Defining Kevin Hart

Kevin Hart on authenticity and the missteps that made him a better man

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Who is Kevin Hart? The answer to that question isn’t straightforward. Kevin Hart is many things: Comedian. Actor. Writer. Author. Producer. Network owner.

Those are just a few titles on his résumé, but his aspirations don’t stop there. By the time he’s 45, Kevin plans to add business mogul to his growing list of accomplishments, joining entertainers like Oprah Winfrey and LeBron James.

Perhaps what sets Kevin apart from other comedians and actors is that he is more than just an entertainer for hire. He’s gone from being a cog in the Hollywood machine to being the machine by strategically building a media empire inking production deals with major TV networks and film companies.

So what is it that keeps him going? Where does he get his drive from? Why is he so hungry for more, even though he’s already achieved an extraordinary level of success? In this episode of the Tony Robbins Podcast, you’ll get the answers to all of these questions.

Kevin shares his story of how he went from being a shoe salesman in Philadelphia to breaking through the competitive world of show business and becoming one of the highest paid entertainers in the world.

But his story is much more than that.

  • It’s about capitalizing on opportunities, and never settling for less.
  • It’s about fighting his way to the top, while honoring those that helped him get there and being committed to helping others succeed.
  • It’s about making mistakes, and then learning from them.
  • It’s about discovering his own human flaws, but leveraging them to become more relatable, which, in a time of disconnect between entertainers and the entertained, business owners and consumers is more important than ever.

Humble beginnings

The answer to the question “Who is Kevin Hart?” resides in his childhood. He grew up in a single-parent household in Philadelphia, and he credits his mother as his biggest influence. She was supportive, yet strict. She demonstrated work ethic with her own actions, going to school and working multiple jobs. She instilled a love of personal growth in Kevin that has stayed with him throughout his life.

At a young age, Kevin also learned that laughter didn’t just feel good – it could be freeing and healing. He strove for that feeling even as a child, becoming the class clown and attempting to make his straightforward, matter-of-fact mother laugh on a daily basis. As with any successful person, humble beginnings didn’t hold him back. They inspired him and drove him to become better, work harder and achieve more than anyone thought possible.

Seizing opportunity

As he grew up, he knew he wanted to catapult his love of making people laugh into a career – he just didn’t know how to get from making his coworkers chuckle to seeing his name up in lights. When those same coworkers suggested he go to an amateur night around the corner from work, he realized this was exactly the step he needed to take.

Kevin explains his philosophy this way: “When you get dealt certain hands, sometimes you have no idea what the turn is going to be.” And it could be the greatest card you’ll ever be dealt. That’s why Kevin takes chances and has zero fear of failure: He knows that seizing every opportunity is the only road to success.

No fear of failure

The fear of failure often stands in the way of attempting new things – or worse, at attempting things again. Many of us would classify Kevin’s first amateur comedy performance as a disaster. His jokes didn’t land, the audience was silent and his coworkers were likely wincing in the wings. 

But none of that mattered. As he stood on the stage tossing his jokes out to the unresponsive audience, he knew he was charting a course that would lead him to what he wanted. He felt no fear on stage, because he would learn from the mistakes he made during this first night and do better next time. He framed failure as a learning experience instead of a cataclysmic event and moved on from that.

The power of proximity

Kevin fully believes in the power of proximity to propel you to success. He’s surrounded himself with greatness in every aspect of his life, as early and as often as he could. He found a mentor in veteran comedian Keith Robinson. He counts Oprah, Drake and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson among his friends. Rather than being jealous of others’ success, he uses it as fuel to work harder, saying, “I’m not doing as much as I could, because these people are proof that the things I want to do can be done.”

Kevin knows that no one reaches peak levels of success alone – you need a great team around you. You need to find the people who believe in you. The people who can make your ideas work, filling in the skills you don’t have and keeping a positive attitude through hard times. You need to build a great team, but you also need to lead them to success: “If your team obtains success that’s the best indication of a great leader.”

You get one life

The ability to see failure as an opportunity helped Kevin move along on his path. He took the advice of his mother to heart: “You only get one life, and you’re only gonna get out of it what you put into it.” Instead of being afraid of change and of failure, he lets his hunger drive him to greater and greater levels of success. 

