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.