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Kevin Hart: From Philly the Hard Way

We often come across rare talents that transcend one venue to another. It might be a stretch to say Kevin Hart is 5’4″ but his shadow he casts these days is larger than life. From humble beginnings in Philadelphia, born and raised (insert Will Smith joke)… Hart has built his way up the hard way, from small TV roles all the way to selling out Madison Square Garden. He’s had highs and lows, and like all great comedians he uses that as fire for his act and his life. For instance, Hart’s very public split from ex-wife Torrei Hart and his not only confession of mistakes but the fuel that gave him for really getting focused on his career and the heights that has taken him. He might never grow another inch, but his career is 10 feet tall.

The Early Years

Kevin Hart was raised by his single mother Nancy, along with his older brother Robert. Growing up in Philadelphia, it was hard then to laugh at his pain. His father, Henry Hart was in and out of jail as a drug addict. Kevin, came up the hard way. Growing up on streets that were brutally honest. It was those same roots that would build his foundation.

After graduating from George Washington High School in Philadelphia, where Hart would also make sure people don’t forget he played all four years of high school basketball. You can ask Kyle Lowry about that later… Hart would then migrate to New York City, then to Massachusetts before eventually finding his way back home to Philadelphia selling shoes and starting his stand up career. Few people found Hart funny, he took verbal beat downs at the hands of his hometown. Trying to find his way, Hart didn’t know who he was, let alone how he was to convey that to an audience. Lil’ Kev the Bastard was not a hit. He was a shoe salesman trying to be funny instead of just being himself.

I had a great time being a salesman because of the pitches that I gave when I was selling shoes. However, I don’t think I’m as well versed in shoes as I am in comedy. Being a salesman was all about being a people person, and I enjoy being around people. I also love talking to people – which is why I think I did so well.

It was under the guidance of veteran comedian Keith Robinson that Hart would finally start to get it. He began to perform under his real name and grow as an artist. No longer telling punch lines, he would draw from inspirations like fellow Philadelphia comedian Bill Cosby and others such as Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy and Tommy Davidson.

Hart would get his first real break in Hollywood with a recurring role on Judd Aptow’s “Undeclared”. A short lived show, lasting just one season on Fox. In that one season, Kevin would appear on 3 episodes as Luke. It was that exposure on a major network show that would allow Kevin to begin to move up the ranks and go from local comedy clubs to the big screen. Hart would go on to make his movie debut playing a part in Damon Dash’s Paper Soldiers starring Beanie Sigel, Stacey Dash and Michael Rapaport. With just a bit role in the film as part of the gang of thieves, Hart would continue to climb up the ladder.

Hart would go on to play a role that would define him for a few years in “Scary Movie 3”. Hart the comedian, would have full exposure in “Scary Movie 3” as CJ and later in not only “Scary Movie 4” but also “Epic Movie”, “Superhero Movie” and “Extreme Movie”. If there was a parody movie, Hart was probably in it.

Kevin would get his first leading role in “Soul Plane”, starring opposite of K.D. Aubert. The film was a black comedy version of Airplane and also featured Snoop Dogg, Tom Arnold, Arielle Kebbel and D.L. Hughley. Hart’s character Nashawn Wade, who would come into some money after winning a lawsuit against another airline after getting stuck on the toilet and his dog getting killed goes on to open his own airline, N.W.A. (Nashawn Wade Airlines). The modified 747 jet featuring a large first class, a club and Snoop as the pilot would run into it’s fair share of problems in it’s maiden voyage as well as Wade running into his ex played by Aubert. After all, you can’t have a plane disaster movie without a love story.

The movie itself was average at best, but it was that exposure that would get Kevin an opportunity at his own TV show in another short lived series this time on ABC. “Big House”, where Hart would play himself wouldn’t make it through a season but it was not because of Hart and the world knew that.

My show ‘The Big House’ was picked up; they flew me to New York. I’m about to step on stage to announce Kevin Hart’s ‘The Big House.’ And a hand grabs my shoulder, ‘Kevin no, they just decided to cancel it.’ It’s a serious smack-in-the-face business, and either you can take it, or you can’t.

I’m a Grown Little Man

As Hart’s acting career began to take off, literally… It was time for Hart to return some of his focus on what got him there in the first place, comedy. Full of fresh experiences after several television and movie roles, in 2009 Hart returned to tour and took the stage back in Philadelphia in his first movie special “I’m a Grown Little Man.”

