In BET’s Real Husbands of Hollywood, Kevin Hart plays Kevin Hart – a successful comedian, driven, diminutive, and downright hilarious. Say what you want about his size, but this man is big on funny. He has a PhD from the school of Bill Cosby, a master’s from the University of Pryor, and a gold medal from the Chris Rock Program for the Incredibly Gifted – and all that with only two weeks at community college. Hart is probably best known for his stellar stand-up, which chronicles his real life with perfectly timed precision and effortless ease, as only a highly skilled and practiced joker can. See 2011’s Laugh at My Pain to grasp the kind of belly-aching brilliance this guy can deliver. But more recently he’s been making waves in film and TV with Modern Family, Think Like a Man, and upcoming Stallone/De Niro face-off feature Grudge Match, as well as offering up another dose of his own life to the comedy cabinet with self-penned series Real Husbands, which also stars Nick Cannon, J.B. Smoove, and Duane Martin playing themselves. Boris Kodjoe, the hotly tipped lead in J.J. Abrams’ 2010 spy-caper series Undercovers, also features in the show as one of Hart’s married friends. Here in Kodjoe’s interview with his on-screen buddy they fail to disguise what is clearly a hilarious camaraderie and genuine bond under a veil of roasting glee. Well, if you can dish it out…
KEVIN HART—What up bro?
BORIS KODJOE—What’s up Kev, you alright?
KH—How long is this shit going to take us, Boris?
BK—It’s probably going to take about two and a half hours, so I hope you’ve made some space in your calendar.
KH—Well it’s not going to take two and a half hours, Boris. You need to fucking get your questions together, because I don’t have that type of time.
BK—I did my research, I’m focused. If you’re ready to go, we can start this.
KH—[They both laugh] Let’s go, let’s start this shit, man. I’m in Miami, I’ve not got time to talk to you.
BK—Allegedly, you were born in 1980, which is obviously a lie, but let’s just go with it for now.
KH—It’s not true, Boris. I was born in 1979.
BK—I knew it, but Wikipedia is always wrong. So you were born in North Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. You have an older brother, Robert Hart, and your mother’s Nancy, and your father’s Henry.
BK—So far, so good. Tell us about your childhood, as if I cared. Just tell us a little bit, like a synopsis.
KH—Well, Boris, where can I start? First of all, I was born as a cool motherfucker, OK? So let’s just go ahead and establish that. Kids don’t get what I got, which is cool. I came out the womb cool. I think I started wearing sunglasses when I was six, and at the ages of eight, nine and 10 is when I discovered style. And as a kid, coming up, I developed this thing called funny, and once I discovered style, cool, and funny, I became what the English refer to as a legend. Yeah. So I think that wraps my childhood up – somewhat legendary.
BK—Got you. How much do you think the trials and tribulations of growing up in a single-parent household contributed to what you call funny?
KH—You know what, man, me growing up in a single-parent household gave me a certain will to work. My mom was a hard worker. Regardless of what we had and what we could and couldn’t do, my mom always got it done. She made a way; there was never the word no, it never existed in my household. And I can say now, being an adult, I have that instilled in me. I don’t accept the word no, and I believe there’s always a way to get something done, as long as you work towards your goal, you can accomplish it. And that’s what my mom left me with.
BK—So you would say resilience was one of the big things you learned from your mom, the will to succeed?
KH—I’m going to say yes, even though I’ve never used that word, so I’m not sure what it means…
BK—I’m trying to expand your horizons. So what about school? What kind of role did you play in school? Were you the funny kid right from the get go, were you shy, the class clown?
KH—I was always out-spoken as a kid. I was definitely the class clown. Being funny was my way to be accepted. It wasn’t necessarily being the asshole that was funny, it was appealing to everyone. I was the guy who was everybody’s friend. I had no enemies, and I didn’t accept, I guess you can say “beef” for lack of a better word – when you had people who weren’t getting along. I was the peacemaker; I was the guy who would always bring everybody together. And it was through laughter, through being funny. So that played a huge role for me.
I wasn’t necessarily a great student, but I was charming, so my teachers found a way to deal with me and be patient, so I just got by in school. I was definitely a C-, C+ student throughout. Could I have done better? Of course. But I didn’t necessarily put my best effort into academics, because that wasn’t where my heart lied. Not that that’s a good thing, but I’m a person who needs to be in love with something to do my best, and because I wasn’t in love with school, I didn’t do my best. And that’s one thing which me and my mom definitely bumped heads on. I think I got a 580 on my SAT.
