Kevin Hart: Funnyman, Mission Man, Everyman
America's funniest man now has his own network. We went inside the launch party to see what Kevin Hart is like behind the scenes.
"I'm not here to talk about me," Kevin Hart said to a party full of people that had come to see his newest creation, a streaming comedy app called "The Laugh Out Loud Network."
"I'm not here to talk about how I'm the highest-grossing comedian of all time," Hart continued "Or how I'm a best-selling author, or how I have my own line of Nike sneakers.
"I've accomplished so much," Kevin Hart said. "And now it's time for me to reach back."
A beaming white-and-green neon sign lit Hart from behind and puffs of smoke wisped over from stage right. The smoke wasn't part of the show, it was just a byproduct of Snoop Dogg hanging out by the stage. Aside from Hart, Snoop was the most recognizable figure at the event. If you didn't smell him, you'd spot him towering over most of the crowd at 6'4". Rather than a who's-who of comedy, the event was filled with the who's-next of comedy.
The launch was filled with up-and-coming stand-up comics, sketch groups, YouTube stars, Instagram comediennes and a party crasher who sold a script to Netflix and snuck his way in.
"I want Laugh Out Loud to be a vehicle for hot new talent," Hart said. "And a place for the world to see them."
It wasn't easy for Hart to get to where he is. Just to get to the stage Hart had to weave his way through a sea of handshakes and pleasantries. And that was after having to take a car through jam-packed streets of Beverly Hills near rush hour, just to take a bus that would drop you off at a golf cart to get to the venue.
But even Hollywood was an uphill battle and unlikely destination for Hart, the product of an unplanned pregnancy in the crime-rich streets of North Philadelphia. School was never Hart's forte and an absentee father who'd occasionally show up to sic a dog on his kids or steal from their mother to fuel his drug habit only made things harder.
Luckily for him, his mother always kept him busy, too busy to ever spend time on the streets. His mother "didn't leave room for anything but hustle," Hart says in his autobiography. "And that's where it all began." That work ethic met an insatiable desire to succeed after Hart got his first set of laughs at an open mic in Philadelphia.
Hart battled his way up through comedy competitions just to be torn back down by top comedians in New York City, hostile crowds in Atlantic City and a number of rejected pilots. But always able to shrug things off with a smile, Hart jabbed back and refused to back down. He was nicknamed "Mission Man" at one club and got the boost he needed after he starred in Damon Dash's "Paper Soldiers."
Kevin Hart was no longer just a stand-up comedian, he was an actor who could carry a movie. Hollywood took notice and Hart rose the ranks that led him to the top of that hill, on top of that stage where he was in the position to help other up-and-coming comedians. Hart showed a sizzle reel of the comedy viewers can expect on LOL: brand new sketch comedy shows, sitcoms and stand up; classics like Def Comedy Jam specials and movies like Soul Plane.
"Now everybody go have fun," Hart said when the reel fizzled to black. "I paid for all this shit."
Well, kind of. Hart had some pretty big backers behind the event and network.
"The industry is moving ahead and we want to give young audiences what they want, when they want it," said Jon Feltheimer, the CEO of Lions Gate Entertainment. Lions Gate Entertainment put up all the money for the LOL Network and let Hart work his magic.
"There's no talent in the world that I'd rather invest in than Kevin Hart," Feltheimer said. "Laugh Out Loud is the future of comedy."
It's easy to see where Feltheimer's confidence comes from, Hart even worked the party from open to close. He was one of the first people there, dappered up in a jean jacket overlooking the preparations and shaking hands while the sun was still beaming over Beverly Hills.
Hart vanished with the sun and then reemerged hours later in a double-breasted burgundy suit. He spoke and shook hands with everyone. Everyone. After his stage performance, Hart had a series of red carpet interviews followed by an impromptu filmed poker hand for his "Game On" promotion with Usain Bolt. Hart shuffled the cameras around and improved the segment in one take.
"For the fastest man in the world you're kind of slow when it comes to make a decision," Hart told the Usain Bolt cardboard cutout. Hart was proud of that one.
"I'd like a queen because a queen makes a king a better man," Hart said when the scripted hand was being run out. He was meant to hit a royal flush and needed a queen of hearts on the river. "And with a heart you become a better man."
Hart hit his royal flush, the take was done, and went to the after party downstairs. It was the third iteration of Hart, he lost the burgundy jacket and was left with a crisp white dress shirt that hued blue in the club lights. There was no VIP or roped off section to insulate Hart from the crowd and he talked to a non-stop flow of guests and comedians that made their way to the launch. He was funny, insightful and motivational.
Even as security started escorting everyone out of the club, Hart stayed below, having a heart-to-heart with Daniel Negreanu. The two, similar in stature in their respective worlds, talked fame, success and legacy. Hart even gave a life read on the player known for reading people's souls.
The club finally cleared out, with Hart and his wife being the last to leave.
"You know you party hard when you drag your pregnant wife till 4 in the morning," Hart shouted to everyone but no one in particular. As he waited for his golf cart at an event he hopes will transform the way comedy is done, Hart took a second to think about what poker meant to him.
"Cash games," Hart said. "I want to beat all those high-stakes cash games. I'll give a year, if I can't I'm done. DONE!
"No, seriously though. It's an outlet."
For a man whose life is dominated by the business of being fun, poker is his way of letting loose. Not necessarily being the best, but having the best time you can. Taking money off your friends is just a bonus.
Alex Villegas is a freelance contributor to the PokerStars Blog. Photos by MOVI Inc.