“I am in a place of being super ultra-focused and so are the people who support me.” — Kevin Hart
(All photos by Kevin Kwan/Netflix)
Kevin Hart’s ability to make an arena feel like a comedy club has helped him produce rock star numbers on tour
Kevin Hart’s first gig ever was at The Laff House in Philadelphia in the late 1990s, where he played to a handful of people. On his most recent outing, The Irresponsible Tour, Hart played three consecutive nights at London’s 02 Arena, two at Chicago’s United Center and a show at New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
In fact, Hart performed before a staggering 599,032 fans during the portion of the nearly year-and-a-half-long Irresponsible Tour reflected in Pollstar Boxoffice numbers for the top comedy tours June 1, 2018-May 31, 2019. That’s more than double the number of tickets sold by Kevin Bridges, who at 284,244 was No. 2 to Hart during that period.
Hart’s tour grossed an astronomical $45,071,432 in the same period. The No. 2 comedian on that chart, Jerry Seinfeld, earned less than half of that, $21,979,389. Sebastian Maniscalco placed third, grossing $20,634,563.
Based on Pollstar Boxoffice estimates, Hart’s haul from the entire tour, from September 2017 to January 2019, reached a whopping $140 million.
Not bad for a guy who came from a broken home in a bad neighborhood who often says he used humor to get him through it.
No longer down and out, Hart is the reigning king of live touring comedy, hands down. It’s not every comedian that can consistently sell out an arena.
“I bust my ass,” said Hart. “I put my blood, sweat and tears into this craft. I believe that hard work pays off.”
Hart quickly acknowledges that he didn’t get to the top alone. “I think I am lucky and fortunate to have such a high level of support around me,” he said. “Right now, I am in a place of being super ultra-focused and so are the people who support me.”
Some might say that the secret to Hart’s success is his ability to take his shows to large venues and then get the fans to experience it like they were in a small room.
“What I try to do in arenas is take big places and turn them into intimate venues,” Hart said. “I always ask myself, ‘How can I make this as intimate as possible?’”
He does it with visuals. He does it by knowing when to turn in a certain direction and turn quickly back. He does it by knowing when to cut off the laughter and hit the audience with his next killer line.
“I want that arena to feel like a comedy club,” he said. “But we also want to give the fans great production quality and we do that by really honing-in on how to make it interesting to see the show in this enormous space.”
Hart’s known for elaborate stage shows. His last tour required 10 trucks.
“Nothing stays the same,” Hart said of his reputation for making each show bigger than the last. “Our team is the top of the line. I want people who see me to feel like it was worth it to come out. The amount of people it takes to make that happen has gotten bigger for sure, but I want the fans to have a great experience.”
Hart said his favorite city to play is Philadelphia, his hometown, where he drew 53,000 for a show at Lincoln Financial Field in August 2015.
“It’s the City of Brotherly Love, and I feel it when I am there,” Hart said.
Outside of Philadelphia, Hart is a big fan of playing in New York City because “there are so many different cultures and the audiences are so diverse. Everyone is represented in New York City.”
Hart’s equally at home overseas, often in places where English is not their native language. “I love seeing all the different people who come out,” he said. “It’s great. The audiences are so varied. All shapes and sizes. I love the fact that all types of people are part of me and my comedy.”
Hart prides himself on being universal and appealing to all. “What you see is what you get,” he said. “I don’t alter or change anything for any region or country. If they are coming to me, they’ll get me.”
As much a businessman as an entertainer, Hart is the CEO of his corporation, HartBeat Productions, and as such, he has the responsibility to steer the ship, make the decisions and lay down a path for the future.
“When I talk about what it is that I’m doing, and how I do it, it’s all about trying to maximize my potential in the business as an entertainer and as a CEO,” Hart said. “I started from the ground floor and now I’m in charge of this corporation and need to make it run efficiently.”
Hart’s next major tour, to be booked internationally, will be in 2021. Geof Wills, president of comedy touring for Live Nation, promoted Hart’s Irresponsible Tour and has seen him grow as an entertainer.
“I am lucky enough to have been promoting Kevin for over 10 years.” said Wills. “I attribute Kevin’s success to first, him being hilarious. And second, to him having the best work ethic in the business. He never lets up and his focus is peerless.”