BK—I don’t think we should broadcast that too much because I got 890 and I was a foreigner. I couldn’t even speak English, but let’s not talk about that. [They both laugh] Is that the reason you decided college wasn’t for you?
KH—Yeah, man. I went to community college, not that that’s something we should broadcast either. But I definitely went for two weeks and they gave me a pop quiz and I failed, and I was like, “Fuck this shit!” That’s when I got an attitude with school. But the bad thing is I could have gone to the University of Pennsylvania, because that’s where my mom was a professor at, but I turned that opportunity down because I didn’t like school.
BK—I’m sure that contributed to a whole bunch of beef between you and your mom?
KH—Of course it did. But the one thing about my mom is she was a supporter. So once I found out what I wanted to do, which was stand-up comedy, she said, “Are you sure?” and I said, “Yeah.” And she said, “I want to support you to the fullest.” So my mom basically supported my dream, and she gave me a year to find a way to fund my goal. And within that year was when I basically developed the skill to do stand-up comedy, and I found a way to make money doing it. And I told my mom I was OK and I didn’t want her to pay my rent, because when you put that pressure on yourself to have to survive, it’s when you do your best. If you’ve got somebody doing things for you, you’re not going to do your best, because all your eggs aren’t in that basket, because you’ve got a protective seal, so I didn’t want that protective seal. I wanted to basically figure it out and find a way.
BK—That’s amazing. That’s remarkable that your mom was wise enough to do that with you.
KH—That’s a very true story.
BK—I believe you. I can relate, because my mom did the same thing. Speaking of education, your comedy in my opinion is quite intelligent and smart, the way you structure your stories. Who were some of the comedians in the past who have inspired you?
KH—I’ve got to go to Bill Cosby, first and foremost. Bill Cosby is an influence, because he talked about simply his family, his life. He made it sound cool. He made it be cool to be married and have kids. He painted a picture where if you didn’t understand his world, you wanted to be in it. That’s somebody that I studied, especially with him being from Philadelphia and coming up in my territory. But then I got to listen to Pryor; Pryor was edgy and talked about his life. And I realized that these people are funny and successful because they’re relatable. No matter how big Richard Pryor was, and how many people loved him, you never felt like you couldn’t talk to him or you couldn’t understand his story, whether it was good or bad, he put it all out there, and that’s why I think Pryor was accepted by so many. Because it was like, Holy shit, he’s on drugs! But we know about it because he told us. Holy shit, he got in a fight with his woman! But we know about it because he told us, so you could never judge him because he talked about everything first.
And Bill Cosby talked about marriage and the dos and don’ts and why he loved his kids and what pissed him off about his kids. People don’t give you that authenticity every day, and I said, “That’s what I want to be.” And then I got to see Dave Chappelle and Martin Lawrence and these guys were clever but in their own right. So it was literally taking pieces from all of these puzzles and putting them together for myself, and I think that’s why I developed a level of wit, a level of storytelling, a certain level of raw, but at the same time being personable.
BK—And what is your process like in establishing these sets? Are you an avid writer? Does it just come together in your head? How does that work?
KH—Well for me it’s all developed through talking. I don’t sit down with a tablet and just write. I can’t do that; that’s not my process. It’s actually kind of weird how I develop this material. I take trips. I do things, because if you don’t have experiences, you don’t have stuff to talk about. So I need to travel, I need to spend time with my kids, I need to spend time with my friends, I need to see different things, and at the same time I talk about my experiences, and within my talking about them, on stage, is where I develop funny. I literally tell stories. And somehow those stories that I’m telling develop into material. It starts off as a conversation: “I talked to…”, “Me and a friend went…”, “I sat down yesterday with this…” or “Me and my kids did this…” and literally after talking about it, I see what the audience likes and doesn’t like; I let the audience choose. And over the course of eight to nine months, I put together an hour’s material. It literally takes me close to a year to develop what it is I want to talk about and have segues to where it makes sense. My set is nothing but one big story that evolves.
BK—I talked to Chris Rock and he said he locks himself up in a small comedy shop in Florida, and he works on material for three weeks in a row and he invites writers to come down and smooth his stuff out. Is that how you work?
