If there’s anything I’ve learned as an entertainment writer, it’s that celebrities are always late. One time, I waited on the line a half hour as a certain celebrity’s publicist attempted to connect us via phone, only to have her tell me the interview was canceled. Another time, I nursed an overpriced bottle of sparkling water in a hotel lobby then was rushed through the interview once the person finally arrived. Though vexing at times, the truth is, celebrities are always late because they can be.
I expected to be in a similar situation with movie star and stand-up king Kevin Hart; this time, however, I was wrong.
Despite his outsized personality, record-breaking comedy tours and nearly 100 million followers on social media, Hart is not your average celebrity. His hustle is otherworldly. His willingness to share his private life with fans feels incongruent in someone with his level of fame. And he was on time for the photo shoot—something that rarely happens but makes total sense once you actually meet him.
“I’m an alien. I’m not from this realm,” Hart tells me later when we finally sit down to chat about his blockbuster year. Although it sounds like pure hyperbole, he may be onto something. He’s starred in 10 movies over the past three years, including such box office hits as Think Like a Man Too, Ride Along, Central Intelligence and The Secret Life of Pets, which alone has made over $600 million worldwide. While he dominated the big screen, the comedian also made moves behind the scenes, producing specials for other comics such as Lil Rel, Keith Robinson and the Plastic Cup Boyz. The fifth season of his hit BET show, Real Husbands of Hollywood, premieres October 11, and Hart recently inked a deal with Lionsgate to launch Laugh Out Loud, the first subscription-based multicultural comedy network. If that weren’t enough, he’s also the first comedian to headline at (and sell out!) an NFL stadium. And he’s done some of this on his own dime. “I spent $13.8 million on it myself,” he says of his latest stand-up concert film, What Now?, which will be in theaters October 14 and opens with a slick James Bondesque storyline, complete with shoot-outs and Halle Berry. Despite it being almost unheard of for an actor to spend that kind of cash on his own project, Hart says the reason was simple: He wants to own it all. “If you’re going to roll the dice, roll it on yourself,” he explains.
Indeed, he isn’t like anyone we’ve ever seen before. According to Forbes, he’s the first comedian to earn more than Jerry Seinfeld, and in just a year he vaulted from No. 95 to No. 6 on the publication’s highest-paid celebrity list. During the 12-month period ending June 2016, Hart raked in a mind-boggling $87.5 million from his comedy empire, a testament to his staggering work ethic. Although he admits he’s “dead tired” by the time we sit down to talk, he also says, “There’s a little battery in me that goes, ‘Ah, man. The minute you go to sleep, that guy who’s next, that guy who wants the spot you have, is working.”
Hart refuses to slow down. Between changing looks during the photo shoot, tending to his 8-year-old son, Hendrix, and keeping everyone on the set laughing, he’s handling business—solidifying the details of last-minute wedding plans. (He got hitched to longtime girlfriend Eniko Parrish four days after our interview.) His grind is relentless.
Despite his meteoric rise, the North Philadelphia native isn’t satisfied with his success. Hart wants to go even higher.
“I’m not a content guy. Even with all the achievements, it’s not enough because there’s so much more life to live, and there’s so much more to do and accomplish,” explains the entertainer. “I think the thing that honestly keeps me going is the fact that it’s out there for the taking. I don’t think people really understand that you get out of life what you put into it. The more blood, sweat and tears you have behind the passion, the more rewards you’ll see behind the work.”
It’s fitting that as the shoot begins, Jay Z comes blasting through the speakers. “It’s a celebration of Black excellence,” Jigga raps in “Murder to Excellence” as Hart mugs for the camera while puffing on a hand-rolled cigar. “Success never smelled so sweet …” While he feels blessed to have reached this level of excellence, Hart’s ultimate goal mirrors Hova’s boastful lyrics. “When you talk about making your mark, you’re talking about building a legacy, leaving a blueprint. I’m doing that,” he says.
Read more in the Oct.-Nov. 2016 issue of EBONY Magazine, on newsstands now! Click here to subscribe.
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Senior Producer, EBONY.com