How Lampooning Myself on “Steve Harvey” Went Exactly as Planned

Why? is not something I know how to answer, but probably relates to my mom competing in her bowling league late into the third trimester. This is How.

Tickets to the Steve Harvey Show, which films in downtown Chicago, are surprisingly hard to get. Luckily my girlfriend, The Lovely, had a hook-up through work and asked me to be her plus-one.

Figuring it’d be a great opportunity to, in the background, show off my awkward face (sorta like Blue Steel while trying not to throw up) I heartily agreed to go.

The Friday before the Tuesday taping The Lovely got an e-mail confirming our attendance, with directions, parking information ect., and as an addendum, solicited questions for a segment called Ask Steve where a studio audience member…wait for it…asks Steve a question.

Provided examples were:

“Steve, I have a boyfriend who I think is cheating, what should I do?”

and

“My mother-in law is always bossy at Thanksgiving, even though it’s at MY house.  How do I politely tell her to back off?”

Knowing my troll-ish disposition, The Lovely texted me asking if I was interested. The question I submitted was intended solely to make The Lovely laugh. I almost didn’t even submit it fearful they’d revoke our tickets:

“I bought a hamster because I thought it’d be fun but it’s super boring. I’m over it. Would it be mean to give it to my friend for his birthday?”

I’m not gonna make up a number but I swear on your whole family, under five minutes later I get a phone call from a Chicago area code.

“Hi is this Michael?” 

At no point in our brief chat did Producer ask if my sophomoric question was based on reality, she just wanted to confirm I’d really ask it on national television. And since I assured her I would, I then had to prove that despite asking an insane question I wasn’t “take of my pants and charge at Steve” insane.

She vetted me with small talk and a photo “with teeth” (I assume they learned that one the hard way). Satisfied, she promised to vouch for my question with the higher-ups only after confirming rhetorically:

“You’re not gonna chicken out, right?”

Oh yeah. Minutes after worrying my slapdick question would lose us our tickets, a producer was peer pressuring me into asking it.

I re-pledged my commitment  and Producer responded like a cartoon villain within earshot of the superhero who took the bait:

“Perfect…”

Her vouching worked. The Sunday before the Tuesday show Producer e-mailed to inform me that I’d be on the show BUT:

I had to ask an augmented version of the question Steve’s writers had made me (They added all the stuff about taking on responsibility in the new year to fit with the show’s New Year, New Me theme. Also all the cogent reasoning for wanting to get rid of the hamster. I thought (think) it’s funnier to give no reasoning beyond “I’m over it.”

I’d planned on improvising an even MORE trollish question on the spot, but those ambitions were squashed with her warning that straying from my sparkly new question wouldn’t be tolerated.

Obviously they didn’t have snipers trained on me, but if I changed my question to something even dumber they’d just cut it as the show was taped a month in advance. If I really wanted to be a snarky, self-sabotaging asshole—which I was sure I did—I’d have to be subtle. They dictated what I said, but not how I said it.  Or my outfit.

The strict dress code actually got me off to a head start: Bright, primary colored date attire with no patterns. Since I don’t go on dates dressed like a model in an algebra textbook it meant trekking through the cold to the Salvation Army the night before the show, bent on buying a shirt that upped the creepiness quotient.

It only took a few minutes of browsing the ladies section before I spotted the screaming red turtleneck you’re likely acquainted with. Subtle yet creepy. The thumb ring of garments.

I was late meeting The Lovely the day of the show, so we had to hustle down Michigan Ave. to the NBC studios overlooking the Chicago River.

I checked in with a security lady in the front, who radioed for a producer who led me to the elevator which we rode to the third floor.

The elevator opened to a hospital looking hallway lined with giddy ladies waiting for access to Steve’s chambers. Most were between 40 and 70, portly, pious, and (as instructed) in bright plain blouses and slacks. Basically it looked like rascal scooter prom.

At the end of the snaking line, in chairs lined up against the wall, was The Competition: Five ladies and their plus-ones (also ladies) who wanted their question to make it on the air.

