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Kevin Hart is a savvy entertainer

Comedy ain't easy. But Kevin Hart expertly creates the illusion that it is. He is a consummate businessman, actor, and comedian that takes into account every aspect of his professional life.

 In comedy, it’s not about people laughing at your jokes.  It’s about people understanding who you are and why you joke about the things that you do.
In comedy, it’s not about people laughing at your jokes. It’s about people understanding who you are and why you joke about the things that you do. Photo by Eric Christian Smith

No matter how many times you've seen Kevin Hart on the big or small screen it is quite surprising when you meet him in person. Although he is small in stature, he has a larger-than-life personality with an engaging personality that is quick with a magnetic smile.

Suddenly, it becomes very clear why this man is as successful as any entrepreneur. The simple truth is that he is hawking an excellent product unique in delivery and marketability.

The lure to go 'Hollywood' is strong. But, it is by no happenstance that Kevin Hart has grounded himself in the confidence of his craft. He is vigilant from becoming complacent while he manages and maintains his career. He's a highly talented and mature man who sets goals, assesses outcomes, and makes adjustments thereby allowing him to be the best at what he does. He understands raw talent is born, but real talent is nurtured, managed, and allowed to mature for the long run.

He is also a man who has learned from his past mistakes in both his personal and professional life and readily admits to his shortcomings. He understands that truth growth comes from within and in order to have sustainability you must be evolve and learn from those who have come before you.

Confident and self-assured, he readily talks about missteps that he made along the way. In fact, he relishes answering hard questions and encourages you to what is on everyone's mind. Those particular questions that interviewers dare not speak of to a celebrity for fear of alienating them.

It is not by accident that he has become the hottest ticket in town, it is however, by design and Kevin is the master sculptor. He has been in the business for 18 years and along the way sought out advice from other comedians; watched and listened as actors and directors worked on sets with him, and also sought the help of a professional acting coach to improve his acting skills.

One thing becomes clear-- Kevin Hart understands that he must be vigil and cognizant of his brand i.e., Kevin Hart in order to stay on top. Of course, much of this comes from his maturity but it also comes from his ability to understand the business and anticipate what is needed to keep himself relevant.

He is not afraid to step out of his comfort zone to expand his brand. Recently he set out on a world tour traveling to countries that one would find hard to believe that a black comedian would have people standing in line and shouting his name. To everyone's amazement (except Kevin) he has become an international success.

It is rare to fine and entertainer that understands the business aspect of show business. That it takes more than talent to remain on top. Kevin Hart is a savvy businessman worthy of being a CEO of any corporation.

I sat down with him In Houston while he was in town promoting his latest movie, ‘Think Like A Man Too’ and it was a pleasure getting to know the man behind the comedian.

Can you remember the day or incidents that you realized that ‘I am out there?’ ‘I am widely known.’

You’re looking at years of grown work. I have been touring (as of) 2014, I have been doing standup since 1998. Once it got to the point that I could go further, I did. 2010, 2011, is probably when I started to go over the water, doing a little dabble there and there. But, as you grow, your family grows. You just can’t be afraid to take a little bump on the head. If you go over there and you don’t sell out, it’s OK. You can always go again. But some people are afraid of that failure and they don’t try again. I wasn’t afraid of the failure, which is why my audiences grew, as I grew.

I went to Scandinavia, Denmark, the U.K., and Germany. One thing that we all share is laughter. If you make it universal, you can appeal to that. So, the reason that I am so focused with that as movies, I don’t think African American movies translate overseas. So the best way for me to get overseas is that I do that myself and sell out in X, Y, Z. So, ‘Ride Along’ performed overseas. You have to give me the opportunity to build my fan base. The reason I do that is because I want to push and break ground of what hasn’t been done.

And once again, that is why I say, that is what separates me from other talent. I am an entertainer. I’m a business and I understand the business. So, if you don’t send me, I’ll go over there myself and I will stay over there for three weeks and promote myself. I will go and put out my next concert film and I do that for X amount of dollars and I will get it released internationally and it will perform. And, I will make that revenue. You will be forced to be in business with me.