KH—It’s funny that you bring up Chris Rock because he’s somewhat of a mentor to me. We have the same process. And I’ve learned this process from watching Chris and doing as he does. I go to smaller comedy clubs that seat anywhere from 50 to 75 people. New York has about 12 comedy clubs. I do the circuit for that period of eight to nine months and work out material, good or bad. I have two writers who I work with, who jot down everything I’m saying. They take notes and they show me what’s strong and what isn’t strong, but it’s done within a very intimate group of personnel. That’s how I develop and then once I feel comfortable about it, I go to bigger comedy clubs that seat about 150-200 and try the material there.
The thing with comedy is you need intimate settings to see if it works, because that’s where laughter rises, in an intimate environment where people are close and laughter can be spread. You don’t just jump out into theaters and arenas, you have to develop it. So for me, that’s why I live in that period of eight to nine months, and when I’m happy with it, then I go out and book bigger theaters and arenas and take my show on the road.
BK—Speaking of what works, you’re somebody who travels the world and allegedly fills arenas worldwide, which I can’t believe because I haven’t been there.
KH—I think the word “allegedly” is probably misused in this situation, because it’s proven. I’ve done it, but go ahead…
BK—Well that’s your opinion. When you travel to these countries and you do your set, how do you ensure that the people in France, Germany, Sweden, all these people all over the world, understand what you’re talking about? Do you experience the loss of comedy in translation? Do you adjust your set depending on where you are? Or how do you deal with that?
KH—Well Boris, the thing about being a genius – that’s what I call myself – is you don’t have to adapt to an environment. When you get to a certain level, people are buying tickets to see you because they know you and already understand you. They’re already fans and supporters so you shouldn’t have to change anything. And that’s the beauty of travelling the world doing comedy. It’s an amazing feeling to go to these places that speak different languages and have these barriers, but you go as who you are and you’re understood, and everybody’s doing the same thing, which is laughing at what you’re talking about, because they can relate. That’s why I pride myself on being universal, because when you’re universal, that’s literally what sells.
BK—So how do you feel about comedians who structure their whole set around dicks and pussy. Can I say that? Dicks and pussies?
KH—Yes. You just said it.
BK—It almost seems like they have nothing else to talk about. You don’t do that. Do you think it’s just a lack of material or inventiveness?
KH—I don’t judge anybody on their material or what they’re talking about; I can’t judge anyone else’s career. I’m trying to figure out how not to sound like a dick here… When that’s all you talk about, you show that you have nothing else to talk about, basically. When you structure your set around easy topics, such as dick, pussy, sex, white people/black people, you put yourself in the ball where anyone can be, but when you talk about your life, no one can be in that position but you. So when you tell stories they come off as authentic. I think that’s why the people who are successful and have made it to a certain level are there for a reason because they’ve put time and effort into their craft. I don’t think you’re putting that much time and effort into your craft when you’re talking about easy topics.
BK—Got you. There’s a plethora of comedians – if you don’t know what a plethora is, I can explain it to you later – who have transformed themselves from stand-ups to movies stars like Chris Tucker and Eddie Murphy. Now that you’re making a transition to a big-time, global, box-office superstar, are you conscious about your sets as you’re progressing in that new world, to make sure that your sets correspond with a future movie career, or as an artist have you completely ignored that?
KH—I’ve got to be honest, I definitely ignore it. One thing about stand-up comedy for me, is that’s all that exists. When it’s time to do my craft, I’m going to focus on that and nothing else. I don’t do it with intentions of, “Wow this is going to be a great set because when I’m a movie star people are going to understand and relate to it more.” To be honest with you, stand-up comedy is what propelled me into movie-star status. You take away stand-up comedy, I don’t get to where I am now. So for that I don’t change anything. My approach to it and the way I think about it isn’t different at all. I don’t go into it thinking about anything else. That’s the one thing that I own, and that nobody else has an opinion on except me.
BK—With that being said, the success you enjoy now, in Hollywood, what kind of impact has it had on your life, on a personal level. Has it changed you as a man, has it changed how you see the world as a whole?
KH—It’s definitely just allowed me to see the power of laughter. Regardless of what was going on in the economy, and what was going on in people’s lives, the one thing that everybody wants to do is laugh. The one thing that can heal any wound is laughter, and that’s the one thing I can say I’m aware of now, because I’ve seen it. The stories that I get, the fan mail: “Kevin, I want to thank you because I was in a tough period,” or “I lost someone in my life,” or “Kevin, coming to your show made me feel better.” It’s shown me people really like me and that reason alone is why I continue to work as hard as I work and put my best effort into my craft, because you’re accepted, but it’s on a different level. It’s not as a movie star; it’s not as this person who thinks he’s above and beyond everybody. It’s as a guy who people feel like. I think that’s what I’ve realized stand-up comedy has done, for me.
