In Conversation With…
KEVIN HART, Comedian, Businessman
"… the best part of the day is at the end of the night when everyone is in their beds. I am locking up the house and standing before me is a reflection of what I didn't have as a child, growing up… Knowing that my kids and my wife can rest easy because there is the feeling that each of them have that I am able to give them protection and safety…”
Are you familiar with ICON MANN?
No. I just do interviews with people that I have no idea about -who they are, what they are or where they are going…
I don’t know if…, ICON … MA… wait… (laughter …lots of laughter)
(Still straight-faced; Pretending to be serious)
This is already horrible. We’re getting off to a bad start.
…, so we just should jump right in. Who are you?
The best way for me to describe myself would be loving, hardworking, kind-hearted, goal oriented. I am an individual who came to embracing family, the fundamental constructs of what it is, late.
I don’t come from a big family. After my mom passed away, I think the family side of my identity kind of fell apart. It was just my brother and me then. The relationship with our father was a tough one, but because he is our dad there is still a bond, but it requires work.
Me, now having the family that I have; my kids, my wife ENIKO, our household, my brother, his kids, we are trying to develop a family bond that was kind of non-existent from my late teenage years through my late twenties. Now, I have a firm understanding of family and my place in it so when you ask me, ‘who I am?’ I can say, in addition to being loving, hardworking, kind-hearted, and goal-oriented, I am a family man. This understanding for me, I know, extends to my ex-wife TORREI as well, and understanding the role that she plays in my life, in our family as the mother of my daughter, HEAVEN and my son, HENDRIX.
On the business side, I am a man on a mission. I am a doer, not a talker. I love action, to get things done. I love success. I like breaking new ground. Few things please me more than to accomplish something in business that people say can’t be done.
Self-made is another thing that I grew up hearing people say, but I came into full alignment within my thirties. For my definition, self-made is starting from the bottom in a place where there has been no victory and succeeding by your own might. You don’t have the guided help of a successful star, businessperson or family member who came before you with success and money. You don’t have a household filled with education and information to guide you in the right direction to give you the best opportunity to win. You don’t have an environment that breeds nothing but winners and nothing else; a space where negativity is not amplified, but frowned upon.
I didn’t have that growing up. Negativity and violence were amplified when I came up in Philly. You either made it out, or you didn’t. College was something that was a conversation of a few—not a lot, not even myself. In high school, I did horribly on the SATs, a four-year college was not part of my plan because I had never seen it. I went to community college for two weeks. Now, I understand not only what it is to be self-made, but what it takes to be. It takes hard work, goal-oriented focus. As I start to break down what that takes my vision for my business self is clear, self-made billionaire. When I begin to breakdown ‘what I am,’ and ‘who I am’ professionally, there is a will and want to be so much and achieve so much. I want the business to catch up to the star of Kevin Hart.
My mother was ambitious in the ways that she could be. She did everything she possibly could to give me the best opportunities, but she was human. It was just her, trying to provide and raise us against the odds. Our father was not around as much as he should have been. Where my mom felt she made mistakes with my older brother, she tried to correct them with me. She was very strict. So much so that I was isolated from much of what was going on in our neighborhood. I didn’t know anything about street life. That was something I came to later; developing street smarts and understanding that ‘oh, shit this is real life’ without the protective umbrella of my mom’s wing.
Within standup comedy it is the friends I met who said, we want to do this, and then fell off as we started to do it, that forced me to find my own path. Making new friends on the circuit. These other friends, new friends were different. They were serious about the craft of comedy and focused. They lived that life. I watched. I was inspired, and I learned. I now had an example of what the process was. Before long I am back-and-forth to New York, living in LA, and in a moment -a rather simple one, honestly- you look up and go, ‘how did I get here?’ Self-Made, figuring it out on your own and finding a way to implement your presence in the craft that you have chosen in a significant way.
Finding a real level of success that puts you in a position that gives you the ability to go back to where you are from and be the example to others so they know they can do anything. You become an example that conveys, there is a way out-even when the route seems unclear. There is always a way out. It is just not clear because we, don't have the right or equal information. Lack of knowledge equals a lack of opportunities. When you gain that knowledge, you start to understand that, ‘oh shit, if someone would have just told me, pay the taxes. I would have paid them. If someone had told me, don’t use these credit cards because you will end up in debt, then I would not have used them.’ When you are absent of role models but succeed against the odds, you become an accidental genius. Now, everything that I know or anyone else who has charted their own course knows by figuring it out, becomes part of the toolkit on our belts, so we are never in a position to be without any skill needed to be in the best place to win at whatever the perceived goal is.
