Kevin Hart’s been a thriving comedian for a while now. Though he’s fairly new to the masses, the 32-year-old has already scored several Comedy Central specials and hosted major events like the 2011 BET Awards. Most recently, he functioned as the non-hosting host of MTV’s 2011 Video Music Awards.
This past weekend, he and his Hartbeat Productions rode his new-found fame to an unexpected victory after his debut standup film Laugh at My Pain, which follows his recent national tour run and a poignant stop in his hometown of Philadelphia, debuted inside of the box office top 10 ranking and pulled in nearly $2 million, in just 97 theaters, for an impressive per-location gross of $20,619. It’s a healthy profit, considering the film cost $750,000 to make.
We checked in the Kevin yesterday right before he gifted 100 fans with tickets to Pain at Los Angeles’ AMC Universal CityWalk theater to talk about its success, how he pulled it off, and how he’s going to celebrate.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Were you surprised at the big opening?
KEVIN HART: We said, “Hey, we know that we’re going to do alright.” But we didn’t know the magnitude of success that we were dealing with. I’m taken aback by the support of my fans – to be literally be in 97 theaters and do the numbers that we did. That means that damn near every show was sold out. What can you say? It just gives you a different appreciation for your supporters. I don’t take it lightly. You can’t write or predict this. At 32, I’ve truly experienced what the true meaning of love and support of your fans is. It’s unbelievable.
You’ve been doing this for years. How does it feel to finally break through?
The one thing about the business of entertainment is that you have to learn patience. And the thing with patience is your time will come, there’s just no telling when. Your job is to be ready when the time comes. I’ve been in the business for 14 years. And 13 of them have been just me hustling to get to this point. And the one thing that I’ve built up is my social media. My social media, I think I’m at like 7.5 million [followers on Twitter, Facebook, etc.] myself. That’s without the help of any radio station or anything. That’s just years of me over the years building and building and building and reaching out to my fans on the personal level. I’ve become my own biggest marketing tool. And then I put a bigger machine behind that with my publicist. So I’m getting the best of both worlds. I knew that what I deserved was coming. But at the same time I didn’t want to take it for granted. It just opens my mind up now, knowing that I have an opportunity to become a businessman and a CEO.
Business-wise, no major production company babied this into theaters.
Laugh at My Pain was done independently. It was done through my company, Hartbeat Productions along with CodeBlack. So now I have the ability to take another projects and skip the middleman and go straight to the distributor. That’s what was done here. Now my education of the entertainment business is at a different level. I know what’s good, what’s bad, and where I can possibly go now. So that’s where I’m at. Instead of enjoying today, I’m thinking about two years later. I’m trying to become a mogul and this is the first step in doing that.
What’s next for you?
You don’t want to pigeonhole yourself. There will, of course, be another standup film. But I’m a comedic actor. So now it’s about finding the best ways to produce my films, get people involved, get the budgets to where they make sense, and take the same approach as I did with Laugh at My Pain. I want to have a Q-Vision. I want to have a Happy Madison. The list goes on. The only way to get that is to take chances and risks.
You’re a successful comedian now, far removed from the pain that inspired the material that you started with. Is it hard to find new material?
I’m 32. I’m not going to stop having problems. I’m going through a divorce as we speak now. The material there is endless. It’s just about being bold enough to talk about it. And I am.
You’ve hosted major shows like the 2011 BET Awards and have had some hilarious Comedy Central specials. But how important was that non-host hosting gig at MTV’s 2011 Video Music Awards for you?
That was the big thing about the VMAs. It was about, “Wow, the VMAs have 12 million viewers. Out of their audience, I got 11,980,000 new fans. [Laughs] It’s a completely different audience for me. Some people didn’t even know who I was! Yeah, the celebrities in attendance may have, but I’m not that big-headed where I think, ‘Everybody knows me! Who doesn’t?’ I assume that no one knows me. So I take advantage of every opportunity. And that was a great one to be put in that stage and set the tone for the night without being the host. It got me a different following. I went up 250,000 followers on Twitter that night.
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Your film opened up in less than 100 theaters. How many more locations are you expanding to this week?
This week we go up another 58. And the week after we plan on going up another 100. Our goal is to get to 300 screens independently.
Now that other major theaters have seen your success, what’s the reaction been?
You know, everybody want to be in bed with someone once they see the success level. Once they see that it’s hitting, they go, “Oh wow, let’s do this and that.” But you want to continue to control your own destiny. The one thing I’m big on is relationships. We had built a relationship with AMC since I’d been on the Laugh at My Pain tour. AMC came out to several shows and I wanted to personally show them the people that came out in attendance, how supportive and faithful my audience is. And after they saw that, they made a deal with me where we said the movie would strictly be at AMCs for the first two weeks and then we could do things with other theaters. So we definitely see ourselves leaning towards another theaters including AMC and them letting us jump in as an independent film company to dealing with the distributor straight on.
Why do you think people connected to this movie so much and came out to see it?
Everything I talk about in my standup, I gave you the opportunity to see it for real. It opens up with a documentary. I go to my hometown Philadelphia and take you through my old neighborhood. You see that I didn’t come from luxury. My upbringing was solid because of the people I had around me. And I allow you to see these people. I talk about my mom passing away. I talk about my dad being on drugs and the difficulties of dealing with this at a young age. I let you see it first-hand. I let you see my dad. So these aren’t stories that are fabricated or staged to be funny. You see that it’s real. And I think that’s what people are loving more. It’s not just the standup. It’s, “Wow, this guy is an open book. He’s real. Kevin is so down to earth it’s ridiculous.” That’s what I want to be known as. Regardless of how big my career is, I want to be known as a real human being.
How’d you celebrate your opening week numbers?
I called Floyd Mayweather and said, “Be my friend and get me some goddamn tickets to your fight because I’m having a good weekend.” And he said yes. So I’m going to the fight this weekend. That’s me. Me and my staff, we’re all going to Vegas to watch the fight and have a good time. But I don’t want to take too much time to enjoy moments of success. Because then you get content with those moments. My goals are big. I’ve got two beautiful kids. And the life I want for them is one that requires a lot. So I need to get to this mogul stage. There’s a lot of hard work and dedication I have to put in.