Kevin Hart had found himself. He would go on to film four comedy specials including 2011’s “Laugh at My Pain” also in Philadelphia.

I’ve taken some of the worst verbal beatings of my career in Philadelphia. I got booed in places like Champagne on Germantown Avenue, Lakey’s, and the NewMarket Cabaret. But I looked forward to going back. If they don’t boo me, I figure I must be getting better.

In, 2012 Kevin Hart would go on to sell out the famed Madison Square Garden and “give them fire!”. The footage would go on to be used in his 2013 movie, “Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain.” As a comedian, Hart has established himself among the greatest in the game. His shows are sold out world wide and his fans range from every continent. In “Let Me Explain” he even exposed himself and his failed relationship with his wife, admitting to cheating on her and taking the blame. Never one to shy away from his flaws and mistakes, Hart embraced it the only way a true comedian can… on stage in front of the world.

Everything is an open book. I don’t speak on other people’s hardship, but if it happened in my life or something that has been an experience on my particular journey, I’m going to talk about it. That’s what my fan base appreciates the most. I’m universal. You can relate to the things I say or that I go through.

Much has been made over the break up of Kevin and his first wife Torrei, with whom he shares a daughter and son. Hart who has gone on record taking blame, admitting he cheated on Torrei with another woman has not backed down. In recent interviews, Torrei has blasted Hart while trying to maintain her me first attitude. Meanwhile, Hart who is now engaged to model Eniko Parrish, has continued to be very upfront and not back down with his role in the break up as well as the importance of his children. Thus, not bashing Torrei publicly.

My experiences in life are getting bigger and better. The more stuff I do, the more stuff I talk about – having kids, traveling, going through relationship problems, dealing with things in my own family. All that stuff builds character.

Meanwhile, Back in Hollywood

I’m trying to do what Eddie Murphy did for his generation. You have to show people, ‘I’m different. I’m not just a comedian.’ I’m trying to become a rock star.

In 2009, Steve Harvey would release the book that would change the way women think about men forever, “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man.” The book would later be adapted into the 2012 movie, “Think Like a Man” starring Hart as well as an all star ensemble cast featuring Michael Ealy, Jerry Ferrara, Meagan Good, Regina Hall, Terrence J, Taraji Henson, Romany Malco and Gabrielle Union. Hart would star as Cedric, exploring his issues with divorce and ex-wife Gail (Wendy Williams) as part of the movie’s plot following four of the major story lines from Harvey’s book.

Kevin Hart’s role would win him a best actor award from BET and nominate him for a couple Teen Choice scene stealer awards. “Think Like a Man” would set the stage for a bigger payday for Hart as well as a lead in the 2014 sequel “Think Like a Man Too” which despite the hilarious efforts of Hart and the cast didn’t come from a book, being a typical spinoff sequel. The sequel would not be as accepted as the original and while having decent box office success, didn’t live up to the original.

Hart would also later on star in another box office success, “Ride Along” starring Hart, Ice Cube and Laurence Laurence Fishburne. Hart would star as Ben Barber aka Black Hammer, as a not so buddy cop movie sidekick to Ice Cube’s James Payton. The story being Hart, who’s finace’ is Cube’s sister Angela (Tika Sumpter) is a wannabe detective and out to look for the blessing of Angela’s brother for their upcoming wedding. Cube’s character James is having none of it and as a joke, offers Ben to do a ride along. In what is first a series of situations aimed at making Ben look bad, it quickly turns serious once James gets a chance to finally capture drug and gun kingpin Omar (Fishburne).

“Ride Along” would go on to do very well and they are already filming a sequel. Already with several movies in 2014 and more lined up for 2015 and beyond, Hart’s movie career has taken him from bit roles to leading man. He has proven he can carry a movie all on his very own even if the movie doesn’t do well, Hart always seems to come out without a scratch. Whether it’s blocking an NBA player (Lowry) during NBA All Star weekend or in the box office, Hart has proven he is much larger than just his 5’4″ frame. 

Any hand that I’ve shaken, any person that I met when I was Joe Blow, now that I’m this guy Kevin Hart, has come back. That’s why I treat everybody with respect. I’m always a nice pleasant guy to meet because when they come back to you, they remember.
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