Mike Berkowitz, WME partner and the head of its comedy touring division, has been Hart’s agent since 2007.
Some of Berkowitz’s other clients include Amy Schumer, John Mulaney and Aziz Ansari. Berkowitz came to WME from APA in 2017, and Hart followed.
“Kevin was playing clubs when we met, like The Improv, Zanies and The Funny Bone,” Berkowitz said. “He was already well known at that point from TV and movies.”
Hart’s first substantial attention by film and TV audiences started when director/producer Judd Apatow cast him in a recurring role on the TV series “Undeclared.” He has famously gone on to star in more than 50 movies, along with numerous TV appearances, and he’s also found time to tape all those lucrative Netflix specials.
“Kevin had great success at clubs, and he moved to theaters quickly,” Berkowitz recalled. “He started having a lot of success with his movies and suddenly the theater dates turned into multiple-night dates.”
Hart’s first national tour was in 2009. Sales went so well by 2012 he moved his act into arenas.
The Irresponsible Tour started in September 2017 at the Macon Centerplex in Georgia, and finished in January 2019. “Kevin started in some C markets and built his way to the major markets on the end of the tour. There were sold-out shows at (Madison Square Garden). He did four shows at the 02 in London and he filmed his special there.”
“Every tour Kevin does tops the last one in grosses, ticket sales, and production,” Berkowitz said. “No one works harder or strives to reach the highest level more than Kevin does. Each time he goes out, the material he writes and performs is better than the last time.”
To maximize the grosses on the last tour, Hart played his show in-the-round, which enables venues to increase seating capacity.
“This was the first tour Kevin did that was exclusively in-the-round where Kevin had to perform to all sides of the venue, which was an interesting challenge that he met,” Berkowitz said. “He solved all the issues quickly by making his shows more visual, special and unique. From content to promotion, Kevin’s tours are well thought out and well managed.”
Berkowitz thinks the unique way that streaming specials are released adds to the increased attendance at Hart’s live shows.
“It’s the inverse of how music is released,” Berkowitz explained. “In a traditional album cycle, you put out the album, you tour after the album has come out and fans are familiar with the music. Artists then tour to promote the album. In comedy, we go to great measures to make sure that no one knows the material until they show up the night of the show. At the end we release it. People see it, they love it, and they want to see what’s next.”
Hart is not the only comedian who follows the cycle, but he’s certainly mastered it, Berkowitz said.
“Kevin makes his own decisions,” he said. “He’s a smart man. He’s a great family man. An entrepreneur. It always feels organic and people can’t wait to see what he’s going to do next. It’s a couple years from the last tour by design. He’ll get the new special out and do TV and film projects and stay out there so people continue to see his work.”
When Hart is ready to tour again, Berkowitz will be ready.
“I’m excited about the next tour and I can’t wait to see him shine again in a live show,” Berkowitz said. “Kevin does arenas in every single market all over the world, from Africa to the U.K. to Scandinavia to Australia and the Mideast. And, of course, in North America.”
“There’s nobody that even comes close to Kevin,” he said. “There’s a large gap between him and the next group of comics when it comes to sales. Some other comedians can play arenas in a few markets, and that’s fantastic, but they are not even close to the ballpark that Kevin is in. He’s selling tickets beyond what anyone ever imagined he could. Kevin is special and unique, and nobody puts on a better show than he does.”
While Hart is pleased with his achievements, he’s not about having slow feet anytime soon.
“Now it’s about staying with it. It’s doing everything I can to stay at this level,” Hart said. “Look, I am getting older. I’m 40 years old now with a lot of wear and tear of the body, but I still have some of the best years ahead of me. But if I scale back, I scale back. You never know when it’s going to come to an end. So, I enjoy it while I can and make the best of it as I can.”
Outside of the touring, Hart’s a husband and a father. He’s been married to Eniko Parrish since August 2016.
He turns to Parrish when he wants to hear the truth. “My wife is my best adviser,” he said.
Asked about whether he’d ever give up live touring for the bright lights of Hollywood, Hart laughed. “Comedy is going to be a part of me forever,” he said. “If I can, I will always go on tour and do my best to make the world laugh. Doing live comedy is my therapy. I’ll never give it up.”