Funnyman Kevin Hart has come a long way from his days hawking sneakers at the local City Sports chain in Philly. After much pain and perseverance, he’s risen through the ranks to become one of the most successful comedians in the game. While some might recognize him from flicks like Little Fockers and Death at a Funeral, and others from memorable cameos in celebrity friends’ music videos, the majority have been laughing their asses off at the guy’s side-splitting stand-up on Comedy Central, BET, and most notably, his recent mega-grossing comedy tour, Laugh At My Pain.
In the event you were too cash-strapped to catch him live, Hartbeat Productions and CODEBLACK Entertainment have decided to do you a service by bringing his $15-plus million-earning act to the big screens this Friday. With the record-breaking show (the dude’s even managed to outsell Eddie Murphy) only a few days from its silver screen premiere, Complex chatted with Hart about the life, the ladies, and spinning tragedy into comic gold.
Interview by Lauren Otis (@LaurNado)
Complex: Performers often say that stand-up is pretty much the most intimidating thing one can attempt. Would you agree with that?
Kevin Hart: Well, you’re talking to someone who’s in love with the craft. It’s hard for me to agree with that because I’m coming from a place where I think it’s the best thing on earth. I can see how someone from the outside looking in might be like, “Wow, that’s crazy. How do they do that?” But for me, I’m an entertainer. I love being on stage, I love being able to tell a story, I love the fact that the audience listens and laughs at it. It makes me happy and it’s what I live for.
Just before your performance in Laugh At My Pain, we witness you and your crew huddled in a circle backstage, chanting, “Everybody wanna be famous and nobody wanna put in the work.” How do you feel you’ve paid your dues? Or in what ways do you think it’s important for rising comedians to pay theirs?
Well, paying your dues really is putting in the work. I’ve slayed the road for thirteen years and I’m currently in a much better place than I was back then. But there’s so much more to be done, and my goal is so high. I don’t want to become content with my place right now and just fall off.
You also speak in the beginning about being 15 and completely inspired by Eddie Murphy taking the stage in his leather. Was there any one show or routine in particular that really resonated with you?
Oh! Eddie Murphy in Washington D.C. Constitution Hall! My favorite part was when Eddie would run up and just kind of riff. Like when you could see that he was just coming up with things off the top of his head, like a lady who wanted to take a picture and Eddie taking the camera from her and snapping a picture of his dick. You know, it was him being in the moment, and him laughing and being himself. It wasn’t forced. You felt like you could be around this guy every day and laugh. He’s funny as hell!
What about Eddie most sparked your desire to make people laugh for a living?
His ability to capture a room’s attention. When Eddie talked, everybody listened. Everybody! They all knew that a laugh was coming, and it was quiet enough to hear a pin drop when he was talking. For one person to have that kind of power over a room…that was amazing to me.
What was your first reaction when you discovered that you’d broken his record in ticket sales?
Well, it’s a different time. Granted, yes, we did about 15,000 people that weekend, but it’s not something I think about too much. Like I said, my goals are very high, and I don’t ever want to become content and take a second to celebrate and relax because I know at the top, where I want to be, there’s going to be so much more to celebrate.
Can you recall your first feelings of validation as a comedian?
It’s really when other comedians tell you you’re funny. Chris Rock, Damon Wayans, George Lopez, Seinfeld—I’ve got a list! That’s the validation. You know, Chappelle, Steve Harvey—if those guys tell you you’re funny, it’s feels like getting accepted into a club.
What’s the last thing you laughed about today?
You don’t wanna be the 65-year-old lady dancing in the video.
I farted outside and some people walked into it. That was embarrassing!
What’s the farthest you’ve ever gone for a laugh?
When I first started out, I poured a drink on my head one time, some water, to try and get a point across that I was making. It was pretty awful. Everybody was completely quiet after that.
Is there anywhere that you draw the line or any boundary you won’t cross when it comes to your comedy?
I’m not disrespectful, and I’m never vulgar to the point where it’s like, “Oh my god. This guy!” I’m not that guy, and I try to maintain a broad horizon that appeals to everybody. That’s my goal.
You’re obviously experiencing big success these days, but have you ever had any nights of complete tanking? And what did you take away from those?
Of course! When you’re coming up with new material, it’s not always gonna be good. The only way to learn is for it not to get a laugh, so you can adjust it and come back the next day to see if it’s working right. Next time, you might get a different laugh. You’re constantly rebuilding.
You’ve also appeared in some music videos, like Three 6 Mafia’s. What does it take to become a video vixen?
I mean, I’ve got good relations with all of those guys. Rappers and singers, they’re friends of mine, so every once in a while I might get a call to do them a favor and, hey, I’m a good dude! I don’t know if I’d have any advice for others because I don’t know exactly what that world is, but I’d say get in there for a reason, accomplish what you want to accomplish, and get out. You don’t wanna be the 65-year-old lady dancing in the video.
