For a recent spread in GQ, Kevin Hart spoke on success, advice from Chris Rock, plans for his company Hartbeat productions and new ventures. Check out an expert of the interview below.
On Chris Rock and universal fan base
Last year, when Hart released his fourth stand-up “concert” movie, Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain, it included testimonials from people around the world who’d seen his sold-out 2012 tour. One by one, fans in Vancouver, Montreal, Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Birmingham and London told how they’d discovered Hart on YouTube. They quoted his signature lines—“You goin’ learn today!” and “Real, Rap, Raw!” —and squealed that they loved him. You can’t get much whiter than the audiences in Scandinavia, and Hart acknowledges that at many arenas on that comedic marathon, he “didn’t see a single black soul.” He says he has internalized something Chris Rock once told him: the only thing all people have in common, regardless of race, gender, faith, politics or sexual preference, is that they like to laugh. Hart wants a core audience of everyone. “You make yourself broad,” he says. “You make yourself appealing. ‘Hey, y’all, I’m cool with everybody.’ That’s my message.” “Kevin is an original,” Rock says. “Not derivative of Pryor, not like me or [Eddie] Murphy. He’s his own guy, like a black George Costanza.” Wait, what? “They call it Seinfeld,” Rock explains, “but it’s really Costanza that makes it funny. You know, he’s put upon, but he makes it cool.” Same with Hart, whose best material is rooted in vulnerability. Often he uses his height – he’s five feet five – as a springboard into his phobias, which include ostriches (“big-ass man-pigeons”), women who go from being frantic to calm “real fast,” and getting knocked out in front of his children. Self-deprecating in the extreme, he’s always tapping into an emotional undercurrent that makes him relatable. “Kevin has a great relationship with the audience. Like, he is the audience,” says Rock, who cast him in the upcoming comedy Finally Famous, which Rock wrote and directed.
On the time he felt he almost made it
One night, at the Comedy Cellar, Hart got up and did a set in front of a packed house of veteran comics: Rich Vos, Patrice O’Neal, Jim Norton, Bill Burr, Colin Quinn, Robert Kelly and Robinson. Afterwards, they took him into a back room and subjected him to a ritual they called “Hack Court.” Basically, Hart was put on trial for his crimes against comedy. He had a favorite joke about a cross-eyed midget. “Lose it,” the elders ruled. “It stinks.” Hart flinched, but didn’t protest. “If you give Kev an assignment, he’s going to work overnight,” Robinson tells me. “50 Cent has a lyric: I wonder can you feel my hunger. I could feel his hunger. Not to be famous, but to be the best.” Hart kept grinding, pocketing $25 a show. Eventually he signed with a manager, and soon he was taking meetings in L.A. with TV networks. CBS made the first offer: $125,000. Take it, Hart said. Calm down, the manager said. Ultimately, Hart signed a development deal with ABC for $225,000 and moved to L.A., feeling flush. “I’m rich!” he recalls thinking. He gave his mom some money, then blew through the rest. “I don’t know where the hell it went,” he says. “It’s all in throwback jerseys and bomber jackets. That’s why I have so much respect for money now.” Around this time, Judd Apatow cast Hart in a pilot about struggling actors called North Hollywood. Hart would play a comic who was roommates with Jason Segel (Amy Poehler and Judge Reinhold co-starred). To prepare his actors, method-style, Apatow had Hart move in to Segel’s actual apartment. “I asked them to do it for a week,” the writer-director says. “I forget how many days they lasted.” (Hart isn’t sure either, but he recalls this: “I made him pancakes.”) The pilot didn’t get picked up, but Apatow’s Undeclared did. Hart was cast as the Luke, the religious kid. The series, a cult hit that starred many, like Rogen, who are still in the Apatow stable, lasted just six episodes. Then Hart landed his own show on ABC, The Big House, in which he played a wealthy Malibu kid who goes to live with his working class relatives in Philly. He thought he’d finally made it when the network flew him to New York to pitch the show at the Upfronts, the annual dog-and-pony show held to lure advertisers. Wanting to be a team player, Hart flew the rest of the cast there, too, on his own dime. Then, literally seconds before he was supposed to go onstage to promote the show, it was canceled.
His team and work ethic
With all due respect to the many filmmakers he admires, he’s building his own team, he says—a group of funny friends that have been with him since he was at the bottom. “That’s why it’s so hard to infiltrate my system now,” he tells me, “because I know that what I have around me is really genuine.” The Plastic Cup Boys, as they call themselves, can be seen on YouTube playing pickup basketball with the likes of Chris Brown or egging Hart on when he adopts his alter ego, the fearsome rapper Chocolate Drop, and challenges T-Pain to a duel. Hart prides himself on bringing these guys—Chris Spencer, Harry Ratchford, Joey Wells, William “Spank” Horton, Na’Im Lynn and Dwayne Brown—along as he gains altitude. (Spencer, Ratchford and Wells are in the Writers Guild now, too, thanks to Hart). “Let me read you a text conversation,” Hart says, whipping out his phone to show me how he and Ratchford prod each other to work harder. “This is Harry: ‘Get the fuck up. You think because you’re on a little promo tour that that’s going to be enough? Huh? Because you got two movies coming out, you think that’s going to be enough?’ This is me: ‘I’m up. I’m going to hit the office. You wake the fuck up.’ Harry: ‘I’m still in the office creating, ho. You still in your castle sleeping. Sweet dreams, bitch.’ Me: ‘Can’t be outworked.’ Confidently, Hart forecasts the future, saying it won’t be long before his company will “have the same capability of the Netflixes and the Hulus.” His website, which he has dubbed ThatShit.com until he can decide on a name, will help his fans cut through the clutter of an Internet that provides too much of everything (“I’ve typed in the strangest shit in the world on YouTube, and they got it. ‘Trash in ass’ is a guy shitting out trash. What the hell?”). Chocolate Drop, who was “raised by two pitbulls,” may debut his world premiere music video on the site, Hart says. “It’s called, ‘Bitch, that Car is Mine.’ ” Give Hart one to three years, he says, and “I promise you, I will have something on the Internet that is game-changing. I can’t lose.”
Talks future endeavor for Hartbeat Productions into the digital space
Hartbeat Productions might have seemed an affectation then, but to Hart it was a stab at self-determination. Today it is a growing entertainment company whose tentacles extend into film production (Hart financed his last two concert movies himself) and television (Real Husbands of Hollywood has been renewed for a third season; ABC is planning an upcoming series based on his life). Stand-up comedy, Hart says, has “put me in a position to own, to do, to get.” And soon he’s planning a full-on cyber-invasion.“Operation take over the entertainment world is officially in session!” he tweeted recently to his 10 million Twitter followers, who are joined by 19 million on Facebook, Instagram and Vine. He was referring to his intention to launch a website—kind of a black Funny or Die—where his fans can go to laugh, sure, but also to buy concert tickets, games, apps, music. Hart imagines himself as not just an actor or a comedian, but a mogul in the making, the CEO of his own company, the master of his own domain, a brand. He admires Will Smith and Denzel Washington, no doubt, but when you ask who he’s modeling his career after, Jay Z and Beyoncé and Tyler Perry and Sean Puffy Combs are the names he drops.