Movie Maniac

Why Kevin Hart is a much bigger deal than you think

Comedian Kevin Hart will perform four shows in Wichita next weekend.
Comedian Kevin Hart will perform four shows in Wichita next weekend. Associated Press

I must admit that I didn’t really know that much about Kevin Hart.

Sure, I knew that he was a comedian and that he’d been in some movies. And I knew that he was a popular entertainer.

But I didn’t grasp how popular.

He’s big enough for his two shows in Wichita on Friday at Century II Concert Hall to sell out, prompting a third show to be added on Saturday. And when that neared selling out as well, a fourth show was added.

“We’re super-excited that someone that big is coming here,” said Brenda Hendrick of Wichita. “We’ve just always thought he was funny. He appeals to the masses.”

And that is no understatement. His fervent core audience is vast and his success spans multiple platforms. Hart was No. 6 on Forbes magazine’s top-earning comedians of 2013 list with $14 million.

But he started out small. Born in Philadelphia, he was the younger of two boys raised by his mother, who essentially was a single parent while Hart’s father had battles with cocaine and the law (which Hart talks about in his comedy).

He got his start doing stand-up in Philadelphia while working as a shoe salesman by day. But at night he’d hit the comedy club scene under the stage name of Lil’ Kev the Bastard. Meanwhile, he found a mentor in veteran comedian Keith Robinson.

Eventually, Hart started performing under his own name, and slowly began performing regularly in clubs around the country.

He then had a short-lived series on ABC, “The Big House,” before releasing his first comedy album, “I'm a Little Grown Man” in 2006. His second, “Seriously Funny,” was released four years later.

But it was 2011’s “Laugh at My Pain” tour and concert documentary that turned Hart into a full-fledged star with his “working man’s” brand of comedy.

Doug Thompson of Wichita said that Hart “shares pieces of his life that we all can relate or identify with. The crazy uncle, the retired grumpy father yelling at kids, the stressed wife or girlfriend, the kids.”

Thompson said Hart “is really much more than a comedian. He is a storyteller with great punch lines.”

Many think it’s his relentlessly self-deprecating humor that makes Hart relatable.

“Kevin has a great relationship with the audience,” comedian Chris Rock told GQ magazine. “Like, he is the audience.”

His openness also makes him accessible. He freely talks about the collapse of his marriage, the relationship with his recovering addict father and his mother’s death from cancer.

“That’s part of his appeal,” Hendrick said. “He takes his shortcomings and plays on that.”

He also seems to try to connect to as many people as he can.

“You make yourself broad,” Hart told GQ (the mag named him one of its “15 Funniest People Alive” this year). “You make yourself appealing. ‘Hey, y’all, I’m cool with everybody.’ That’s my message.”

If you go

Kevin Hart: What Now

What: Comedy concert

When: Sold out shows are at 8 and 10:30 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are still available for a 10:30 p.m. show on Saturday.

Tickets: $57.50 and $69, available at the Century II Box Office, 225 W. Douglas, at www.wichitatix.com or by calling 316-303-8100.

Kevin Hart

Born: July 3, 1980, in Philadelphia

Height: 5 feet, 5 inches

Family: Divorced from the mother of his two children, Heaven Leigh and Hendrix.

A few career highlights: NAACP Image Award for Entertainer of the Year; named one of GQ magazine’s 15 Funniest People Alive; hosted the MTV Video Music Awards; starred in the hit BET mock reality show “Real Husbands of Hollywood”; had a recurring role on ABC’s “Modern Family”; has had numerous roles in films from “Scary Movie 4” to “Little Fockers” to “Top Five,” just released this week.

Other endeavors: Endorsement deals with Ford Motor Company, Nike and Apple (he has his own app and dedicated room in the iTunes store — www.iTunes.com/KevinHart.

Social media: More than 13 million Facebook fans; 14 million Twitter followers.

Quote that may sum him up: “I love stand-up comedy; I love movies. But I want to be respected as a businessman.” (www.blackenterprise.com)

On the horizon: Teaming up with Will Ferrell in “Get Hard,” Seth Rogen in “Jazz Cops” and Josh Gad in “The Wedding Ringer,” opening Jan. 16.

Five successful films

“Kevin Hart: Laugh at My Pain” (2011) This documentary/concert film really catapulted Hart into stardom. The film grossed more than $7.7 million while its budget was about $700,000. The tour itself grossed more than $15 million.

“Think Like A Man” (2012) Hart is among the ensemble cast of this romantic comedy about friends who learn that their women have been using a relationship advice book against them. It was surprise hit, earning more than $65 million domestically, according to Box Office Mojo, and Hart became the film’s breakout star.

“Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain” (2013) This concert film grossed more than $30 million, and was filmed during two sold-out shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden. According to Deadline.com, the film earned $7.4 million in its first two days of release, far outperforming “The Lone Ranger,” which opened on the same weekend.

“Ride Along” (2014) Hart plays a security guard who must prove himself to his girlfriend’s brother, a hardcore cop played by Ice Cube. The film had the biggest opening on a Martin Luther King Day weekend with $41.2 million. Its total domestic gross is $135 million with a budget of about $25 million.

“About Last Night” (2014) Hart is again a member of an ensemble cast in this remake of the 1986 film that starred Rob Lowe and Demi Moore, which was actually based on the play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” by David Mamet. The new “Night” has grossed more than $48 million with a budget of about $12 million.

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