The journey to success hasn't been overnight for Kevin Hart. He’s gone from doing amateur stand-up comedy in Philadelphia to being one of Hollywood's biggest stars.
The relatively short and outrageously entertaining actor/comedian is blessed with incomparable talent and charisma. His passion to keep people laughing throughout movies but also be open about personal flaws and struggles during stand-up performances has made him one of the world’s most impactful entertainers.
Another weapon in Hart’s arsenal is a tireless work ethic. Since 2010, he’s appeared in more than 10 films, including the box office smashes Ride Along, Think Like a Man, and What About Last Night. He’s also released three successful stand-up installments — Seriously Funny, Laugh at My Pain, and Let Me Explain — and starred in several TV shows, most notably BET's "Real Husbands of Hollywood."
In support of his latest film, Think Like a Man Too, Hart revealed what people can expect from the movie and why he thinks it's better than the original. He also discussed why he selected Memphis as a place to hold an advanced screening of the film, what it was like coming up in Philadelphia, his rift with Mike Epps, and provides advice to aspiring comedians.
Without giving the movie away, can you explain it a little bit? What can people expect?
We did an amazing thing with part one. We exceeded expectations. The movie did $90 million in the box office. When a movie performs like that, that means it’s a universal movie. Everybody likes it. With part two, we wanted to go above and beyond again…we wanted to grab that wide audience, and the best way to do that was to give them a crazy ride. We incorporated that Hangover-type feel to this movie. We put it in [Las] Vegas, and we did a setting where the guys and the girls could basically go up against each other, but in a crazy way where the guys end up going on this crazy ride themselves while the women go on this crazy ride themselves. Eventually, we all meet back up and that craziness that happened has to be explained and talked about.
The couples in part one, you see how they evolve in part two. And at the end of the day, that’s the message. People grow, and sometimes with growing together you have misunderstandings, you have lumps and bumps that you take. But eventually, if you’re strong enough as a person to go, ‘I’m wrong, and here’s why I’m wrong, and here’s what I need to do,’ you’ll say that to the one that you love the most.
My character, Ced, in the first one, I start off I don’t want to be with my lady, I end with, ‘Baby, I’m coming home.’ And this one, I’m back to, ‘I’m out here by myself. I don’t want to deal with Gale.’ And by the end of it, I realize, ‘Yo, I may be the problem. I’m always pointing the finger at other people, but I’m not the guy I think I am.’ It’s a nice whirlwind, man. And I think this is why people are not only going to enjoy the movie, but why they should see it. It’s universal. It appeals to everyone.
What makes the sequel better than the original?
The women are so much active in this one. The women are funny in this one. The guys, we bring it and we do a great job, but in part one the guys are responsible for the comedy and the women were more responsible for romance. I think the comedy is equal in this one.
Another reason would be because it’s universal. Everybody can enjoy this film. [With the first one], at first, people thought it was a 'black movie,' and I hate that stereotype, because at the end of the day, you call black movies, ‘black movies,’ because it’s just a black cast. We can’t call white movies, ‘white movies.’ It’s never said. It’s never heard of. But a black movie is always considered a ‘black movie’ just because it has a black casts. We are making a movie. Our intent is to make a good movie, so when you make a good movie, we just want to be put in the same category as other movies.
What can viewers expect from your character, Cedric, in Think Like a Man Too?
In this movie, I’m looking for validation. Cedric needs basically somebody to tell him he’s responsible for a good time. That’s why he’s going so hard at his best man’s quest. A, I wasn’t really the best man. I didn’t really get picked to be the best man, but I took it. I ran with it. This is it. This is going to be amazing. Watch the good time that I show you. He goes above and beyond, but then it turns into him actually doing something for himself. He forgets the matter at hand. He forgets about Michael. It becomes his quest to get money back that he didn’t know he spent. It becomes ‘Me, me, me.’ And when stuff hits the fan and I’m in jail, I realize, ‘Yo, I might not be the best, best man. I could be the worst best man.’
You held a red carpet advance screening of the movie at the Malco Paradiso. Why choose Memphis to screen your film?
Memphis shows me a lot of love. I’ve been coming to Memphis for quite some time. I’ve done several comedy shows here. The audience not only comes out, they come out to laugh and have a good time. So, I think right now, Hollywood chooses where they feel Hollywood should be, whereas entertainers, we have the ability to choose where we feel, we can bring Hollywood. I can bring Hollywood to Memphis. Me doing that screening and putting the red carpet there, I was there. I came. I’m live. We can take our pictures. We can do our interviews. I can do a screening. It’s the same thing that they do in L.A. I feel like every city should have the opportunity to have entertainers come there. All cities support all projects, so why not give the cities a chance to be supported back.
You served free barbecue sandwiches at A&R Bar-B-Que while here. What motivated you to do that?
I wanted to interact. I didn’t just want to come and not be seen. I think it’s really big for people to see that you’re not invincible. There’s nothing that separates me from you. At the end of the day, I’m just on a big screen. I’m on T.V. That’s our separation. I’m still a normal guy. I’m a down to earth dude. Anything that you can do to give back or show that you want to give back, you should do, because people are going to go, ‘You know what, he’s alright.’ And that’s going to go a long way. I think we owe y’all that. That’s my personal feeling. I can’t sit up here and act as if I’m so cool and above and beyond where I got here without the support of the people who think I’m talented or who think I’m doing good or who love my work. I’m hoping that I’m starting off something special, and I’m leading by example so that other people can follow suit.
