How Kevin Hart is quietly taking over Hollywood

CNN
Saturday, June 21, 2014 - 5:00pm

Boisterous and uninhibited on screen, comedic actor Kevin Hart has quietly risen to the top in Hollywood.

Five years ago, Hart was best known as a comedian on the cusp of a breakthrough; now he's dominating the comedy stage and the screen. His January film release, "Ride Along," opened at No. 1, and there are high expectations for his next movie, "Think Like a Man Too," coming out Friday.

With a devoted fan base and an unrepentant work ethic, the 33-year-old has quietly transformed into a burgeoning powerhouse.

How exactly did he do it? Let's recount:

1. Persistence

Like with most entertainers, Hart is familiar with the valleys that come before finding fame. The Philadelphia native and one-time shoe salesman initially began performing in the late '90s under the name "Lil Kev the Bastard," but the comedy career he was angling for suffered from a slow start. Instead of dropping out for good, Hart worked with a mentor and re-evaluated his position: He started performing under his own name and began to hit with his brand of loud, physical comedy that drew from personal stories.

While doing stand-up, he also branched out into acting, landing roles in Judd Apatow productions such as "Undeclared" (2002) and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" (2005). His 2004 TV series, "The Big House," didn't take off, but no matter -- his satiric take on reality TV, BET's "Real Husbands of Hollywood," has been picked up for a third season.

"The one thing about the business of entertainment is that you have to learn patience," Hart told Entertainment Weekly in 2011 after the independent release of his comedy tour, "Laugh at My Pain," did surprisingly well at the box office. "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."

2. Authenticity

A huge part of Hart's appeal is his willingness to mine his own fears and foibles for comedy gold, a practice that made "Laugh at My Pain" and the 2013 top performer that followed, "Let Me Explain," major moneymakers. His father's struggle with addiction, his divorce and (especially) his short stature are all topics that Hart unabashedly broaches in his routines with a quick and sharp wit.

"His comedy comes from such a real place," Hart's frequent co-star, Seth Rogen, told Rolling Stone. "And he's funny as hell."

3. Versatility

What's made Hart such an inescapable presence is his ability to mix up his repertoire. He's become a master of stand-up comedy, executive-produces and stars in a spoof comedy series, can host an MTV awards show and is a natural with the raunchy comedy of Apatow's universe.

And on the other hand, he can also slip into the family-friendly world of ABC's "Modern Family" with ease. (Yes, that was Hart guest-starring as the Dunphys' neighbor, Andre, in 2011 and 2012.) From the 2012 rom-com release "The Five-Year Engagement" to the 2013 sports flick "Grudge Match" with Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone, there aren't many worlds that Hart can't inhabit.

4. Cultivating an audience

With more than 10 million followers on Twitter and an eagerness to connect with his fans, Hart is the antithesis of the unreachable A-lister. This is a guy who was named Forbes' sixth-highest earning comedian of 2013 -- but still promises to make surprise appearances at local movie theaters. That's the kind of intimacy that could make fans stick around for the long haul.

5. No breaks

By his own admission, Hart is industrious. But you don't need to hear him say it -- he often uses the phrase, "Everybody wants to be famous but nobody wants to do the work!" -- to know that's true. Once his 2014 raft of movies is done -- which include "Ride Along," "About Last Night" and now "Think Like a Man Too" -- Hart has at least another five projects in the works through 2016.

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