Hart's Afire
Men's Journal|November - December 2021
After a brush with death, the hottest comic in the world is finding happiness on new stages and new boardrooms. But will he ever return to the stadium?
By Jesse Will. Photography by Brian Bowen Smith

A few minutes after he enters the Zoom, Kevin Hart breaks off on a tangent. The world’s top-grossing comic is workshopping a bit in an empty L.A. soundstage—imagining what it would be like to address a full arena again for the first time since 2019. The 42-year-old Hart reclines on a tan leather couch in a white T-shirt, hand wrapped around a desktop mic. He dials up that high, kinetic voice. The one that’s made tens of millions of people lose their shit since his 2008 breakout.

“How’s everyone feelin’? Vaccinations? No vaccinations? Delta? No Delta? Masks? No masks? Hey, guys! Guys!! Take your masks off!! I mean, put ’em back on!! Wait—what side am I on? Oh, do y’all want me to put this on?? I will!”

“My next special’s gonna be called Confused as Fuck,” riffs Hart. “Because that’s what I am.”

PREVAILING WITH PURPOSE

Hart may have some bewilderment at the future of doing stand-up in front of tens of thousands, but the man has no confusion as to the trajectory of his empire. It’s blowing up. (“Like Ramses the Second,” one Hollywood exec tells me.) Just this year, Hart shot three feature-length movies slated for release in 2022, alongside actors like Woody Harrelson and Cate Blanchett; starred in Fatherhood, a drama viewed in 90 million households on Netflix; signed a four-movie contract with the same streamer; produced TV shows like Dave and Celebrity Game Face; published a middle-grade novel and released a motivational audiobook; launched a reality show about muscle cars for Motor Trend; anchored a celebrity interview TV show called Hart to Heart; premiered Comedy Gold Minds, a top-ranked podcast; and oversaw his own businesses: HartBeat, a production company that specializes in film and television, and Laugh Out Loud, a comedic entertainment entity and satellite radio channel.

That’s just 2021, and this list is abbreviated. The scope of it all is wide enough to make other actors and comedians— and you and me—seem hopelessly lazy.

“I’ve got a lot going on, but I’m still young and kicking,” says Hart, speaking in front of an abstract painting in fiery red and orange. He pushes back at the notion that he might be overcommitted.

“If it’s not something that’s going to be a good time or create passion, I say no. It’s not for me. I need the energy.”

Though broad, Hart’s approach isn’t scattershot. Over the course of the pandemic, HartBeat and LOL expanded rapidly. Both companies doubled their employee base as the race for streaming services to put out new content—from creators of color, especially—heated up. Chief operating officer Thai Randolph says that HartBeat and LOL “have been a part of an ‘inclusion revolution’ in the entertainment industry,” where audiences of color show up in droves and dollars follow. “I’ve never worked with someone as funny as Kevin,” says Randolph, “but he’s as focused as any executive I’ve ever reported to.”

Hart has a knack for dreaming up viral fodder. Take his and Snoop Dogg’s hilarious and profane Olympic Highlights show for the streaming network Peacock, produced by LOL. You might have seen a clip: As an Olympic equestrian rider has a horse make stilted lateral steps in a competition, Snoop notes that the horse looks like it’s Crip Walking—a 1970s street dance move from Compton—and says, “I gotta get this m—f-er in a video.” Hart turns from the camera, keeling over. It’s the antithesis of staid Olympic commentary.

Earlier this year, it was a tossed-off idea—Hart playing the straight sports announcer to Snoop. Of course the half-baked concept landed as cleanly as Suni Lee off the balance beam.

“I’m really falling in love with the business of the business,” says Hart.

If you were to peer at his current schedule, you’d see a lack of empty space. Actually, this is kind of a constant since Hart’s youth. He grew up in a one-bedroom apartment in North Philadelphia, and was raised by his mother, Nancy Hart, who kicked out his father, Robert Witherspoon (battling addiction), when Kevin was 8. His brother, Robert, dealt drugs, was in a gang, got caught snatching a purse (his mom took him to court and got him off ). To avoid Kevin sharing the same fate, Nancy packed his after-school life with extracurriculars. Swimming, bowling, anything to keep him off the street. Hart’s mother died in 2007 and never got to see him take the stage, but her plan worked. The packed calendar stays.

HART TRANSPLANT

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