Act like a lady, think like a funny man

Steve Harvey's dating advice book for women is a runaway bestseller. How did male comedians become the new love gurus?

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published March 17, 2009 2:09PM (EDT)

When it comes to relationship expertise, move over John Gray. Take a hike, Dr. Phil. And suck on, Barbara DeAngelis. The new love gurus are comedians.

In his inexplicably bestselling guide to dating, radio host, sitcom star and King of Comedy Steve Harvey mines the familiar terrain of caveman-level gender platitudes, advising us to "Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man." (Remember, missy: You're a lady -- he's a MAN.)

Harvey, whose credentials include two prior divorces and a supporting role in "You Got Served," views love as a business proposition, one in which a lady does not share her "benefits" until the 90 day mark has passed. He describes male nurturing as different from that of women, in that it may involve him heating a can of soup and watching ESPN.

Like Greg Behrendt, author of "He's Just Not That Into You," Harvey wraps up his romantic pontification in the aw-shucks language of "We're just guys! We're so SIMPLE!," conveniently dumping the bulk of the work, thought and responsibility of love on our dainty shoulders. While we can appreciate the sentiment that a guy who doesn't treat you right is a guy not worth your time, the whole shebang smells like buck passing in the guise of empowerment. And though we give props to Harvey (and Behrendt) for saying it's vital to have self-respect and standards, why does romance have to be a game in which only the women have rules? There's nothing wrong with suggesting that men and women are, biologically and socially, different. That's most of the fun. But how many more thousands of years are we going to blithely swallow the excuse that men will do anything for "the cookie," and it's our job to dole it out with extreme caution? More pressingly, isn't getting relationship tips from standup comedians a little like taking financial counsel from the homeless?

Or, as one well-known New York comic recently asked, "When did we decide to seek advice from nightclub entertainers? These are people who spend 23 hours a day by themselves in crappy hotel rooms in the middle of nowhere, desperately waiting to go on stage to make lonely drunk people happy." Sure, dating is often about making lonely drunk people happy. Just ask that other bestselling author Chelsea Handler. But does that mean we should trust the wisdom of comedians on love and sex? You must be joking. 

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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