got it.” Here we go.
There are so many different ways to say private parts and sex, thanks to “Family Feud.” Which ones have stood out for you? Do you play any part in coming up with how they re-word those words?
No, but I’ll tell you what, it was a good thing that they started re-wording them because some of the people’s answers were beginning to be a little bit too graphic. So, in order to keep it true to the survey, they started coming up with these – pop weasel, wood chopper, the Lincoln Tunnel. They’ve come up with some really good ones that make the audience laugh because we had to take the “uh” effect away. We had to kill the OMG on the show because it is a family show.
People, when you ask those questions that have innuendo in it, I think they were sometimes going a little bit too far. So what they did was, instead of doing that, they just got some clever people together and they started coming up with different ways to say it, which makes it funny instead of it being an OMG moment.
How long do you think you can continue doing “Family Feud” with everything else you’re doing?
It’s one of my favorite things to do, so I don’t see stopping this. I have no reason to. I absolutely love the gig. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever done. I don’t know, I mean, how long will they have me, I think is more the question.
As is my forté, when I retired from comedy, I didn’t wait until I wasn’t good at it anymore. I didn’t wait until I wasn’t selling out. I was selling out when I retired. I sold out the MGM Garden on my last date. I sold out Philips Arena in Atlanta. I sold out all the Fox theaters.
When I do decide to leave, I want to leave the show in really, really great shape and high ratings. I’m not going to let the show ratings dip down and then I say goodbye. Whenever I leave, I always ask God to bless me with the knowledge and the grace of when to walk away. When I walk away, I want them to still be clapping.
For more info: “Family Feud” website