If you’ve studied Kevin Hart over the years you would know that he contributes a lot of his success to the people he keeps around him. His team consist of fellow comedians, a trainer, business partners, management, and more. In the mix of his highly motivated team, stands Leland “Pookey” Wigington (above), former basketball player turned business management pro & producer.
Before Wigington and team land back in Las Vegas for their fourth annual HartBeat Weekend on Sept. 1 to Sept. 3, he spoke with Comedy Hype. We touched on his role at HeartBeat Productions, FORBES, today’s comedy Blueprint, and Dave Chappelle performing at HeartBeat Weekend.
CH: So for those who could be hearing of you for the first time, what is your exact role in the space of Kevin Hart?
LW: Well I’m the President of HeartBeat Productions, and I also have a company called, I Work 4 U Entertainment. Kevin is one of my clients as a business manager.
CH: Nice, so you’re part of helping bring in those big numbers we see. Back in 2016, Kevin topped Jerry Seinfeld as the world’s highest paid comedian; When moments like that happen does the team celebrate it?
LW: We don’t really celebrate moments like that but we do acknowledge the team effort that goes into creating that type of opportunity. It doesn’t happen over night. I think It’s a slow build over the years to get there. Everybody plays a small part, in a big picture.
CH: When you look at the landscape of comedy today, many comedians are running to the internet but it doesn’t appear they are monetizing their efforts enough. When you think about it, is their something comedians are sleeping on to better monetize their comedy grind?
LW: I think that the perception of being able to monetize on the internet is a little misconstrued. When it comes to building a social media fanbase, and you look at the numbers across the board of the comedians that are out there, typically there is only a very few that get to the forefront of each one of the platforms, that become successful. If you push it back to MySpace, the first comedian that became successful was Dane Cook. He exploded on the scene with a following being very active, creating content, and all the other comedians were left behind. When everyone started doing it, then it flattened out. Then Facebook came along, then Twitter, and so forth. There’s a very small percentage of comedians and or even people, that can get to the top of that. It typically happens when you have great content, great personality, and you’re in the forefront of locking in that particular network. It’s not very often that someone comes up now on Instagram or on Facebook, starting from scratch, then get 30 Million followers.
CH: Given your track record, you’ve seen how different the landscape of comedy changed. Maybe 15 years ago, the blueprint for a comedian was they hit the road, build some buzz, then get a comedy special, drop the comedy special, and get a wave of success. Do you think that blueprint is still doable or has the internet changed that?
LW: Yeah the blueprint has changed. 15 years ago you shot for the special. 15 years ago you had the dvd component that would allow people to see your content and it would be exclusive to the comedy world. But in today’s world, the internet has changed it where a guy can’t even protect his content because if he performs inside a club, it would be on the internet that night. You don’t have the exclusivity to create an hour special, then sell it to the distributors of the industry and then putting it where people will go to find the funny. You now go straight to the internet. There’s young comics, their content is put up just to create some level of following. They don’t have the content that has any level of exclusivity to be able to be sellable. The internet has changed it completely. That model is very difficult to follow now. So what the high-level guys (comedians) do now is they protect their content on tour; by spending enormous amount of money to keep the cameras and social media world out of the club when they’re actually trying to create their new content.
CH: Dave Chappelle has brought that up, and he’s worked with a company called YONDR to help protect his content. Is YONDR something HartBeat Productions has considered using?
LW: I’m very familiar with YONDR, it’s a new experimental process. They take the phones, put them in bags, give them back to the customer, and the customer has the ability to go out to phone outlets, away from the actual show. The concept is a pretty good concept, but I don’t think it’s been completely examined enough to know if it will take a life of it’s own with all the comedians. With music it’s different, but with stand-up it’s the lifeline to your fanbase to be able to protect your content. I think it’s a great place for Dave and we are looking at exploring what that can look like. Even this weekend we are looking to do a test with it, at one of our events called, HartBeat Weekend.
CH: Speaking of HartBeat Weekend, it’s the fourth one coming up, back in Las Vegas, how does it feel to have Dave Chappelle apart of this one?
LW: Anytime that you can have the best comedians in the world performing in any place, it’s pretty special. Especially when you have the relationship to be able to pick up the phone and they respond to what your charitable component may be. And they consider themselves to be a friend enough to lend their expertise, it makes it amazing. When we first started we did Cedric The Entertainer back then, Jamie Foxx, other comedians, but Dave is at the apex of his game right now. His shows are selling out everywhere, and to be able to have him at HeartBeat Weekend is pretty awesome.
CH: Kevin and some of his team is originally from Philadelphia. Why has Las Vegas become the place for HeartBeat Weekend?
LW: The reason why we chose Las Vegas is because we have relationships in Vegas and Atlantic City. The original launch of HeartBeat Weekend started in Atlantic City. We did it there first, then we did Vegas. It was created an founded between those places because we look at it as being a national place where people feel comfortable to descend upon annually.
CH: When you look at what HartBeat Production and Kevin do; there tends to be a lot of messaging like inspiration. Is there something beyond than just turning up in Vegas that HeartBeat Weekend is trying to message this weekend?
LW: Absolutely. One of the components of HartBeat weekend is the charitable contribution that we do with .It’s a foundation that does bedroom makeovers across the country for children that have become diagnosed terminally ill with cancer. So what Kevin wanted to do for these families, is find away to give them an extended smile as they go through what they’re going through. As well as resources from an organization that can share information for these families. It’s a place where they can go and talk with a group of people who understand that plight. Kevin stepped in and said, “My mom dealt with this as well, it’s dear to my heart, now I want to help these families as well, with any way that I can.” This is one of the ways; by celebrating this weekend we are raising money for the organization.
CH: Did some quick research and discovered you played college basketball back in the day. Is there any basketball strategy that you have applied today with comedy shows, and your business?
LW: A thousand percent. Almsot everything I do in my business world relates to my teachings in being a point guard and being a leader. I constantly have drawn upon the ability to communicate with my team, which would be HartBeat productions. My ability to communicate with anyone and everyone that I’m dealing with. How to manage personalities because when you play on a team like Seton Hall University and play for a national championship with 5 pros on your team, you got major egos to deal with. It’s the same in the entertainment industry. I’ve drawn upon my point guard skills through out my life to kind of help me create my own business to building relationships. I also understand that being the smartest person is not always the best thing. You always want to surround your people with people who are much more smarter and intelligent than you, so you can always be growing. That point guard leadership has always taught me that.
Leland Wiginton during the preparation for Kevin Hart’s ‘What Now?’ special
CH: So what do we have to expect from HeartBeat Productions? The fourth quarter of the year is coming up and you guys are always busy.
LW: Yes, we have a new movie that we are producing with Universal, called Night School. We also have a second season of Hart Of The City that is coming out on Comedy Central. One of our biggest plays is the Laugh Out Loud comedy network, that HeartBeat Production is constantly producing new content for the network. We all play a part in developing the network and having a level of partnership inside of it as well.
All those looking for a quick getaway and some laughs; you can catch up with HartBeat Productions, Chappelle, and more in Las Vegas this weekend for HartBeat Weekend. More info here.