"The only way to get to the point of change is to understand the mistakes that are made before the change" Kevin Hart

Episode notes

[02:28] Tony thanks Kevin
[03:29] How Kevin went from selling shoes to being a high paid entertainer
[03:00] Doing an open mic and falling in love with the spotlight
[04:37] Kevin’s first experience on stage
[05:12] The influence of Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy
[05:55] Kevin realizes the power of laughter through his father
[06:38] Kevin’s mother’s unwavering support
[07:17] Kevin’s mother gives him a year to prove himself in comedy
[07:47] The best advice Kevin’s mother ever gave him
[08:44] The power of knowledge and never being content
[09:32] A tree only stops growing if you choose to stop watering it
[10:24] Why Kevin’s mother never attended shows
[11:08] Kevin’s mother’s memorabilia box
[12:01] Why what you don’t know is sometimes better
[12:46] The constant applause from Kevin’s mom in heaven
[13:10] The story of Kevin asking his mother for rent money
[14:10] Kevin decides to read his Bible
[15:12] Don’t lose your faith, keep your faith and read the Bible
[15:40] Kevin’s experience of losing his mother
[17:56] How to maintain the highest spirit in the toughest times
[18:46] Why you can’t break what’s built to last
[19:06] Kevin’s self effacing style humor
[20:13] When being funny becomes a part of your identity
[20:39] Why it’s important to be real and relatable
[21:35] How Kevin has grown his fan base through honesty and authenticity
[22:35] Kevin’s first real breakthrough in comedy
[23:10] Kevin’s first joke: The perverted world of public transportation
[23:40] Kevin’s worst joke about being robbed
[24:33] How comedy has changed through the years and the role of social media
[25:00] What happens when everybody has an opinion
[25:29] How Kevin has adapted over the years
[26:33] How making mistakes has made Kevin a better person
[27:22] Kevin’s approach with his kids on how to learn and grown
[28:18] The best thing about being authentic
[28:38] The unfair expectation of perfection in today’s culture
[29:09] The one thing that Kevin is truly afraid of
[29:40] The worst movies Kevin has done
[30:14] What Kevin loves about his movie The Upside
[30:39] How Kevin is reinventing himself and the next chapter
[31:19] Where Kevin gets his drive to be a mogul
[32:04] Kevin’s process of learning to be better
[33:04] The impact and influence of Oprah, Jay-Z and Mark Zuckerberg
[33:50] Why you can be much more than what you seek out to do
[34:04] How Kevin has gotten 170M followers on social media
[34:33] Being transparent with fans on social media
[35:15] Using social media to make an impact on fans
[36:01] Going above and beyond to create change
[36:47] Seizing the opportunity to step up and make change
[37:57] Matching donations to create a bigger impact
[38:18] Kevin’s sending kids to school through the United Negro College Fund
[38:56] Tony matches Kevin’s $600,000 donation to send kids to school
[39:44] Making change in urban communities
[39:59] Financial Fitness partnership with Chase Bank
[41:01] Kevin’s mindset in being successful in business
[41:42] The power of learning from other creative minds
[42:13] Finding the right team to bring ideas to reality
[43:19] Why Kevin couldn’t be anywhere without his team and fans
[44:50] The role physical fitness plays in success
[45:46] Kevin’s new physical fitness health and wellness line
[46:35] Kevin’s 6th comedy special on Netflix and why he wants to get to 10
[47:32] The meaning behind each comedy special name
[49:51] Kevin’s role models growing up and today
[50:30] What most people don’t know about Jerry Seinfeld
[51:27] Why Dave Chapelle is a great friend and his approach to life
[52:06] How Chris Rock had influenced Kevin’s comedy
[53:04] The best thing about having relationships with other comedians
[53:32] How Kevin Hart defines himself today
[54:31] Kevin’s philosophy on the best way to lead a team
[55:10] A flawed family man that loves to lead and see his people win

Ultimately, the answer to “Who is Kevin Hart?” is changing all the time. Kevin believes he’s still growing, changing and has the ability to be better. “I want to see what’s next,” Kevin says. Reaching one level doesn’t mean he sits back and enjoys success. There is always something else around the corner, some new, exciting thing to pursue. By always reaching for more, he’s creating the life he wants for himself and the world he wants to live in. 

Team Tony

Team Tony cultivates, curates and shares Tony Robbins’ stories and core principles, to help others achieve an extraordinary life.

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