Dave Becky has been Kevin Hart’s manager since the late ’90s. “From the beginning,” as Becky says. “He sent me a VHS tape of his homemade comedy club set, and that sold me, even though he had no credits at all.” Together, the two run the production company Hartbeat, which was formed five years ago. Becky, whose clients include comedy stars Amy Poehler and Louis C.K., says what makes Hart different is that “he’s extremely entrepreneurial and business-minded, he loves business, and he really embraces social media, which many don’t.”
Hart, who has 95 million followers across major platforms, says social media “is extremely important, as I can engage with my fans on a regular basis. With a click of a button, I can talk with you and see what you like, what you don’t, and really engage.”
As he talks more about the power of social media, it becomes clear that Hart, in some sense, also views himself as an anti-celebrity in the digital age. “Celebrities used to be mysteries,” he notes. “You’d see them on TV but you’d have no idea what they’re doing in their regular life. But now, people want to know — and can know. ‘Hey man! What did you eat for breakfast? Where did you go this morning? What’s happening later?’ They want to know that this person they support is real, they want to be involved. And I think the best way to deal with all that and up the level of respect is by letting them in more. I have no problem with opening up my life, for me and my kids and family, how I travel, what I eat, everything I do from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed.”
While most other stars might recoil in horror at such oversharing, Hart revels in the revelations and fan contact. “I’m human and there’s no difference between me and my fans, apart from the fact I’m up there on that big screen,” he insists. “Other than that, I’m the same kind of person as you are, and I love to share because I think that information is key, and the more information I give, the more I can help and inspire others to want to build and achieve levels of success within the realm they’re in. At the end of the day, it’s about motivation and inspiration.”
Adds Becky, “Kevin looks at himself as a brand, almost like a professional athlete who’ll play football for while, and who plans for a long career afterwards. He’ll always be a comedian and actor, but at the same time he’s also a great businessman, and he loves all that. He’s this great mixture of incredible talent, hard work, drive and vision. And with his business acumen, it’s an amazing package.”
Hartbeat has “a lot of projects” in the works, reports Becky. “We have a comedy series, ‘Hart of the City,’ coming out on Comedy Central in October, that he produced. It showcases young comedians that haven’t had any national exposure, who are out there working the clubs but who are basically undiscovered. So Kevin’s giving them opportunities to show their talent.”
Hartbeat Digital, which produced the “What Now?” film, is also ramping up production on a host of projects, including Hart’s new subscription-based digital network, Laugh Out Loud, a joint venture with Lionsgate. “He’s shooting content, he’ll own content, and it’ll exist on his own network,” adds Becky. “He’s at the forefront of all that.”
“A big goal for me now is the successful launch of Laugh Out Loud, and to put myself in a position where I can bring material to others,” states Hart. “I can bring jobs and help with a new generation of comedians. I’m trying to become a mogul — a comedy mogul, and the best way to do that is to do things that are comedy-based and where you can help those around you.”
That includes a close-knit group of comedians dubbed the Plastic Cup Boyz. “They’ve been touring with me since day one,” he says. “They open for me and now they’ve turned themselves into headliners in their own right as well as businessmen. You’re looking at guys on my writing team, guys that are now producing content for themselves, and who are now touring the world on their own when I’m not touring. Something that began as a small window has now really opened up into something that’s really big.
“I think when you look at a man and that man’s team, it’s a great way to judge that man’s success. Your team is a representation of you and where you are. So I love the fact that my guys are shining.”
Hart reports that Laugh Out Loud (LOL) is set to open “late February, early March next year,” and cites Tidal and Spotify as inspirations. “Tidal is artist-friendly, which makes it unique, and I thought, ‘What if there was a similar network for comedy? An artist-friendly operation where you put the power in the hands of the content creators?’
“That’s something that hasn’t been done before. Everyone takes, but after that there’s no ownership. So I want to put some of these young comedians in a place where they can create content and own some of that content, and I think that makes me and my network unique.”
Hart is quick to stress that it isn’t “just talk.” LOL has studios leased in Chatsworth, Calif., and is already shooting “miniseries, comedy specials, all kinds of shows, and we’re doing a lot of things that will make us a real competitor to the platforms already out there,” he promises. “At the end of the day, content is king, and it’s about building for the future, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Given his mogul ambitions and plans for LOL, it’s no surprise Hart is quick to cite such self-made success stories as Oprah Winfrey, Jay Z, and Tyler Perry, “all people who built their empires from the ground up, who started off with nothing and then made that nothing into something really big.
“One of the best things Oprah ever told me was about her trying to become the best version of herself. She said it’s an amazing thing, because then no one else matters. No one else knows what’s going on and knows what you’re going through. You are really competing with yourself, and she’s a person who really helped me shape that mindset I already had, into what it is now. It was a beautiful conversation, but more importantly, a huge inspiration for me.”