Kevin Hart on Dining With Eddie Murphy, Getting Disrespected by Don Rickles, and Finding Happiness Amid a Sea of Criticism

Comedian, actor, business mogul also opens up about his new Sirius XM show and late comedy legend Bernie Mac

January 27, 2021

Artists may be a rare breed but these days critics are a dime a dozen. All one needs is internet access and a Twitter account to anonymously tell some of the world’s most respected entertainers precisely what they thought of their latest movie, record, stand-up act, or even lifestyle choice—and when it comes to social media the harshest commentary is often the most amplified. But Kevin Hart doesn’t take the criticism personally. As far as he’s concerned, it’s just human nature playing out in the 21st Century.

“Everybody has always been judgmental. People just didn’t have platforms to display it. People used to do it in the privacy of their own home,” the multi-hyphenate performer, creator, and businessman told Howard on Wednesday. “You never fucking heard it.”

Fame and unsolicited negative feedback go hand-in-hand these days, so instead of getting discouraged about it Kevin has made the conscious choice to not let it bother him.

“You gotta understand that you’re never going to please them all. Never. Never. If you’re happy with doing what you love and you know you’re doing what you love at a very high level, then that has to be enough,” he told Howard. “Because if you’re doing it to try and please the world and get the acceptance from everybody in the world, well, then you’re never going to be happy.”

It’s good Kevin doesn’t waste time worrying about naysayers because he’s one of the busiest people in show business. Though he’s best known for stand-up comedy, writing, and acting, he also runs several entertainment companies, the digital comedy network Laugh Out Loud and the film, TV, and live event production company HartBeat. In recent weeks, he’s signed on to a four-picture Netflix deal and joined the cast of an anticipated Eli Roth and Cate Blanchett film. He even announced a new venture Wednesday morning during his conversation with Howard, a Sirius XM show about comedy called “Inside Jokes.”

Howard wondered how Kevin juggled so many projects at once. “I don’t know how you find the time,” he said.

“My schedule is intense, it’s strict, but there is no room for error. There’s no wiggle room,” Kevin responded, explaining he generally spends a few weeks at a time filming a TV show or film while also carving out time for making radio in the early morning or at the end of the day.

“Do you run the risk of burning out?” Howard asked.

“There’s an endgame. The endgame for me, it has nothing to do with my talent, it has to do with my infrastructure,” Kevin assured Howard, explaining his ultimate goal involved creating a network of self-sustaining companies and partnerships to manufacture high-quality content with or without him.

“You’ve gotta be close,” Howard said.

“I’m close,” Kevin said, explaining he wanted to “slow the fuck down” by the age of 50, so he could focus on his family and enjoy the little things in life.

Kevin Hart at home with a mural behind him of fellow comedy legends Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, and Bernie Mac Kevin Hart at home with a mural behind him of fellow comedy legends Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, and Bernie Mac Photo: The Howard Stern Show

Speaking of family, Kevin’s children are already gravitating toward the family business. His son Hendrix likes spending time on set and his daughter Heaven is interning at HartBeat Productions. “It’s going extremely well,” Kevin said. “They don’t take things for granted and that’s what I’m proudest of.”

Kevin may be at the top of his game now, but he still vividly recalls the struggles of an up-and-coming comedian, from convincing club owners he was funny to getting bumped by comedians with more clout.

“I had to go after Dave Attell, and it wasn’t good. It was rough. I went up there and fucking laid a dud. I laid a fucking dud,” he told Howard. “But the beauty of that dud was it gave me understanding of I’m just not there yet. I’ve got work to do.”

Attell was a tough act to follow, but the absolute toughest may have been the late comedy legend Bernie Mac. “Bernie was the comic that was nationally known as the guy you never wanted to follow. There was not an audience or room that Bernie Mac did not destroy, and by destroy—there was no laughter left, there’s nothing left. He took everything they have to give,” Kevin said. “The laughs that you get when you go after Bernie, it’s kind of discouraging because I just heard you all laugh harder than this.”

“There was only one man that was capable of that. R.I.P. to the late, great Bernie Mac, man. He will forever be honored in my home and on my wall,” he continued.

Kevin faced his share of obstacles even after making his name for himself. For example, he was already famous when he first met renowned insult comic Don Rickles at a star-studded Vanity Fair party, but that didn’t stop him from greeting Kevin with a racially disparaging comment.

“He grabs my cheek, he said, ‘You look like a little monkey,’” he told Howard.

“I know disrespect when I see it,” he continued. “I just got called a little monkey by an old white man and he grabbed my face when he did it. What do I do? I can’t push Don Rickles. I can’t go, ‘What the fuck did he just say?’”

“I just sat there and I said, ‘Man, I just wanted to come and say hi.’” Kevin recalled. “I immediately knew it was unintentional racism. It was unintentional. It wasn’t done with the intent to hurt and diminish, it was his bit.”

Looking back on the incident now, Kevin can laugh about it and even sees a silver lining. “It’s a great story for me because I processed it the way I did,” he told Howard, adding, “Those moments helped make me the man I am today.”

It’s hard to overstate the man Kevin is today, though despite his many successes he still makes a point of listening to and learning from trailblazing entertainers who came before him. He recounted one unforgettable dinner with Eddie Murphy, Chris Tucker, Chris Rock, and Dave Chappelle. Everyone at the table was an A-lister, but Kevin said Eddie was the clear star among stars.

“I’ll never forget this night. This was the biggest comedic night in my life,” he told Howard, explaining Chappelle got the group together at Mastro’s Steakhouse in Beverly Hills.

“We sit down at dinner and the dinner is so fucking great. It’s so great. In the middle of realizing how great it is, I realize why. It’s because we were all listening to Eddie give stories with fucking pizazz, personality, telling us what happened,” Kevin said. “We’re dying laughing and none of us are trying to one up the story. None of us are telling other stories. We’re all listening to and feeding off of Eddie’s energy.”

“Now, when you look back on it, it was us bowing down to the fucking G.O.A.T. in our mind,” Kevin concluded. “Regardless of where we were in our careers, Eddie was at the head of that table.”

Kevin Hart’s “Inside Jokes” debuts with special guest Jerry Seinfeld on Wednesday at 8 p.m. on Laugh Out Loud Radio, Sirius XM channel 96.

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