AFTER A WINTER EMBROILED IN CONTROVERSY, THE ACTOR, PRODUCER, AND COMEDIAN IS STILL DRAWING ARENA SIZED CROWDS, AND NOW VOICE ACTS A LEAD ROLE IN THE JUNE 7 RELEASE THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2
BY JOEL KELLER
Most celebrities who had the holiday season Kevin Hart had would hide out at a resort in Sonoma or Palm Springs, turn off their social media, and lay low for a while. But Kevin Hart isn’t like most celebrities.
When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences asked the 39 year old last December to host the 2019 Oscars, right away controversial tweets that Hart posted in the early 2010s regarding the LGBTQ community came to light, and the Academy asked him to apologize for them. Instead, Hart decided to remove himself from consideration for the hosting gig, and, while not exactly retracting the old tweets, took pains to say that he’s not the same person who offered them close to a decade ago.
After the kerfuffle died down, though, Hart just kept on going. In the first half of this year, he released the Net ix comedy special, Irresponsible (recorded before the Oscars controversy), a funny educational (and also Netflix) movie called Kevin Hart’s Guide to Black History, and is reprising his role as Snowball in Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures’ e Secret Life of Pets 2, which will be released on June 7. He also recently wrapped filming the sequel to the 2017 reboot of Jumanji, which is due out in December.
In the middle of all this, Hart is producing comedy shorts for his laughoutloud.com site and YouTube channel, promoting a vitamin line called VitaHustle, and announced that he was going vegan in order to keep healthy as he approaches his fifth decade.
“Please understand that we all have the ability to Hustle at the highest level possible…Make your hustle matter damn it. Apply yourself to all aspects of life & give it 100%,” he wrote in an Instagram post promoting the vitamins. It’s a sentiment that seems genuine, given that Hart has become one of the biggest comedy stars in the world through an inordinate amount of well, hustle.
Kevin Darnell Hart was born in Philadelphia, and raised by his mother, Nancy, who worked for the University of Pennsylvania. His father, Henry Witherspoon, was a cocaine addict and in and out of Hart’s life. When he did participate, he’d often embarrass the young man to a point that inspired later comedy bits.
“My dad was really crazy, man,” Hart said in his 2011 Code black Entertainment and Comedy Central Films special, Laugh at My Pain. “My dad was mad at me because I wasn’t an athlete. I didn’t play sports; I was into weird shit like spelling bees and debates. Here’s the thing: my dad would show up to my events and treat them like they were athletic events.” He then went on to describe his sweats wearing, underwear free dad strutting around a spelling bee cheering “Alright, alright, alright!”
Hart tasted stand up success at a relatively young age, with an act that emulated other African American comedians like Chris Tucker and J.B. Smoove. His first wide scale exposure was in Judd Apatow’s Fox series, Undeclared, and in frequent appearances on Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, a before its time Comedy Central panel show where the host and a group of comedians offered takes on current events. In his mid-20s, and only a few years into his career, Hart was funny, certainly, but constantly ribbed by older comedians like Patrice O’Neal, Greg Giraldo, Kevin Robinson, and Nick Di Paolo about his height and inexperience (he’s somewhere between 5’2″ andchange and 5’4″ accounts vary). At a certain point, Hart knew that he’d have to step up his game in order to get to the level he wanted…as it were.
“I don’t believe in doing things to manufacture my body to appeal to what I think people might like,” he explained in an interview with Oprah Winfrey on Oprah Prime. “This is what I was given. This is my playing cards. If we were playing poker, I’ve got to make this hand work. This is it for me… So how do you not embrace it? You get one life. I’m going to embrace mine.”
Embracing life also meant touching unreservedly on personal matters in stand up specials like Kevin Hart: I’m A Grown Little Man (2009) and Seriously Funny (2010). But he went even deeper in 2011’s Laugh at My Pain, including discussing his mother’s cancer death and his colorful relatives.
“My experiences in life are getting bigger and better,” he told the Chicago Tribune in 2012. “The more stuff I do, the more stuff I talk about having kids [he has three], traveling, going through relationship problems, dealing with things in my own family. All that stuff builds character. It’s allowed me to separate myself from the pack.”
Digging through his personal life helped put Hart’s career on the fast track. He now plays arenas all over the world; Irresponsible was filmed in front of 20,000 people at London’s O2 arena. How does a guy from Philly make his material globally loved?
“The best way to make sure that material works for thousands of people is to make sure that it’s universal to make sure that it’s something that everyone can relate to,” he recently said on Good One: A Podcast About Jokes. “You only separate people when you talk about the differences between people. You alienate a group that may not understand. I personally note what everybody relates to.”
In Irresponsible, Hart also discusses a divorce from his first wife, cheating on his second (model Eniko Parrish), and the adolescent whining of his older kids. Even though he’s playing to a massive audience, those revelations seem intimate, and he interacts with the front rows as if in a club trying out material. It’s this steady connection that makes him so popular.
And that appeal plays out on the big screen as well. He has dozens of movie acting credits, including smallish roles in Little Fockers (2010) and Think Like a Man (2012), and leads in Get Hard (2015) alongside Will Ferrell and in 2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.
Between acting and managing his production company, Hartbeat Productions, Hart is set to hustle through the rest of 2019. He’ll star in remakes of The Great Outdoors and Uptown Saturday Night, and will produce and star in a movie version of the board game, Monopoly. He’ll also reprise his role of Ben Barber, alongside Ice Cube, in Ride Along 3.
Lastly, he appears to be aching to talk about the Oscar hubbub for his next stand up special.
“If I don’t talk about it, I’m leaving an incomplete story to the people that have followed me the most,” he explained on Good One: A Podcast About Jokes. “I’ve never not talked about anything. This is a pivotal moment in my life and in my career, so it will be onstage. But, once again, there won’t be anything malicious behind it.”