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In July, Hart is continuing to build his business himself, funding his next stand-up film, Let Me Explain, with $2.2 million of his own money. He's getting it into 750 theaters--nearly four times as many as Laugh at My Pain, for which he invested $700,000. (It made nearly $8 million.) Just as he copied Cook, he now wants to follow the business plan of Tyler Perry. "I like the word mogul," Hart says. "I think I can have a production company. I think I can fund and produce my own projects. I think I can write. I think I can direct. I think I can be responsible for a new wave of comedy and comedic look to films."
Hart, who talks as fast as he moves, is intense about everything. His schedule normally involves shooting a movie during the week, flying to do stand-up on the weekend and showing up at BET meetings for his show in between. "I watched the Jerry Lewis documentary and thought of Kevin. He was that guy who thought about everybody's job," says Real Husbands of Hollywood executive producer Jesse Collins. "They'll say, I need you to get on the phone with Honey Nut Cheerios and get that sale done. And he knows how to do it." When BET asked writer Ralph Farquhar to turn Real Husbands of Hollywood from an awards-show sketch into a series, he wondered why Hart would bother. "It's part of his bigger plan. He's going to be online, in the movie theater, in the coliseums and be on TV. He recognizes that one fuels the other in this day," he says. "And obviously, he's a workaholic." Hart, of course, also plans on writing a book.
Hart's Secret Weapon: Kevin Hart
Hart's onstage character is equally manic, scrolling through ideas more than vivisecting them. But he does it from a unique perspective: he's obsessed with masculinity and the fact that he doesn't have the height--he's 5 ft. 2 in.--or the aggression expected of him. He's been doing stand-up since he was 18 in Philadelphia, but when I ask him the first joke he ever told that truly felt like his, he quickly answers, "It was about my ex-wife and I getting into an argument and the cops getting involved. And they were involved because I called them. It was true. They came and were like, 'What's the problem?' and I was like, 'She hit me.' And I started crying while I was talking to the cops. That was the first joke where I was like, That's all I have to do." The phrase Hart probably says most in his act is "My biggest fear is ..." Vulnerable and unashamed, Hart has found, creates a lot more frisson coming from a black man.
"White people self-deprecate. We don't self-deprecate," says Chris Spencer, a comedian who co-created Real Husbands of Hollywood. "White audiences want you to seem normal. We want you to know we're doing well. Eddie Murphy came out onto the stage out of a spaceship, and there was an orgy going on." But Hart has a different approach, Spencer says. "Kevin lets you know he's one of you. You feel like you might be able to see Kevin at Rite Aid." During his Let Me Explain tour, Hart opened his show with pyrotechnics that he then made fun of--mocking expectations even while satisfying them.