You’re from Philadelphia. Can you touch on your upbringing and struggles?
North Philadelphia. 'The hood.' It wasn’t bad when you’re in there. When you get out, you see what it is and how it can be misconstrued. At the end of the day, here’s the reality, when you’re growing up in the inner-city, it’s not a lot of options for a lot of these guys. Those who stay true to beliefs, upbringing, education, and the motto of “Get a good education, go to school, so you can do something with yourself,” they do. That’s not the answer for everybody. Some people want the quick dollar, and selling drugs is the answer to that. And I was around that a lot, but I had a mother that was strong-willed, that made sure I didn’t participate. She kept me busy in extracurricular activities, and I saw no part of that life. It doesn’t mean that I look down on the people that did, because I’m not a guy who’s not a realist. I understand reality, and I understand when people’s backs are against the walls sometimes, and they’re faced with no choice but to do what they feel at that time is the right decision. I don’t knock it. But it’s my job to push that kind of positive message to the younger guys that are coming up now, that you don’t have to go that route. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, if you’re strong enough to wait for it.
Did that kind of motivate you to get where you are now?
Of course it did. Now that I am where I am, it’s the reason that I give back. I’ve probably given about $500,000 to the city of Philadelphia since success … I remember when [New] Jersey went through the [Hurricane] Sandy stuff, that was another $100,000 that I gave there.
How did you get involved with comedy?
Friends, man. Friends telling me, ‘Dude, you’re funny as hell. You should try doing stand-up.’ I knew I was funny, and I would have loved to be in entertainment, but I didn’t know how to get there. I didn’t know that being a comedian would be the route. I loved watching comedians, but I didn’t know how to do it. A suggestion came from a co-worker of mine who told me about an amateur night. I went there and performed, had a good turnout, a lot of people were laughing, and I made up my mind instantly that it was what I wanted to do. And then it was just about getting support from mom. She put me on her back for a minute financially. From there, it was just a constant ride, a long one, but a good one.
How long would you say it took for you to get that first big break?
I’m about to be 35. I started doing comedy at 18. I’ve been doing it for 17 and a half years now. I would say Paper Soldiers was my first big break, because that allowed me to get a piece of tape and a reel to show other people that ‘Hey, this guy is funny.’
That’s when I first got wind of you. You were around Roc-A-Fella during its glory years. Can you kind of reflect on that time period?
That’s how I met Dame, Jay, [and] Bleek. Beanie, I knew from Philly. That’s when they were the epitome of hip-hop. That’s when they were so hot. I was the young guy around. The young guy in the office. I remember when Jay used to wear the wristbands and the headbands, and everybody used to wear the chains and the real baggy jeans. I was right there for all of it. I was the lil’ funny guy that everybody knew, and they all decided to make this movie Paper Soldiers just around. I got paid probably a total of $1,600 for Paper Soldiers. That was back in the day. There wasn’t any money. It was just an independent film, but it was something to get me out there that we could put together. But literally, I will say that ‘til this day, I love Dame to death, because it’s something that they all took a chance on and gave me an opportunity to do. From there, I was able to take it and run.
You and Mike Epps had a slight disagreement not too long ago. And I saw that you guys recently resolved your issues. Can you briefly explain what brought forth the disagreement and subsequent reconciliation?
At the end of the day, we’re both men. Mike said what he said, and I reacted to what he said, as a man. And we went back and forth for a minute, but then it took us getting on the phone. When we got on the phone, he spoke his piece, I listened, and then I spoke mine. We both made valid points and said, ‘Alright, look, from this point, let’s just put it behind us.’ We’re grown at the end of the day. It’s no reason why we can’t do what we do to the best of our ability, and eventually do it together. At the end of the day, we’re comedians. We’re not beefing. We’re not rappers, so it wasn’t hard for us to squash whatever differences we had, but it was just a thing of us being men and talking, figuring it out, and moving on.
For the aspiring comedians looking at you as inspiration, what advice would you provide to them on getting in the game?
My advice for anybody trying to get in the game would be don’t talk about what you’re not going to do. A lot of people always say, ‘Yeah, I’m about to. Yeah, you know I’m thinking about it. Yeah, you know what I’m probably going to do.’ You’re talking about something. Actions are much louder than words. If it’s something that you want to do, attempt it. Try it. If it’s something that you feel that you can do, then really give it an effort. If you’re not going to put your effort in something, don’t try it. With any type of entertainment, whether it be comedy, music, acting, whatever it is, give it 100 percent. Try to throw everything you have at it. And stay true to it, and eventually you’ll crack a brick.
What’s next for you?
Think Like a Man Too, of course. After this, we start filming Ride Along 2. A movie called Get Hard with Will Ferrell is coming out. A movie called The Wedding Ringer in January. Season three of "Real Husbands of Hollywood." Me and Jamie Foxx are going to do a movie called Black Phantom. And I’m figuring out my next tour, probably end of 2015, early 2016.