Steve Harvey, stand-up comedian and talk-radio host, is the unlikely author of a best-selling relationship book. Act like a Lady, Think like a Man debuted at the top of several best-seller rankings last week, include the advice list of the New York Times and the nonfiction list of the Wall Street Journal. He spoke to TIME's Belinda Luscombe about why his simple, pull-no-punches counsel is resonating with women. (See TIME's Valentine's Day Top 10.)
It takes some kind of guts for a guy to write a book that presumes to give relationship advice to women. What made you think you could do it?
The advice I'm giving to women is actually from an expert point of view. I'm an expert on manhood. I know how men think. And I know how men think when they're not responding to questions in a clinical study. It's a culmination of 52 years of living. All my friends are male, and they're from all walks of life. I have friends from all different races. We have cultural differences, but we think the same way. And I can share with women exactly how men think, exactly how your man thinks. I don't care who he is, how old he is, how much he makes. When it comes to these subjects, this is how men think. (Read "The Biology of Dating: Why Him, Why Her?")
Are you surprised by how much interest the book has generated?
I'm way past surprised. I'm stunned. To be No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list, well, that's alarming. Having been a stand-up comedian, I think it's surprising to a lot of people that I had the insight I had. I tell people I'm a stand-up comedian two hours a week. The rest of the time, I'm somebody's husband, I'm somebody's father. I'm a man. I take great pride in that.
To what do you attribute the book's success?
I think there are so many books out there written on relationships and romance that women are the authors of. How can women know exactly how men think? And there are so many guys out there with relationship books who are just not telling the truth. They have shaded parts. They're always leaving the door open for a guy to get away with something. I identify the problems that women have with men, and then I give them a solution. The content is so glaringly clear, and I think women appreciate it coming from a guy who has no ulterior motive and is just honestly talking to them. (See the top 10 nonfiction books of 2008.)
Why do people need help with their relationships?
I've had two divorces myself. I understand. I'm not a relationship expert. But what I was never able to convey until I got a little older was why I was missing in action so much. Why I was trying so hard to be somebody. Why I was not as emotionally involved. I never knew how to explain it. The older I got and the more time I spent with myself, I started thinking, Wow, man, I'm just grinding right now. I'm really trying to develop who I am, what I do and how much I make. And unless a man gets those things lined up in his mind, until a man is secure in that, he can never be to a woman what she needs him to be, because he's missing some major components from his own personal life. And so many women are running into men who don't have that aspect together, but they don't know that's what it is so they can't even help. (See pictures of the 20th century's greatest romances.)
Why do you think so many women who want to be married aren't?
Here's what's happened over the years. Women's standards and requirements have lowered. And as men, we know that. We have taken advantage of it. We've created terms that we feed to women that allow us to exist as we do. We created the term nagging. There's really no such thing as nagging. As soon as a woman starts registering her complaint, we call it nagging. We let you know it will drive us away. We created another term. When you first meet a man, so you don't ask a lot of personal questions and questions about his business, we created the term gold digger. Now why would a woman not be concerned about her financial future for herself and her children? But we created the term gold digger, so now, because you don't want to be known as a gold digger, you never ask a man anything. You don't require anything of a man. So many standards have been lowered by women that now a man doesn't have to climb over a very high bar to get to her. So now you have more men who can get away with more things with more women without any repercussions.
In your chapter on affairs, you say that women have to take some responsibility when men cheat. Have any women taken issue with that?
Not yet. I'm pretty sure they're coming. I tried to release women, to let them know that usually when your man cheats it has nothing to do with you initially. We men try to use you to justify what we're doing, but it's usually that we don't have ourselves together. [A man] is weak in some area, and so he goes outside his relationship. But there are some things women do to contribute to this. I have a chapter in the book talking about what a man has to have: support, loyalty and "the cookie" [sex]. If any of those things are missing, he's going somewhere to get it, because he has to have it. I try to tell people how important sex is to a man. All you gotta do is look at prisons. That's the roughest analogy I can give. If it's not happening at home, he's going to get it somewhere. He's just not that good of a guy that he's going to sit there and do without it. And a lot of times men cheat because there are so many women out there willing to cheat. If women say, "I'll take something rather than nothing" wow, that's a playground for us. I know that answer doesn't fare well with women. But we're very simple creatures. I told HarperCollins, this book could actually be about 35 pages. Because we're guys. We are that simple.