KEVIN HART: THE MEN’S HEALTH INTERVIEW Getting Real with Kevin Hart
The comedian reflects on his newfound success, and dishes out tips for achieving your own
BY J. RENTILLY, JANUARY 17, 2014
Kevin Hart knows the power of honesty. Without it, the 34-year old actor-comedian says, his career would have flatlined and he’d be back in Philadelphia selling shoes.
Instead, he’s a titan of stand-up comedy whose last run of arena dates grossed more than $15 million, with the subsequent concert film, Let Me Explain, hauling in a pulse-pounding $32 million. It was only after Hart—who labored for years in dive clubs dodging chicken-hucking hecklers and hurled bottle caps—stopped playing characters and “got really, really honest just being myself” that things exploded for him professionally.
This weekend, Hart goes toe to toe with Ice Cube in the action comedy Ride Along, which he hopes will launch a franchise. “We hit the ground running in this thing, and we knock it out of the park, man,” says Hart, who will also be seen this year in About Last Night and Think Like A Man Too. “We’re kicking off this year with a bang.”
Here, Hart reveals the not-so-surprising secrets to his massive success: working hard, being humble, and occasionally letting your crazy out. Follow his lead:
Men’s Health: Things are quite a bit different for you today than they were 10 years ago.
Kevin Hart: Not a lot of chicken being thrown at me these days. [Laughs] A lot of applause now. A lot of applause. Hard work pays off. You get out of things what you put into them. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears have gone into this career of mine. It’s a passion, and I’m at a place and in a position where I’m reaping the benefits right now.
MH: It was a slow start. You’re an overnight success more than a dozen years in the making. Why do you think things finally took off for you?
Hart: I learned from the guys before me—Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Richard Pryor, just to name a few. These are guys that let it all hang out. What they lived is what they took to the stage. I spent a lot of my early days trying to be a character, trying to be something I’m not, instead of really coming from the heart. Things got good when I started being myself. Now I go full-speed in being honest about what I’m going through in my life, and the response I’ve gotten from doing that has been amazing. That’s the lane I’m staying in.
MH: The interesting thing is: The more honest and specific you’ve gotten in your act, the larger the audience with which you’re connecting.
Hart: The two things in the world we all share in this world are laughter and pain. We’ve all got problems. The levels of those problems vary, but we’ve all got problems. When you can take things that are painful and make them funny, that’s a gift—to you and your audience. I’m talking about my mom’s funeral, I’m talking about my dad being on drugs, I’m talking about divorce, I’m talking about moving on to a new relationship, I’m talking about being a father. The beauty of it is: It’s real. It’s all real. My fame continues to grow because people identify with my material, and they know it’s true.
MH: Is there anything you won’t talk about on stage?
Hart: I’m not a big politics guy. I’m not a guy right now to talk about anything to do with the gay community. It’s become a very sensitive subject, and it should be. That’s slander, man. At the end of the day, everybody should be respected. You don’t have to be an asshole, to be funny.
MH: That must be difficult sometimes, balancing sensitivity with punchlines.
Hart: It is a tricky walk. There’s a line. You don’t have to walk that line, but the backlash of stepping over that line can be severe. I don’t want those problems. I don’t want enemies. I want friends, and I want them in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and loving whoever they want to. I want people to laugh at what I work hard to do. I want to bring people together, not alienate them.
MH: Why else do you think you’ve become so successful recently?
Hart: You only get better with practice, and I have practiced a lot. So hard work, definitely, and experience. The more you do in life, the more things you have to talk about. The more traveling I do, the more people I meet, and the more situations I find myself in. I love all of that. That’s where my material comes from. You’ve got to have a life. Like, go out and have adventures and experiences to get better at what you do, no matter what you do.
MH: What have you learned through the years that has made you better?
Hart: What haven’t I learned, man? [Laughs] I get a little more polished with every experience I have, and that’s because I’m a sponge. Working with a guy like Ice Cube on Ride Along, you learn so much. He’s a guy who produces, writes, and directs, so you watch and learn and ask questions. As you go, you learn and figure out what you should and shouldn’t do. I do nothing but soak up information.
MH: There was an interesting study published yesterday in the British Journal of Psychiatry that found comedians “have high levels of psychotic personality traits.” Does that make sense to you?
Hart: Sad to say, but some comedians are crazy. [Laughs] But that’s true for all of us a little bit, and probably for creative people especially. I can get where some scientists would say comedians are crazy. What you have to understand: A lot of comedians are dealing with a dark passion. A lot of these are guys coming from a tumultuous life, including myself. Some people need outlets, a way to express yourself. You get singers, you get comedians, you get actors, you get rappers, you get writers. These are people who learn to express themselves to vent all of that darkness. You think these guys that make all these scary movies and sci-fi flicks are sane? F**k no. [Laughs] They’re all psychopaths. That’s the way they get it all out. These are weird people. But you’ve got to understand: that’s how they express themselves.
MH: Ultimately, what words of wisdom do you want to pass on?
Hart: Being humble matters. Success isn’t supposed to happen, no matter how hard you work. There’s no guarantee you’re going to succeed. There’s nothing set in stone. So if you get it, if you hit it, and you don’t appreciate it, shame on you. Hold on to it. Appreciate it. Be thankful. It’s the right thing to do, plain and simple. And try to enjoy the experiences along the way.
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