Barely able to make it to a punch line without cracking his own self up, Kevin Hart has riffed on wanting to be a thug, being as tall as Shaq’s navel and the first time his mother gave him permission to curse in school. (That last one resulted in a litany of unsanctioned expletives.)
One thing he's not joking about, however, is the earthquake that hit D.C. while he was in town last month promoting his new film, "Laugh at My Pain." Playing it a little cooler in our interview than he did on his twitter feed (we can’t quote it but you can see his reaction for yourself), Hart said it was his first earthquake ever.
“There’s no freaking out in natural disasters, it’s something that’s crazy and there’s nothing you can do about it,” he said.
Earthquakes not withstanding, the self-proclaimed grown little man’s comedic repertoire is based in real life experiences and has morphed into something like a symbiotic relationship with his audience.
“My therapy is really to deal with things out in the open, my audience serves as my therapist,” he said. “I’m able to get stuff off of my chest that I wouldn’t tell a person in a regular setting. For some reason I’m very comfortable doing it in that open setting.
“I decided to dig a little deeper into my personal life and talk about things I never wanted to talk about. For instance I wanted to talk about my dad being on drugs, my mom passing away, and me personally going through a divorce.”
Hart worked these themes into “Laugh at My Pain,” his first movie release that opens Friday and combines stand-up material and footage of him going back home to Philadelphia where he grew up. He previously released the television comedy specials “I’m a Grown Little Man” in 2009 and 2010’s “Seriously Funny.”
During a time when people are especially judicious about how they spend their money on groceries, let alone entertainment, Hart’s $15 million in ticket sales by the end of his “Laugh at My Pain” tour serves as a testament to his increasing success and loyal following.
We don’t know if his earthquake scare will make it into future material, but anecdotes about racing against an ostrich, the stylistics of battle rappers and being scared of dolphins have carried him worlds away from his days as a shoe salesman, the same time he started taking his comedy a little more serious.
“That’s when I got the courage to get on stage,” he said. “I would get dares to go on amateur nights. Those are the people who amped me up to go and try it.”
Fans, he says, are his focus.
“You get a fanbase all over, you can’t ignore your fans,” he said. “The point is you build it up so you can actually go see them and reach out to them so there can be things like a world tour.” Hart’s company, Hartbeat Productions along with Codeblack Entertainment is producing the film. They as a group were involved with the decision-making for the theatrical release in Africa, he said. The collective is also in discussions to tour in Nigeria, though they haven’t reached the contract stage just yet.
He’s also developed a game app for the iPhone and iPad that casts the vertically challenged Hart as something of a Super Mario Bros. character trying to gain points by jumping as high as possible.
Inspired by the likes of Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor and others, he’s managed to gird himself with an encouraging circle that include marquee names as well as lesser-known comedians including Patrice O’Neal, Colin Quinn and Jim Norton.
“Chris Rock, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy all rank at number one equally in my personal opinion,” he said. “Chris Rock’s advice has been amazing to me.”
Determined to avoid the rapid ascent and very public spirals that have befallen other black comedians including Martin Lawrence, Katt Williams and Dave Chappelle, Hart draws on his support group and says that if you have a great supporting cast around you, it’s hard to stray off into negative waters.
“It’s about making sure people understand that you don’t want to be on the high horse. You don’t want to be looked at this guy who’s put on this ultimate pedestal,” he said. “I want to be a hard worker, and I want you guys to be apart of a great journey. I feel like when people start to cater and put you on that pedestal and treat them like a king, is when people start to lose sight of reality. I’ve yet to lose sight of reality.”
Hart will be on tour again in September of next year. He’s currently filming alongside District native Taraji P. Henson and Michael Ealy for “Think Like a Man,” a movie based on Steve Harvey’s relationship book, “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man.” Recently divorced himself, Hart said that if he had a relationship book it would be aptly titled “Confusion.”
Hart says that his dating life is “a little low-key, I’m coming out of a tough one so I want to focus on my career right now and myself and put as much as I can into my company,” he said.
When he is ready to hop back out into the dating world, don’t expect any celebrity pairings.
“I love to keep my personal life and my business separate. Sometimes I think mixing the two can cause problems. God bless the ones that are perfect and that have found happiness in that zone but when I finally do rebuild I want my house to be a safe haven and just separate.”
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