BK—What do you want your legacy to be, Kevin Hart, from Philadelphia, son of Nancy and Hank?
KH—You know what man, I’m working my hardest right now to literally be in the same conversation, as the “Greats.” When you talk comedy the first names that come up are Pryor and Eddie Murphy, Cosby, Martin, Tucker, the list goes on and on. I want people to respect me as a hard worker, and to understand that I put a lot of time and effort into my craft, and I’ve done it for a reason. My goal is to achieve and accomplish so many things, but you don’t do that without building a strong fan base, and without having that base develop with you. I think right now my fans are growing with me and seeing me evolve, so it’s huge for me to put in the work that I’m putting in and get results. My achievements are growing, and hopefully they continue to grow, and my fans can achieve with me…That’s a great answer by the way. Holy shit this guy’s good.
BK—I’m not so sure about that. I was talking about your kids actually. So let me rephrase that so you understand it. How do you want your kids to speak of you, how do you want your kids to remember you when you’re gone?
KH—You didn’t say that the first time.
BK—You understand? That’s what legacy means – legacy, when you’re gone.
KH—I don’t use those words. I use things like “here” and “cat” and “the.” That being said, I want my kids to say, “You know what man, that was a cool dude. My dad was amazing.” I want my kids to understand that all their dad wanted to do was provide for them, and in providing for them I want to give them opportunities that I didn’t have, and give them a chance to do things that I couldn’t do. With that being said my last name is being passed on to two brilliant babies who are going to do brilliant things because they have a great example, which is me as their dad. You should try doing things like that so your kids remember you.
BK—My kids will remember me, trust me. I’ve already had such an impact in their lives, it’s incredible. They place me on the same level as Mahatma Gandhi. I’ve done my work. I’m just trying to help you out. If you had a chance to talk to Mandela, what would you tell him?
KH—I would tell him that I think he’s cool and I like his hair. I would tell him that [he had an] impact on me as a kid in school, because he’s actually one of the few people who I know so many things about, because his history was so interesting, and what he believed in, and what he wanted to do. Not only [did he] believe, he actually achieved so many things. He helped make a change, and not just where he was, but worldwide. So I would have to say, “Man, you’re an amazing person, but your spirit has rubbed off on so many.” Ooh, good one! Your spirit has rubbed off on so many. I’m going to get that tattooed.
BK—What would you tell Cosby?
KH—I would tell Cosby thank you for showing me how to tell stories. A lot of people don’t understand that telling stories is actually a talent. Bill Cosby showed me that. It’s not just something that’s easy to do. And I literally studied him and I can say I developed it with watching him. I’m cool and good at telling stories because of Cosby. So I would say thank you, Bill. That’s what I would call him, Bill, I wouldn’t call him Cosby.
BK—What would you tell Justin Bieber?
KH—He’s actually a close friend of mine. I know a lot of famous people, because I’m famous. I would say, “Hey Bieb,” because that’s what I call him, Bieb. “Bieb, look man you’re getting older, and right now you’ve got to understand that pretty soon the cute stuff is going to wear off. So you’ve got to start developing your man traits.” And I would probably help him become a man, because that’s one thing that I am that he will respect me as, and Bieb is going to need to know how to become a grown-man too.
BK—I just want to play Word Association at the end of the interview. I’ll say something and you say one word that comes to mind. Ready?
KH—I don’t understand.
BK—I shout out a word and then you say to me the first thing that comes to your mind.
KH—OK, can we just play Word Association?
BK—Let’s play Word Association. We can play your game after. Ready?
KH—OK, go ahead.
BK—Wow, that was a good one. Torrei Hart.
BK—Real Husbands of Hollywood.
BK—Fuck. Is that really in your head when you think about me? That’s fucked up.
KH—That’s the first thing that came to my mind. I swear to God.
BK—Fuck. OK, well fuck it. That’s the end of the interview. So thank you for your time. You’re welcome for me doing it. Anything you want to say to our listeners?
KH—It’s a magazine, man. I love my fans and I want to say without them there would be no me. God is good all the time and all the time God is good.
BK—But without you there wouldn’t be them either. So that’s equal then. So you’re welcome.
KH—OK. You know what. Fuck off. Goodbye man, goodbye.
BK—You hang up first.
KH—Hang up the phone! You’ve got to hang up!
BK—No you go first.
KH—I’m hanging up. Bye.