Be as prepared as you possibly can for when you get there. When I think about the billionaires that don’t have college degrees. Common Sense is a hell of a weapon. It is one of the most brilliant things in the world because most people don’t have it. Common Sense is where you really become sharp because that intelligence innately tells you how to process any and everything around you. I may not have a deep understanding of all of what you are saying, but my common sense allows me to have context clues to figure it out to a certain level. And whatever I can’t figure out, my common sense is going to point me in the direction of an individual who can explain this to me in laymen terms so that I am able to go back to you and explain what I need to make this happen. Some people are so book smart that this skill is missing or it is third or fourth among their tools, so they feel they don’t have to know it or develop it because they have degrees.
Some of the most successful businessmen and women have gotten to their positions off of feeling and intuition. They are CEOs. As you get bigger in business, you surround yourself with people who act as your weapons. Their common sense told them to surround themselves with people who possess tools complimentary yet different to their own.
Today, I am the CEO of Hartbeat Productions and Laugh Out Loud Network, and I have hired great people to help me run my companies. Not to make decisions for me but to help me in this vision. My job, as a CEO, is to put people in a position to be excel. Their job is to make me understand when something is not so clear. I am open enough to say what I know and what I don’t know. If I can do that from the top, then the expectation is that everyone on my team can do that independent of position. Every week we have staff meetings, and every week they start off the same with me saying, ‘I can’t do this by myself.’ I know where my talent lies within this production world, but if I don't have creative minds around me who can amplify what I know who can bring more to the table, then I know that I am not going to be around for a long time. That is common sense.
Take producing, for example. I learned the trade from WILL PACKER. I didn't go to school for it. I filmed seven movies with him. I watched everything he did, and now I can go on a set understanding any and everything that needs to be done. I refuse to lose.
In my new film, The Upside, my character, Dell, is asked:
Tell me about a time when you worked hard to solve a problem?
This morning getting up
The most significant moment for me of ‘what the fuck?!?,’ was in 2004. I had a show called The Big House. ABC picked it up for twelve episodes. I was the writer, executive producer, star -officially, I had made it. This was to be the start of everything. I was flown to New York for the Upfronts, where all the new TV shows are announced, and interviews are done with all of the publications and critics. Backstage, I got my suit on-about to walk on stage to talk about the show. Guy with an earpiece who is calling each new show up at their appointed time gets a message as I am standing there, tells me to wait. He calls another show up instead of signaling for me. My manager comes up and tells me that they just canceled the show. I am like, how-what are you talking about they just flew me out. I’m here! He is pissed, tells me we'll sort it out back in LA but for now, go back to the hotel.
I had flown the entire cast (FAIZON LOVE, ARNETIA WALKER, YVETTE NICOLE BROWN, AARON GRADY, and KEITH DAVID) out with me so we could celebrate and share the moment together. Now I had to tell everybody, who had placed their hopes- same as mine- in the opportunities this show would bring, that it was canceled. As a young guy, this is the most grown man thing I had ever had to do up to this point in my life. I apologized to them and asked that whatever anger and ill-will they may be feeling in that moment not be directed at me. The decision was outside of me, and my gesture in bringing them to New York with me was to share what I thought was going to be the best moment ever.
Looking back now, I can see that the real test in all of that for me wasn't about what happened, the show being canceled or what was to come after. Firstly, it was that I didn’t let it body me. That blow was akin to a kidney shot in boxing, one of the toughest punches you take in the ring, and I did not let it body me. That requires serious heart because you have to still punch through the wind being knocked out of you for a few rounds. It’s that blow that comes where it’s like God is trying to see how bad you really want it.
Secondly, it was how I handled it in the moment with my team, my cast. We still went out that night, to all of the events we were scheduled to be at. I walked into every room, no visible animosity in my spirit. I shook every hand of every executive. All of that culminated to put me in a place where everyone had a story on Kevin, but the biggest piece was my maturity and how I handled it.
The next day I fly back to LA, go to bed. I wake up, and it's the feeling of ‘Yesterday, I had it all. I was the young comedian who pitched a show, it got picked up. I was writing it, starring in it. It was twelve episodes, and my mom is alive to see me have made something of myself.’ I am by myself, dealing with all of this still in the bed. My ex-wife is still in Philadelphia because we had not moved everyone out yet waiting for this to materialize. This was supposed to be the thing, the catalyst.
‘Well, well… you gotta figure it out.’ I am laying in bed talking to myself. An hour’s conversation with myself rationalizing getting back into the auditioning, and then this realization comes to me ‘I’m a comedian, get back on stage. Get up. Figure out how to do some shows. Call the people who have been there. Get back to what you know. Go to the people.’ I called my manager and told him to book me on shows. I am a comedian first. I don’t care what season it is, pilot season or not, I had to return to the stage.
For the next three years, I focused on my standup and toured non-stop. Non-stop. Audiences started getting bigger, filmed a special for Comedy Central. Audiences started getting bigger, did the Shaq All-Star Comedy Jam. Audiences got real big, I did ‘Seriously Funny.’ Audience keep getting bigger, I move from comedy clubs to the theaters. Then I went from theaters to arenas. Next thing you know, Hollywood starts calling. Now they have to talk to me. Why, because I spent all this time, 3 years, honing my craft outside of their world where I had to wait on someone else’s decision about my future. I became proactive and figured out a way to become a conversation that forced them to come and talk to me. My numbers in ticket sales spoke for themselves.