They were the enemy because while six of us prepared questions, only two would actually get to Ask Steve. Steve would be given our questions moments before walking on stage to film, at which point he’d chose two he felt he could riff on.

I felt mine, which The Producer had kindly typed on a sliver of paper for me, safely fell under that category. Everyone else had proverbially “Done the assignment” i.e. questions about love, family, finances, not hamsters.

Producer made us practice “our” questions, and when she was satisfied she summoned Bigger Producer who gave pointers like, “Be more natural” and “Fewer words, more direct” then finally Biggest Producer, a slender, austere black woman.

Biggest Producer’s emphatic advice was to not be nervous, that Steve is just a regular guy. Now I’m not impervious to celebrity sightings. I saw Michael Shannon jogging two years ago and still interrupt perfectly good conversations to tell people, I’m just not a huge Steve Harvey fan and thusly was commended for my stoic delivery.

Mike!

By the time Biggest Producer drilled us we’d practiced asking our questions six times, doubtlessly to prevent clamming up/freelancing once we were under the studio’s fluorescent lights.

That’s about when I was summoned to be beautified by Makeup Department, a black guy in a sleeveless shirt and bleached mohawk. Curt and sassy, he seemed like a makeup guy character in a comedy that mistook vapid homophobic stereotypes for humor.

So as I was saying, Makeup Department was a mean ‘ol gay. He didn’t say a word to me as he accentuated my features, put chapstick on my lips, and matte finished the nickel veneer off my mug.

Alarmingly pleased is how I’d describe The Lovely’s face when I retook my seat beside her, instinctively pulling out her camera to snap a picture despite my pleading. Moments later she may have sent the photo to her best friend, who may have called me “frightening.”

Mother-fucking finally we were led into the Taj Ma Steve, where the ladies were being led on a clapping and dancing aerobics routine by the warm-up comedian who will suffer the rest of his career because he looks exactly like Kevin Hart, which is inconvenient because there already is Kevin Hart. We’ll call the warm-up comedian Kevin Hart.

The Lovely and I were led over to a single seat by a producer, who told The Lovely she’d been relegated to the upper deck. Apparently the Asian lady occupying the designated “Ask Steve”seat next to mine had a shirt that contrasted better with my ignorant turtleneck.

Meanwhile, Kevin Hart was reminding the ladies that “It’s not true that the camera adds ten pounds…it adds twenty! So make sure to sit up straight!” without a lick of sarcasm. You’d think he yelled “Ten-hut!” by how fast the ladies straightened like cadets.

By the time Steve graced us with his presence we’d been in his lair for over two hours. He greeted us and jumped right into Ask Steve and called out for the first lady who asked a question about freeloading family members. Next, was me.

There’s a video of what happened, but to add a few notes of commentary:

  1. I never moved the microphone from eighteen inches in front of my face, the distance a producer insisted I hold it. She made me practice repeatedly so I figured the best way to show her I got it was to stiffly hold it at that distance like a constipated dude with rigamortis. 
  2. There were at least three more minutes of the exchange between Steve and I, but he was so bemused by my question he swore so much it wasn’t usable. Steve couldn’t believe I didn’t just get rid of the thing after it “bit me.” He elaborated, to the crowd’s approval, that if a hamster bit him he’d let it free on a gang-infested south side block.
  3. Steve has massive hands and a firm shake. My palms were so damn sweaty but he was kind enough not to tell the audience. Thanks Steve.

The only other notable part was when, between segments, a woman in serious debt asked Steve financial advice. Steve suggested of course she hire a good accountant who—JK! He told her to pray her way out of the debt to which all the ladies around me incanted  “Amen,” “Praise Jesus” ect..

At the very end of the show Steve kept the audience late, I mean the entire crew had left the building, maybe they were even in the parking lot, for an ostensibly motivational tale of his life story, how his three divorces was really just god testing him (not whatever is making these ladies divorce him or his choice in ladies is to blame) but he nonetheless rose to the point of having seven shows, which is where we should all aspire to be.

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