Until last year, Harvey, 53, was probably best known as one of the “Original Kings of Comedy” and from Spike Lee’s 2000 film about the group’s tour. Then he wrote a dating guidebook, “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy, and Commitment,” and quickly became a phenomenon.
Presenting himself to single women everywhere as a traitor to the male cause, a spiller of state secrets, Harvey wound up on morning talk shows, magazine covers, on Oprah three days in a row, dispensing curiously retrograde advice with a generous smile. In person, he is enormous, well over 6-foot and as wide as two men. His moustache is so flat and immaculately groomed that it almost looks fake. He takes a seat in a nondescript office at WBLS in Midtown; he has just come off the air from his morning radio show.
Harvey’s first book, which read as though the feminist movement never took place and was predicated on the notion that women — all of them — feverishly nurse the hope to get married and have babies, went on to sell 2 million copies.
“These kinds of books are pretty much all about the same thing,” says Sarah Gold, senior review editor at Publishers Weekly. “They flood in every year.” There are so many that she gets exhausted: “How many reviews of ‘How To Find a Guy’ can I run?” she says, laughing.
As a genre it’s indestructible, though there’s no algorithm for a smash. “In publishing, it’s impossible to tell which book is going to catch fire,” she says. “Some of it has to do with tone and style, how good the author is on TV. It helps if they have a platform, a built-in audience.” Harvey reaches 7 million listeners a day.
Shortly after the book’s release, he became such a popular self-help guru that Winfrey reportedly offered him his own show — until some inconvenient facts caused her to reconsider. More on that later.
Harvey’s follow-up, “Straight Talk, No Chaser,” was published this week, and is already a bestseller. It has much in common with his first book, offering old-fashioned ideas of the archetypal male and female: The man is uncomplicated, dominant, the provider and protector, while the woman should defer to her man and engage in more than a little manipulation to reach her ultimate goal: a ring. Perhaps the comedian has hit a sweet spot among women who feel the culture has spun off its axis, that the sexual and financial liberation of women has resulted in a fundamental breakdown between the sexes.