Bullshit…I use this one so much. It’s so active. When they say, “Kev, you want to tour for a year and a half? Everybody else tours from three months. Don’t tour for a year and a half, that’s too much.” Bullshit. I can.
"Kevin, you want us to put your stand up special out as a movie? EDDIE MURPHY was the only one to do that, and it was years ago. No one is going to go and see a stand-up special theatrically." Bullshit. I can.
"Kevin, you are telling that you think Nike is going to sign you because of your love for physical fitness? Kevin, they are not signing comedians to be a representation of athletic ability." Bullshit, I bet I can do it!
“Kevin, you mean to tell me that you think you can get movie studios to give you money for P&L based off of your social media because no one else has thought to use their personal social media to their advantage while marketing a movie? No studio will go for that.” Bullshit. I can.
THE ROLE OF A COMEDIAN
“If you don’t want to hear about political issues go to a Kevin Hart show.” Kathy Griffin once said. The crazy thing about being a comic is that we feel we can do whatever we want because at the end of the day it was just a joke, that is how a lot of comics feel. I have a different perspective on it, and that is because I sit in a different chair. I am not better than the next comedian, but I am a businessman with over forty employees, so my responsibility is different. It does not mean that I am ignorant of world problems, I just chose not to speak on them because it is not my job. I am not going to alienate or separate my audience in a time when jokes and seeing the lighter side of life are necessary.
When people come and see a comedy show, it is because comedy is needed, laughter is needed. We hear political debates on CNN, social media, and news outlets daily. There is no escaping it. When your one escape from the bullshit of the world is a comedy, for me, I am not doing my just-do if I bring that to you. I have never been the guy, so to suddenly become that is not authentic, and you question me standing as if I am a Black Panther on front lines. I think that the perception is because of my success, because of my following people automatically throw current political and social issues up as if I should be the voice of reason for these problems. I'm not. I am the same thing I have always been; a hardworking entertainer who has found success through that hard work. There is great healing in comedy. I know it for myself to be true and I am happy when if just but for one moment, an hour forty-six seconds or however long my film or comedy special is, that my talent is able to help you smile and forget the outside world.
I have a perfect day that I don’t get to do often, but when I do, the routine is 100% the same. If I am not hectic, in production filming, producing, or promoting a project:
5:00AM Get up
5:30AM go to the gym. It's at my house. My trainer comes over, and we work out about 2 hours
7:30AM Eat breakfast with my wife. See my kids off to school. Then Dr. Pat comes over and helps me to try and get this non-stretching body together or at least to a place where I can touch my toes at some point.
8:30AM to 3:30PM Chilling at the house, staring at my baby son’s face for as long as I can, or at least until he I get on his nerves. I am a homebody.
4:00PM My kids return home from school all loud and disrespectful to the quiet serenity. We have some dad time. My son and I like to box. My daughter and I like to talk or b.s.
6:30PM They do their homework.
7:30PM Dinner time. It's us at the table. Conversations are so much fun. The biggest rule is that phones are not allowed because ‘Dad is always checking emails…'. My kids made this rule up. You would think with all the games and such that it would be them, but it’s not. My kids are on my ass. They are 13 and 11, going on 50 and 40.
9:00PM After everyone is washed up and ready for bed. I think the best part of the day is at the end of the night when everyone is in their beds. I am locking up the house and standing before me is a reflection of what I didn’t have as a child, growing up. I didn’t have grass. I didn’t have a yard. I didn’t have a driveway. I didn’t have a community. I didn’t have the foundation that I am now able to give my family.
I think about all of this before I prepare for sleep. Before everything. Before I get in the bed with my wife and watch a bunch of show that I don't like, but I have no choice because she has the remote. There is always this moment where I am just truly thankful for my foundation. Knowing that my kids, and my wife they can rest easy because there is the feeling that each of them have that I am able to give them protection and safety. They know dad has us, and that that is my everything.
There is this book called I Can’t Make This Up by this amazing author named Kevin Hart. It was a #1 New York Times Best-Seller.
USHER's new album, ‘A,’ is fantastic. Front to back.
If my life were a soundtrack it would start with ‘Problems,’ and it would end with ‘Evolvement.’
5 Things I Can’t Live Without
Chapstick – I can’t stand dry lips.
Lotion – I am metro when it comes to taking care of myself.
Cologne – nothing crazy.
Bottles of Water – because I travel so much there is always a gallon on me.
My Phone – I would be a liar if I didn’t say it.
As told to Robyn Price Pierre (author of the FATHERS book) for ICON MANN.
The Upside is in theaters nationwide on Friday, January 11, 2019.
*Responses for this interview were edited for formatting. To hear full responses, do listen to the podcast excerpts on Soundcloud by clicking here.