The success of my films and success of anything that I am doing comes from the way I promote myself. Granted, I am putting out a great product. But the studios goes, ‘This guy is a business as well.’ That is where my longevity comes from. So you can’t out do me because I control what I do, because I spread it out. I’m a company. I am a CEO. I have a CEO mindset.

How do you overcome the fact that most African American films don’t do well overseas? How do you convince an audience, since most of the time they see a black face and they say that’s a black film?

We don’t do well overseas because we are not given the opportunity to fail overseas. Does that make sense? I’m not saying that every movie should be promoted internationally. It’s expensive for a studio. I get that. But, if you have movies that are performing domestically; they are putting up certain numbers domestically, when you start to break those one hundred million numbers domestically, those numbers translate to all races. A hundred million dollars is not once race supporting a film in any shape or form. So, a studio when you see that, you have to say OK we have made X amount of dollars on this, we can take this small amount here and throw seven million dollars and let’s see how it performs. Worse come to worse, you will make your seven million back. You have tripled your money because the movies that we are doing aren’t’ costing a shitload. They are not fifty million dollar budgets. You are looking at 15-20 million dollar budgets.

I mean, if you look at my success record now, ‘Ride Along’ was twenty something million dollar budget and it made one hundred fifty-five million. ‘About Last Night’ was twelve or thirteen million dollars and I think it is at fifty-five million. You know ‘Think Like a Man’ the first was one was thirteen million, It is at ninety million dollars. This one here, ‘Think Like a Man Too’ we didn’t’ spend more than 25 (million). You know, these aren’t expensive movies. So, when you understand that you are in a business where you want the studio to win too. I’m not the guy that is trying to take it all. I’m not the actor that is saying give me all this money up front. I don’t want it today, I want the longevity. That is more important to me.

So do you get a share of the box office?

Not, just for me, but with everyone. You do deals to share. I think when you do business with business men and business women, If you don’t win, then I can’t win. How do I make it attractive for you and still be attractive for me. When you do there and say, this is what you are going to give me and I demand this right now. If they have to give it to you, they will. But, the minute that you fail, they can all look at you and they will still be working. You will be the guy sitting with your thumb up your ass because you don’t have anything to do. So, you know, I understand the dynamic of it and it is me making the studio aware of it.

Knock on wood; I have built great relationships (like) Screen Gems and Sony . But, they understand that I understand. I am trying to evolve to be what they are you know? I want to be on the studio level at some point. It may take Hartbeat Productions three or four years, but I will get it there. I want to be what Happy Madison Productions (is) and I will have what Tyler Perry has. I know the process and once the studio knows that you understand, that is the difference.

So, I’m putting out so much content. That is why you saw ‘Think Like a Man’ and you saw ‘Think Like a Man 2’ coming out and you saw ‘About Last Night’, you saw ‘Ride Along’ and we are about to start filming ‘Ride Along 2.’ I got ‘Wedding Ringer’ and ‘Get Hard’ coming out with Will Ferrell. I and Jaime Foxx are going to do a movie called, ‘Black Film’ because I am trying to put out enough content to separate it, so that I can get over that water. Then I will do another special that I own.

How do you have the energy to do this?

I don’t understand how people work this hard to be successful and stop. How can you put all that effort, time and energy into your life and at some point say I’m going to stop? I am at such a point and they’re paying me, I’m gonna stop? I don’t understand that. I can’t phantom that. So as a comedian, I have been doing this since 1998. In 1998, you gotta think, I was getting paid in food. Literally, when you know where you came from and you understand that it took twelve hour drives to go make seventy-five dollars. You know? I mean I got stories. My journey was a real journey. I mean, I have been smacked in the face of reality.

I sent out a tweet the other day. It was the 10th anniversary of ‘Soul Plane’. I was twenty-three. I got a movie I’m starring in—Oh, my god! I’m about to be a star. ‘Soul Plane’ bombed at the box office, gets bootlegged like crazy and studios (said) ‘Alright we thought this kid was going to perform and he didn’t’ (even though the movie wasn’t on my back). All bad write ups, Kevin Hart, Uck! My TV show canceled. ‘This kid, blah, blah.’ I had to overcome that. Step back and restart. Do another five or six years and create a different identity. Why (do) I get here now and people go, ‘We love Kevin Hart!’ ‘Oh, my god!’ and I’m going to chill? I have eighteen years of this shit back there. I don’t want to go back there.

