Steve Harvey addresses finances, his own fears of failure and ‘the Slap’ in GSU law class

Mo Ivory gave Steve Harvey a special judge's gavel as a gift for speaking to her Georgia State University College of Law class after spending a semester sifting through his legal agreements. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Mo Ivory gave Steve Harvey a special judge's gavel as a gift for speaking to her Georgia State University College of Law class after spending a semester sifting through his legal agreements. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

He never got a college degree, much less a law degree, but was flattered to be the subject of an entire class.

Former radio host and current attorney Mo Ivory brought Steve Harvey to her class Monday, April 25, to conclude three months of studying the entertainer’s legal agreements for Georgia State University law students.

And Harvey, 65, was deeply flattered by the attention and repeated many times over two hours that he himself had neither the patience nor the discipline as a young man to go to college. He said he barely graduated high school in Cleveland. He went through periods of living in his car. He lost all his savings twice and had to rebuild. He had to overcome a stutter.

Yet over the past three decades, he became a successful sitcom star, built a solid stand-up career, operated one of the most popular syndicated radio shows in the land, penned multiple best-selling books and hosted all sorts of TV shows from a daytime talk show to “Family Feud” to the current ABC prime-time show “Judge Steve Harvey.”

He said his one trait that kept him going all these years: hard work.

“You can’t outhustle me,” Harvey said. “My ability to work and grind covered up a lot of faults.”

At the same time, he added, “I’m here for faith and God’s grace and mercy and if you want to hear anything else, I’m not your man.”

Harvey said to be truly successful, you have to dream big, think big and “size up.”

He said no other case study Ivory does will be like his (she has previously studied Kandi Burruss and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges). “My life is a trip, man,” he said. “I’m just a hood boy. I come from the dirty. Very few will give it to you the way I give it to you. People often don’t want to tell you the side that got them there. That’s my specialty.”

>> RELATED: My big 2012 profile on Steve Harvey

Here are some tidbits he offered to the 32 law students and 100-plus others who showed up just to hear him speak.

- He sticks with people he trusts: Harvey keeps a tight circle of associates who hold the purse strings. His most trusted associate over the years? Brandon R. Williams, current chief operating officer of Steve Harvey Global, who he stole away from Alston & Bird. “He’s not only brilliant at law but he’s a people person. His people skills are like wicked!” Williams is in charge of Harvey’s American, Middle East and African businesses.

- He surrounds himself with smarter people: He cited Rushion McDonald, who was a headlining comic before Harvey was and ultimately became his business manager for years. McDonald, now a film producer, taught Harvey about promotion before the Internet. Harvey would give index cards to fans after shows to write down their addresses. The next time he was in town, he’d send them a postcard telling them he was coming back. It was, he said, very effective.

- All money isn’t good money. He said not every deal is a good one. Early in his career, he recalled taking $100 to entertain a person so old that the man could barely function. The only person who laughed was the person who convinced him to show up. In 2008, he accepted a New Year’s show with Katt Williams for $1 million but Williams spent the show insulting and challenging Harvey, which Harvey was not into at all. “I hated the entire night,” he said. (Bossip at the time dubbed it the “Showdown in Motown.”)

- He isn’t a drinker. “I have never been drunk before. I have never been high, never smoked weed. I don’t knock it. It’s just not my thing. I don’t need that. There is already something wrong with me. Last thing I need is to introduce an additive!”

Combined ShapeCaption
Steve Harvey hosting "The Kardashian Family vs. The West Family" episode of "Celebrity Family Feud." (ABC/Byron Cohen) STEVE HARVEY, KANYE WEST, KIM KARDASHIAN WEST, KIM WALLACE

Credit: Byron Cohen

Steve Harvey hosting "The Kardashian Family vs. The West Family" episode of "Celebrity Family Feud." (ABC/Byron Cohen)
STEVE HARVEY, KANYE WEST, KIM KARDASHIAN WEST, KIM WALLACE

Credit: Byron Cohen

Combined ShapeCaption
Steve Harvey hosting "The Kardashian Family vs. The West Family" episode of "Celebrity Family Feud." (ABC/Byron Cohen) STEVE HARVEY, KANYE WEST, KIM KARDASHIAN WEST, KIM WALLACE

Credit: Byron Cohen

Credit: Byron Cohen

- He didn’t originally want to do “Family Feud” in 2010: The show was foundering under previous hosts. “The plane was already on its way down. Why would I fasten my seatbelt to that?” he said. One old tenet: when a contestant gives a bad answer, the host isn’t supposed to react negatively. Harvey said that’s not his way of doing things. He insisted if he was going to do it, he had to react with jokes. They did a test run and loved him. They they paid him enough to come aboard and ratings skyrocketed. “I turned a game show into a comedy show,” he said.

- He knows corporate lawyers are not his friends: Addressing the law students, he said “if you’re on the corporate side, I don’t care for you. I don’t care what you get out of this class. Personally, if you start vomiting and left right now, I’d be comfortable. If you want to be on the client side, let me help you.”

- Impact of the 2015 Miss Universe flub: He read the wrong winner that year, the name of which was on the teleprompter. He said the snafu turned into a trending topic worldwide for two days. It didn’t ultimately damage his reputation but he did get a nice payday doing a Super Bowl ad mocking the mistake. Still, he did receive weird threats to his family and he has had to hire armed guards around his home, which he said are still there to this day off West Paces Ferry Road.

- He wouldn’t react to Will Smith’s Oscar slap the way Chris Rock did: “I’m a Christian but I’m really undeveloped. I don’t have high-level Christianity. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’m like a 2. That’s the level of Christianity I can work on. You slap T.D. Jakes, he’ll turn the other cheek. You slap me? If you sit back in your seat, Jada [Will’s wife] would have to move out of the way. That’s the type of Christian I am.” He said Smith knew he could get away with that because he was on the Oscar stage. He dubbed Smith’s slap a “punk” move. “I lost a lot of respect for him,” he said.

Combined ShapeCaption
Steve Harvey serves as the judge, jury and star of "Judge Steve Harvey." (ABC/Danny Delgado)

Credit: ABC

Steve Harvey serves as the judge, jury and star of "Judge Steve Harvey." (ABC/Danny Delgado)

Credit: ABC

Combined ShapeCaption
Steve Harvey serves as the judge, jury and star of "Judge Steve Harvey." (ABC/Danny Delgado)

Credit: ABC

Credit: ABC

- “Judge Steve Harvey” was a bit of a fluke: ABC asked Harvey to do a sitcom. He declined, saying he’d done it before and it was too much work. They asked him what he wanted to do. Despite no law degree, he wanted to be a TV judge. It was an idea he had percolating in the back of his mind and he didn’t think ABC would go for it. But the network did. So they shot “Judge Steve Harvey” at Trilith Studios in Fayetteville late last year and it became a hit for ABC, which quickly renewed the show for a second season. He bases his judgments on his gut, not the actual case law. “I don’t know law,” he said. “I care about the story. I just want to hear the story.” Another bonus: Harvey owns the entire show. Given his track record, he has earned that right.

- He hustles because of a fear of failure and living in his car again: “I’ve always been running from my past. I spent three years living in a car. That was crushing. I can’t go back to that. Someone asked me why I buy such expensive cars. I say, in case all of this goes bad and I gotta live in my car again. At least I’ll be living in a real nice [expletive] car!”

-