The title of your upcoming release, Laugh At My Pain, feels like a bit of a nod to schadenfreude. Why invite people to laugh at your pain?
Well, it’s asking people to laugh at you and with you. Like, “Hey, these are problems I’ve had in my life. And regardless of what other people may say, you’ll hear it straight from the horse’s mouth.” Some of the stuff is painful, some of it is dark, but you know what we’re gonna do? We’re gonna celebrate it by laughing at it. That’s the only way to deal with pain.
Speaking of laughing at others’ pain, what’s the most fucked up thing you’ve chuckled at recently—aside from those civilians walking into your fart?
You know what, that might be the worst right there. That was a pretty bad one. Those people definitely didn’t deserve that.
Going back to you, you mention a particular point in time when a mentor said to you, “You’re funny, but you’re not saying anything.” Can you speak a bit on how that changed your writing? Is that when you began to pull from a more vulnerable place in terms of your comedy?
It took me five years to talk about [my mom's death]. After mourning, you realize everything happens for a reason.
Well, what he was basically telling me was that people were leaving my show without having any idea who I was as a person, and that stuck. I’ve been to other shows and concerts and when you leave, you tend to feel like you know the person. You might be the funniest guy in the world, but if you don’t have anything to talk about, people are eventually going to gravitate towards the guy that’s actually saying something. Because people want to know what’s going on in your life, and this taught me to have a point of view, which I didn’t at first. I was only grazing the surface.
Is it important for us to be able to use comedy as a buffer?
Yes. You can’t just sit around and be miserable. I promise if you take a week and then look back at something that’s happened to you, you’ll find something to laugh at within that time.
You mention in the show that your biggest fear is having your credit card turned down in front of people. Does that still hold true?
Of course! It doesn’t matter how much money I have—it’s always gonna hold true.
It seems now, though, like keeping up with the Joneses would be a non-issue for you. What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve spent money on for spending’s sake?
I would have to say white T-shirts. I’ve spent so much money on them. I love soft, cotton, white T-shirts. And we’re talking about the real deal, not some Hanes packs.
What else scares you?
Insects, especially spiders. I don’t like any of that shit. When I see them, I run.
With all the touring you’ve done, you’ve obviously been in front of thousands of people with varying senses of humor. Are there any places you actually get nervous about performing?
No, no. I look at it as, “This is what I chose to do, this is my gift, I enjoy doing it.” I’m happy about working, I’m happy about gracing the stage, and coming out and making people laugh. I never treat it like a job or feel that way. It’s the best thing ever to me and I feel like a kid in a candy store. One place I was a little surprised to be so well-received, though, was London—that was huge. I sold out over there, which was big.
On a heavier note, you address a lot of weighty subjects in your show, like your father’s drug abuse and your mother’s funeral. The jokes are obviously hysterical, but we can’t imagine those have always been easy topics to speak about. How do you manage to stay in good spirits as you’re rehashing such painful stories?
It took me five years to talk about that. You know, after mourning, you realize everything happens for a reason. I’m more of a realist when it comes to life and I’d much rather my mother be in a spiritual place in heaven than in a bed sick, fighting for her life. Once you grasp that type of reality, you’re kind of able to move on from it. I know that my mom’s happy, and that she’s smiling over me and that she’s proud of me—I know that, I feel that, so I don’t harp on anything negative.
Is it cathartic to speak about those things?
Every man isn’t nasty. Some women assume that. You should throw test questions out to see how a guy receives them. Because some guys like myself just aren’t ready for the whole shebang.
For me, yes. From the beginning, I’ve already made the choice [to speak about them], so I’m married to that choice. There’s no going back. And it’s become as easy as spitting it out.
It takes a pretty brave dude to stand in front of so many people and declare that they’re shitty in bed. What compelled you to speak about these issues of manhood that most would probably find emasculating?
It happens, you know. It was funny, I laughed about it then, and I want to talk about it. If it’s funny and happens in life, I bring it to light.
You also talk about being put off by dirty talk, needing women to “babystep you into their nastiness.” What’s the worst kind a woman can unleash?
Well, every man isn’t nasty. Some women assume that, and might think that every man is where they are mentally. My thing is, you should have feelers—you should have testers. You should throw test questions out to see how a guy receives them before you go and throw them the whole shebang. Because some guys like myself just aren’t ready for the whole shebang.
On a final note, what do you love most about stand-up?
I love that I can tell the truth and have people laugh at it. It’s always a good feeling to get feedback from fans saying, “Hey man, you said XYZ that made me feel like this, because I’m also going through that.” It’s a pat on the back, you know?
Interview by Lauren Otis (@LaurNado)