Comedians often have a hard time being actors. They are good comedians, but they don’t transfer that talent to acting. You are both a good comedian and actor. What do you attribute to your success? What is your secret?

I am very honest. I am very fortunate and very blessed. What I mean by that is, all of the training and lumps that I took when I was younger was for a reason. If you watch me in ‘Soul Plane’ and ‘Along Came Polly’ and you watch me in my TV show, I wasn’t ready for success back then. I was young, my voice was squeaky. I wasn’t really a great actor. I understood situations but, I didn’t have levels. There wasn’t this thing where a kid would say ‘Oh, my god! He is popping out.

In ‘Paper Soldiers’ I was nineteen, frail, and I was skinny, I wasn’t ready to be a leading man back then. I was a child. So, the thing that I got that a lot of people weren’t getting back then, I got (to) practice first-hand of getting thrown in situations, that weren’t necessarily situations for me. You know, I have done tons of pilots that weren’t picked up and tons of failed TV shows. So, as I have gotten older, I watch myself and I see where this is bad. This is good.

I watch professionals and I learned from the guys that I was on set with and just set back and shut my mouth and watched from behind and in front of the camera. Then I said, ‘You know what? I have got to get an acting coach. I have to get somebody to hone this craft of mine. I have to work with somebody individually not in a class.’ I need to hone this craft because everything you think is just a God given talent, isn’t. You always need help. You can always get better. So, I took advantage of those moments and got help. I got mad at not getting auditions and I wanted to do something about it. I went to an audition guy and this has helped me. I understand now.

Do you have a role model? Do you have somebody in the business whose career you look at and say, ‘I’d like to try that game plan?’

Chris Rock. The reason I say, Chris Rock and whether the people admit it or not, is he is has been relevant since ’87. It is not just about fame. Right now I am famous. It is about mastering all trades. And, he is a director, a producer, a writer, comedian, and he is an actor. He has written, produced and acted in several movies. Regardless of whether they had success or not, these are all self-created pieces of material. As a standup comedian, Chris Rock can always go on tour and every time he does it is an event. He manages his career so well. I would say in being relevant over a long period of time, I would pattern (my career) after Chris Rock.

You talk about your family and relationships in your comedy. How much of Cedric and Gail (from ‘Think Like a Man’) did you get from your past marriage and past relationship and what have you learned relationship wise and marriage wise from Steve Harvey’s books?

What I learned was the true definition of marriage. You know, in any shape or form, I don’t put my marriage on my ex-wife. Regardless of any problems we went through. As a man, I decided to step out and leave. I made mistakes. I said, ‘I am not good in this situation. I need to go. You deserve better. You can do better. Right now I am not a good guy for you because I am all over the place.’ Whether I was infidelity or whether it was I was too young. We got married when I was twenty-two. So, I was not mentally prepared for that. What Cedric is compared to me – where I relate to Cedric is that he is the guy that constantly points the finger and never points the finger back.

In ‘Think Like a Man’ he has the revelation that he wanted his wife back. He wanted to go home. Now with me, I didn’t have the revelation that I want to get me wife back because we went through so much. It was, I’m going to be a better person outside of this environment because I was immature and I need to grow up. ‘I can’t grow up with you, because we have been through too much.’ I don’t care what people say. They always say you can evolve and you can do things, when you have so many cuts, you can only put a Band-Aid on it so many times. It will always bleed underneath and then you will have somebody ask how you got that cut, and you have to explain. And, that was my situation. I did not want to explain any more cuts. So, I stepped out. And, now she is a better person. She is stronger and we are in a better place.

But, Cedric did was what most men do. He covered the Band-Aid up and he went back to Gail and in ‘Think Like a Man Too’ he is right back where he started. It is real. In a relationship you have your peaks and valleys. But, most of the time it is because you are doing the same thing.

In comedy, it’s not about people laughing at your jokes. It’s about people understanding who you are and why you joke about the things that you do. I think everybody understands who I am what I have been through in my life. Everybody knows that because I talk about it first. Standup comedy is my therapy. That is my drug. When you are not afraid to laugh at yourself. How can other people not laugh at you?