Comedy is no laughing matter to comedian Kevin Hart—it pays well—and Hart, who has paid his dues on the comedy circuit for years, is finally starting to see the spotlight at the end of the tunnel.
After embarking on his 90-city Laugh at My Pain Comedy Tour (movie in theaters Sept. 9), the Philadelphia native has broken records (grossing about $15 million in ticket sales in two days, exceeding Eddie Murphy’s “Raw” tour), won the hearts of fans (as evidenced by sold-out venues nationwide), signed an exclusive deal with AMC to release his movie, launched an app (Little Jumpman) and landed big endorsements (Ford and Jordan, who hasn’t teamed with any personality since Spike Lee, remember those commercials?).
But the jokester takes it all in stride as he chats with BlackEnterprise.com about poking fun at himself, what his new wealth now affords him, and why, despite his divorce, he’ll never disrespect his ex.
Your live comedy concert film, Laugh at My Pain, is hilarious. Yet people think you’re an overnight success. How did you get your start?
My actual break came from Damon Dash and Jay-Z, who saw me perform live and told me they were working on an indie film called Paper Soldiers that they thought I’d be great for. So that was my first film and leading role where I played Shaun, a [brother] whose life is falling apart. He’s in jeopardy of losing everything and he starts robbing houses, but he was terrible at it. It was pretty funny (Laughs).
We bet! One of the things that endears you to millions is your self-deprecating humor. Is that pure comedy or a defense mechanism?
Well, I’ve always been that way and have never forced it and thought, This is how I’m going to say or do this. It’s just a natural instinct of mine. But to some degree, yes, it is a defense mechanism because, in a way, it’s disarming others before they can criticize me.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I’m pretty much an open book. I try not to hide anything and remain front and center on purpose. That way there aren’t any surprises.
Reportedly, you’ve surpassed Eddie Murphy’s live concert record sales by grossing more than $15 million in two days. How have you digested that milestone?
Honestly, I try not to celebrate those numbers because I don’t want to get content and think, I made it. I’m successful! When you start to think that way, you think you don’t need to go any further—so I don’t address it. And Eddie and I are cool, he’s a cool dude. He told me to keep doing what I’m doing, [and that] I’m on the right track.
Who are you mentors?
Chris Rock has given me great advice.
How has or will money change you?
It hasn’t. If it does, it should only change you for the better. The only difference now is that I get to see things I couldn’t before because I can pay for it (Laughs). Like taking my kids on elaborate trips and have everything taken care of, or the convenience of taking a private jet back and forth now that I have access. But again, I don’t let any of this get to my head too much.
So have folks caught The Vapors and started treating you differently?
(Laughs) I don’t give them a chance to treat me differently. Of course, there are people around me who might offer to get me what I need; but I just know not to expect that all the time. You must always keep a level head and those around you will treat you [accordingly].
So who helps to keep you grounded?
There are about 11 people on my team that handle my digital media, writing partners, road manager and the like. Having the right team is extremely important because they keep me humble and make sure that none of this gets to my head.
How have you reinvented yourself as an actor?
I’m setting myself up to become a brand and my own personal enterprise. So maintaining a special relationship with my sponsors Ford and Jordan is important.
How important are endorsement deals and diversification?
It’s huge! You always want to reach the masses. [Endorsement deals] are so big because these are not your regular ads. Jordan hasn’t done this kind of deal since [they worked] with Spike Lee.
Is standup always going to be a part of your life?
For me, this is it. I don’t have any success without that.
You recently went through a pretty public divorce. How difficult is it to balance a relationship when you’re in the entertainment business?
As an actor and comedian, that’s what I signed up for. I can’t act like [my divorce] doesn’t exist. In this [industry], it’s all about damage control and dealing with things as they come. My divorce was a good process and I’m thankful for that. She’s the mother of my kids so we will never not get along. It’s a hard job raising kids. The main thing is that we remain in a positive relationship, and we have.
What’s the best money advice you’ve ever received? And what’s the worst?
I would say the best is “make sure you pay your taxes.” The worst advice was “wear a suit on stage.” I don’t…Ugh. No! I can’t do it! (Laughs)
So what advice would you offer for new comedians?
Give it your best, and go through with it if it’s truly your passion.
What’s your ultimate goal?
I’m trying to be groundbreaking for my time. Ultimately, I’d like to be remembered as one of the funniest guys who ever did it. I want to be one of the greats.