Comic Kevin Hart rang in the New Year still in awe and disbelief of the year that was just past. For the veteran performer known best for his self-deprecating wit and diminutive size, 2011 was the year that changed everything.
“I can’t even explain it," says the 33-year-old Hart from his Los Angeles home. “You do projects with the hope they will be big and hope they will go beyond what you imagine. But you never know in this business."
Many would suggest the Philadelphia native had already experienced his fair share of fame over the years with small roles in big films such as Little Fockers, Fool’s Gold, and Death at a Funeral. But fame and success took on an entirely different meaning for Hart in 2011 after the release of his wildly successful stand-up comedy concert film Laugh at My Pain. The DVD of the film goes on sale Jan. 17.
Though Laugh at My Pain appeared on fewer than 300 screens nationwide, it’s grossed nearly $8 million since its September release. Made for just $750,000, the film surprised many in the industry by grabbing a spot on the top 10 independent films of 2011 in terms of box-office gross, and by jumping to No. 7 of the top-selling comedy concert films of all time.
Joining that elite group of concert films finally puts Hart shoulder to shoulder with the very elite group of comedy legends he grew up admiring from afar.
Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor both developed their massive audiences and iconic fame with sold-out comedy concerts on film and record. Murphy’s Raw and Pryor’s Live on the Sunset Strip both broke box-office records in the '80s and '90s, and remain the holy grails of success for African-American stand-up comics.
Much like the funnymen before him, Hart uses the varying ups and downs of his own life to entertain and bring his audience closer. In Pain, the 5-foot-5 comic freely talks about his father’s drug addiction, the oddly humorous manner in which his family handled his mother’s death from cancer, his ongoing divorce proceedings, and the never-ending perils of living life as a “little man."
“Chris Rock does the political thing really well, but that never worked for me," says Hart. “People laugh with me more when they can relate to what I’m talking about. They want to laugh about what they’ve been through because they didn’t think they could."
Laughing and sharing his pain with his fans worldwide (Hart has nearly 3 million followers on Twitter) no doubt played a large part in his landing high-profile gigs such as hosting the BET Awards and performing the opening monologue for the MTV Awards in 2011. This year can only get better, as he’s set to star in two major films; one, Think Like a Man, is based on the bestselling book of another comic, Steve Harvey.
“Kevin is open about his relationships, his parenting skills, and his childhood,’’ says Harvey. “That’s how he gets the audience to connect with him. And he does it better than anyone out there today."
Hart credits his loyal fan base and sold-out comedy shows around the country to his commitment to real humor, not shock and awe.
“I try to be funny and not ignorant," he explains. “Almost anything can be funny if said the right way—but it has to be said the right way. I’m not trying to piss anyone off at my job. I just want them to laugh.”