Home » Kevin Hart: From shoe salesman to comedy mogul and entrepreneurial maverick

Kevin Hart: From shoe salesman to comedy mogul and entrepreneurial maverick

Tracing Hart's inspiring journey: Overcoming early struggles to reign as a top-earning comedian and owning a diverse business powerhouse

by Adenike Adeodun
Kevin Hart

Kevin Darnell Hart, one of the highest-paid comedians, was born in Philadelphia on July 6, 1979. Raised in a single-parent household by his mother, a systems analyst at the University of Pennsylvania, Hart turned to humor as a coping mechanism while dealing with his father’s cocaine addiction and frequent jail time during his childhood.

After graduating from high school, Hart attended the Community College of Philadelphia but soon dropped out and moved to New York, where he worked as a shoe salesman.

The Big Move: A Leap of Faith

Hart’s first stand-up performance was at The Laff House in Philadelphia, where he performed as “Lil Kev.” The show was unsuccessful, marking the start of a challenging phase in his career, which included being booed off stage and even having a piece of chicken thrown at him. He persevered, participating in comedy competitions across Massachusetts, where audience reception gradually improved.

It took time for Hart to find his comedic voice. Initially trying to mimic comedians like Chris Tucker, he eventually crafted a unique style centered on his insecurities and life experiences.

Touring Triumphs: Breaking Records

Now counted among America’s most renowned comedians, Hart has turned his humorous punchlines and jokes into a signature trademark, earning him fame and contributing to his substantial fortune. Despite his humble beginnings, Hart has demonstrated business acumen, mental resilience, and perseverance, making him one of the highest-paid entertainers.

Hart’s comedy tours began in 2009 with “I’m a Grown Little Man,” followed by “Seriously Funny” in 2010, “Laugh at My Pain” in 2011, and “Let Me Explain” in 2013. The latter two were also released as feature films. The year 2011 marked a significant breakthrough for Hart; his “Laugh at My Pain” tour recorded sold-out shows, grossing over $15 million and becoming one of the year’s top-selling comedy tours. Hart also has a game available on iTunes called “Little Jumpman.”

On April 9, 2015, Hart embarked on a world tour titled “What Now?” starting at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. The tour concluded on Aug. 7, 2016, at the Columbus Civic Center in Columbus, Georgia. The “What Now?” tour earned him an impressive $70 million. Universal Pictures announced on July 16, 2015, that the tour would be theatrically released in the United States on Oct.14, 2016. The show was filmed live on Aug. 30, 2015, in front of 53,000 people at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field. “What Now?” grossed over $11.7 million in its first week of theatrical release.

According to Forbes, Hart’s shows are incredibly successful, with over a million tickets sold in a year, a testament to his strategic marketing and strong social media presence.

Cinematic Ventures and Endorsements

Hart has appeared in over 50 films. He made his film debut in 2002 with “Paper Soldiers.” Subsequently, he appeared in the “Scary Movie” franchise, “Soul Plane,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Death at a Funeral,” and “Little Fockers.” In 2012, he played Doug in “The Five-Year Engagement” and appeared in the box-office hit “Think Like a Man” and other blockbusters. Also in 2022, Hart starred in “Fatherhood,” which became a Netflix hit, streaming on over 75 million accounts.

In 2017, Hart earned an impressive $32.5 million, as a result of his roles in blockbusters like “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” and “Captain Underpants” and endorsement deals with Nike and Tommy John. He also profited from endorsements with brands such as Fabletics, H&M, Hyundai, Foot Locker, and Old Spice.

HartBeat and Laugh Out Loud: Building an Empire

In 2009, Hart co-founded Hart Beat, a media production company now valued at $650 million. In 2018, under his Hart Beat Productions banner, he produced and co-starred with Tiffany Haddish in “Night School.” That same year, Hart signed a deal with Nickelodeon to develop and produce live-action, scripted kids’ content. He also secured a similar contract with Universal Studios.

Hart is known for his hosting roles, including the 2011 BET Awards, the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards, the 2015 Comedy Central Roast of Justin Bieber, and co-hosting the 2016 MTV Movie Awards with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

In 2017, Hart established Laugh Out Loud, a global media and production company focusing on creating opportunities for top comedians of various ethnicities worldwide. Initially partnering with Lionsgate, Hart took over as the majority owner in 2019 by buying most of Lionsgate’s shares. LOL operates across diverse media channels such as digital, audio, linear, and experiential, and includes LOL Network, LOL Studios, LOL Audio, and LOL X divisions.

Under Hart’s leadership, LOL has formed partnerships with platforms like PlutoTV, Roku, Snap, Facebook, Peacock, and YouTube, expanding its influence. The company extended its Sirius XM agreement in 2020. LOL’s notable programs include “Cold As Balls,” with over a billion YouTube views, “Kevin Hart: Lyft Legend,” “What the Fit,” and “Straight From The Hart.” It has received several accolades, including nominations and awards from entities like the Producers Guild of America, Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, Realscreen, Streamy, and Webby Awards.

Laugh Out Loud, known for hits like “Cold As Balls” and “What the Fit,” has amassed over a billion video views across its digital platforms. The company has also worked with brands such as AT&T, Headspace, Lyft, Old Spice, P&G, and Viacom.

In April 2022, Laugh Out Loud and Hartbeat Productions merged to form Hartbeat, encompassing Hartbeat Studios, Hartbeat Media, and Hartbeat Pulse.

In 2022, Hart secured $100 million from private equity firm Abry Partners, giving him an 85-percent stake in his company, valued at approximately $550 million. Though HartBeat started small, it has become a significant catalyst for Hart’s financial success.

Philanthropy and Business Expansion

In 2022, Hart expanded his entrepreneurial ventures beyond media and entertainment by launching a restaurant chain called Hart House. The first outlet opened in Los Angeles’ Westchester neighborhood, offering delectable dishes with flavorful plant-based alternatives. Hart House is dedicated to making vegan food appealing, providing healthy twists on favorite fast foods with cholesterol-free options that are both delicious and environmentally friendly.

That same year, Hart partnered with renowned tequila maker Juan Beckmann to co-found Gran Coramino, a tequila company committed to giving back to the planet. This venture involves local communities and offers opportunities to small businesses.

In addition to his ventures in food and beverages, Hart co-founded Vista Hustle, a vitamin and protein supplement brand. This wellness brand aims to support modern, healthy, and nutritious lifestyles.

In a Feb. 2018 interview with Forbes, Hart discussed a partnership with the NBA and Mountain Dew, emphasizing his interest in meaningful collaborations over purely financial ones. “I’m not in a position in life where I need to just grab money,” Hart said. He focused on partnerships with brands for growth and evolution, wary of overextending his endorsements.

Hart recognized the role of finances in some decisions but prioritized the potential impact of brand partnerships. “Money plays a part in some deals,” he said, “but what’s more important is the possibility of a brand or campaign becoming hugely successful and my name and brand being part of that.”

Despite his various business ventures, Hart stated that stand-up comedy, his initial passion, remains his primary love. He spoke about his devotion to comedy tours, saying, “That’s my craft; it’s where I started. I would never turn my back on stand-up; it’s what opened the doors I walk through now.”

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