Funny Money

Black comedians have always been among the funniest. Now, by tapping into the business side of the industry, today's comics are laughing all the way to the bank.

audience,” says Cedric. “It definitely broadened out. That was really our introduction into the mass market, like, ‘Whoa, it was bigger than I thought.’” For Mac, born Bernard McCollough, the tour led to numerous appearances on television and film, as well as his own successful sitcom, The Bernie Mac Show, which he produces. Entering its fourth season, Mac sees syndication on the horizon as well as endorsement deals with Pepsi and Nike. For Cedric, Mac, and many others, comedy has become serious business.

Harvey sees himself as a businessman with a knack for making folks laugh. Judging from his accomplishments, that’s an accurate description. One of the four Kings of Comedy, Harvey has tapped into several revenue streams, both inside and outside of the entertainment industry. Among his enterprises is Nu-Opp Inc., a Hollywood-based production startup that, while still in its infancy, has generated about $500,000 this year. Nu-Opp. produces Steve Harvey’s Big Time, a variety show that airs on the WB, and the Hoodie Awards, a show that honors local business establishments, religious leaders, churches, and high schools for their contributions to the community. Harvey’s company also produces Pulled Over, a reality makeover show for family cars, which airs on E!

Aside from Nu-Opp, Harvey owns Steve Harvey Products, a clothing line that includes suits, ties, shirts, shoes, and hats sold through boutique stores and Rich’s and Lazarus Stores, part of the Federated Department Stores chain. While many of the clothing items launched this year, Rushion McDonald, Harvey’s business manager, says buy orders already range between $1.5 million and $3 million.

Harvey’s recognition of the business side of comedy started fairly early in his career. “I started thinking of ways I could take advantage of the talent of jokes and comedy and spin it off and produce shows, and manage other talent, and do movies, and do radio, and do TV, and then step out and invest in land,” he says. Harvey owns nearly 3,000 acres of land in Texas that include 48 natural gas wells. “When I’m done [with comedy], I want to build this huge real estate empire, production empire, management empire, publicity empire, and just have it all stem from that one little thing that we take not so seriously called a joke.”

When Harvey first started out in entertainment, he wanted to be known as one of the top stand-up comedians in the country. After some time, his goal changed, and he and McDonald decided to consider other entrepreneurial endeavors. “You start looking at other opportunities that are available to you and, if you’re smart, then you start saying ‘OK, I probably won’t be able to tell these jokes all my life, nor do I want to be 75 and trying to sell myself to an audience of people in some city for 5,000 people to come and see me,’” says Harvey. “So you start looking at ways to branch out. I always had a great entrepreneurial spirit.”

Harvey says the key to success in business is sticking with

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