Is there a comedian today hotter than Kevin Hart? The Philly native with dozens of TV and movie roles and sold out concerts around the country has broken through the tough and tumble competitive world of show business to become the guy who everyone wants to work with—and laugh with as well.
Not only does Hart prove his comedic everythingness in his latest film, the hit romantic comedy Think Like A Man, but he currently has two other film projects in the works as well–Con Ed, with Think producer Will Packer, and another comedy at Universal with Seth Rogan about the first integrated buddy cop team set in the late 40’s. EBONY.com recently had an opportunity to talk to Hart about the raging success of Think Like a Man, the art of the steal, and his small, er, humble beginnings.
EBONY: People are going to love Think Like A Man because it’s probably not what they expect. It’s a sophisticated, smart comedy with believable characters. Not the type of over the top, buffoonery you often get in Black comedic films like this.
HART: Yes, we wanted to make a smart movie. We didn’t want to have the stereotypical Black film. We wanted to make a film with a Black cast that could be considered an universal film. Where people would say: “WOW! We actually could make more movies like this!”
EBONY: It's an all-star cast but you were out to steal the film, we weren’t you?
HART: (laughs) Well, you know, man, I wanted to be in a position where I was able to be funny, but at the same time could tell a story. They gave me a character that had levels. Yes, I was funny, but at the same time my character is getting divorced and going through a lot of emotions. You can’t do what I do without a good cast to set you up and to put you in a position to work. I take my hat off to all the actors and actresses in the film because I was improvising, I was going off the script at times, but nobody was left behind. I never felt that like somebody couldn’t keep up, or maybe I’m doing way too much. We had a thin line that we were on and we didn’t want to cross it. Because if you cross that line the movie becomes wacky and zany and we wanted to stay in the realistic realm.
EBONY: I've heard that it's hard to improvise with another actor because you have to make sure that the actor you’re with is still “in the scene” and you can’t dominate it because then the scene is off balance and everything is screwed up—and the actor is mad at you because you’re upstaging them…
HART: (laughs) Exactly! I had a great relationship with the director Tim Story. I would always come to him first and tell him I would tell him look there are certain things that I want to do in this scene. He would tell me, "Okay, I think this is smart, the direction you want to go is smart and if you go too far I’ll bring you back." I had the same conversation with the actors where I would say, "Hey guys what do you think of this? What If I go here and come back here? What drives the scene more?" Those levels of discussions we had about it did exactly what we thought it would do for film—make it better.
EBONY: Your comedy stand up film, Laugh at My Pain, was one of the most financially successful films of last year. You think that’s when Hollywood finally took notice of you?
HART: They had no choice but to notice me. I’ve been around for a long time. I’ve got 15 years in the business—a patient 15 years. I’ve taken my licks, I've done things that I got criticized for, I’ve done TV shows and movies that weren’t good. But all that did was build character and give me experience. And within time, I went and built this stand-up comedy career where I said I’m going to focus on me to the point where Hollywood will have to take notice.
Building my stand-up comedy career and my social media presence allowed me to get to the point where financially I could say, "Well, let me gamble on myself." I personally invested money in myself. I put up $700,000, did the movie, distributed theatrically independently though Codeblack Entertainment and we made some $7.8 million on just 200 screens nationwide—which is unheard of. So the fact that we were able to do what we did made Hollywood sit up and say, “Wait minute! Why is this guy moving these type of numbers? What is it about this guy?” So now they’re having conversations with me.
EBONY: When did you know you were funny? Were you one of those class clowns?
HART: Always, always. I wasn’t great student, so when you’re not a great student, you’re not a great fighter you have to find something that gives you an edge over everybody else. I was the funny guy. I was the guy everybody just wanted to be around just to laugh. I was the guy who when it came around to slapping and busting on people and going back and forth I was the guy that no one wanted to deal with because I was quick on my feet. But I didn’t think I was going in the direction of stand up comedy.
EBONY: So how does than then translate from that to you going up on stage and saying this is what I want to do with my life?
HART: Well, I was working in a sneaker store and some of my co-workers kept telling me, “Kevin we think you’re really funny. Why don’t you try doing stand up?” And I didn’t know how to go about doing that. So one of my co-workers found an amateur night at comedy club. I went and literally I fell in love with it. The co-workers came down to support me. I had my notes on what to talk about. I wasn’t die hard funny, but I fell in love with being responsible for making people laugh. I fell in love with being in front of the lights. People staring and waiting to hear something from me to make them laugh. That’s entertainment, That’s what it’s all about! I can do this!
And I remember telling my mom I’ve figured it out. I know what I want to do with my life. I want to be a comedian. I was lucky enough to have a mother who supported me to the point where she said to me, "If that is what you want to do, baby I’ll back you. I’ll give you a year to get it together," and for a year she paid my rent until I figured out how to make an income doing comedy. And I’ve never looked back.
EBONY: So you really prefer doing stand-up than making films?
HART: Of course! You have an immediate reaction. There’s an immediate response from people who support you. Doing movies is great, but you have no control over the film. As an actor you do what you do, but once it goes into the editing room you don’t know what you’re going to wind up with. But with stand-up, the beauty of it is that I know what my finished product is. I control it and the fact that I have thousands of people coming up to see me, it’s unreal. I’m doing ten to 15 thousand seat arenas. It’s a blessing and I don’t take it for granted.
EBONY: So why do think that 15,000 people are willing to pay see you in a stadium? What do they see in you?
HART: My growth. People see my journey. When you have people who have followed you from the beginning and really understand your path those are different kind of fans. And as I matured and got older, I realized that being myself and being honest it can take me so much further than what I’d thought. I look at Bill Cosby, Chris Rock, Murphy, Pryor, all these guys basically dug deep into what was going on in their lives. Once I saw and studied that and saw what they were doing, I said these people are being themselves. They're not being characters. So when I started being myself and let people in and being honest about all of it— what was going on with me, what was bothering me—it became therapy for me and laugher for others.
EBONY: Finally, I have to ask about this controversy about the recent cartoon you wrote that’s all over the Internet in which you criticized Black women. Sisters are getting upset about it.
HART: That has nothing to do with me! I didn’t do it! I have NO idea where it came from. I have nothing (laughs), I’ve done nothing! Someone posted a cartoon on my Facebook fan page and it literally was out of my hands. I have to go back within my company to find out who put the picture up. I have nothing to do with it. It the same thing with the dark-skinned women comments. It’s something my hands are free and clear of. Guys I swear I had nothing to do with this! (laughs) You should have seen my face when I read it, I said “UH OH, here it comes!” (laughs) There’s no way to stop that (social media) machine. I’ve apologized. But this is not my material. It ain’t me! No way, no how!