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Kevin Hart on why he became an athlete, why his Hollywood work ethic is so intense — and his true endgame

One of the funniest men in the world is also dedicated to make sure he’s one of the fittest

Kevin Hart’s health is no laughing matter. So much of his comedy is rooted in self-deprecation about his own physicality: he’s a 5-foot-4-inch man who makes you laugh even before he says a word. Especially if he’s paired up with a hulk of a man like, say, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson — the two of them together usually translate into cinematic gold. Sony’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, released Dec. 20, 2017, has now “earned $377 million in North America, and has topped $904 million globally … [Jumanji] is now Sony’s second-biggest global grosser of all time, between Spider-Man 3 ($890m in 2007) and Skyfall ($1.1 billion),” according to Forbes.

But if you’ve been paying attention, Hart is probably a far better athlete than anyone would naturally want to give him credit for. Yes, athlete.

Two years ago, Hart broke ground as the first comedian to partner with a major footwear and apparel company on a cross-trainer. Armed with a multimillion-dollar deal with Nike, his Hustle Harts are meant to inspire; he wants to help people find their inner athlete — everyday folks who didn’t think they had it in them. Just like him, at one point.

Now, Hart is one of the fittest men in Hollywood, sharing his journey via his social media outlets, including an impressive New York City marathon finish in 4 hours, 5 minutes, 6 seconds back in November — and, ahem, he bested former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber. Bragging rights for years.

Hart figures he’ll do a few more marathons before it’s all said and done. It’ll help him keep up his breakneck schedule: a new digital series called Cold As Balls, more films, production deals and, of course, a rigorous stand-up comedy touring schedule is on deck. Because the last thing he wants to ever do again is fall asleep onstage (more on that, later). We talk.


You’re coming off of Jumanji, one of the most successful films of last year, and you’re getting ready to get back on the road. Why is it so important for you to continue to stay out there?

I’m a comedian first. This is my craft, what I started as. And I built this big thing, and this big thing opened up a door to get me to another big thing. But if I forget about this first big thing, these doors could start to close, so I’m very adamant about staying on course. Stand-up is not only what I love, but … it’s what the world needs. People love to laugh.

You’re also an athlete — not sure if people really understand that. You run marathons, you have a shoe endorsement deal. How do you use and channel that competitiveness into this world of Hollywood?

“I got a DUI at one point and I said, ‘Oh, my God! Oh s—! I could have died. I could have hurt somebody.’ The reality of what it was then hit.”

Here’s the beauty of it: You get one life. And that one life, you got a choice to make. Do I want to live this life to the fullest and do I want to maximize my full potential while I’m on this earth? If I do, what does that entail, what does that mean? What am I going to do? That means I’m going to put absolutely all of my energy into my craft. I’m going to put it into becoming the best possible man that I can be. If I do that correctly, when it’s all said and done, and I look back at it, the story of who I am should be an amazing story.

The story of your life?

What can I accomplish along the way? That’s how I look at it. So when you’re talking about partnerships, when you’re talking about my career — you’re talking about goals. You’re talking about the athletic side; all of it fits within the story of Kevin Hart. That’s all I want. I want my kids to be able to go back and look at that and go, ‘Man, dad was cool.’ That’s it.

You’ve been grinding it out for a long time, and at a certain point it’s easy to lose that hunger, but you’ve never lost it. It’s only increased. How is that?

I don’t do anything halfway. I don’t want to sign on for a moment. I don’t need a check. That’s not what I’m here for. I want to be a part of something special. I want to build something. I want to do something that hasn’t been done. That’s how I take on everything. The day you lose that hunger is the day it closes and somebody comes up that has it. It’s not guaranteed that I sit in the seat I’m in, or that I’m going to be here forever. The day that you get comfortable and you expect things to stay the way they are is the day they change. I stay hungry as if I have nothing.

Let me tell you what looks really uncomfortable: Cold as Balls. Where the hell and why the hell did that concept come up?

The endgame, when it’s all said and done for me, is going to be a talk show. When my knees hurt and my arches are bad … I’m just going to have to sit still. And I think being a talk show host of some kind, being able to have the conversations with the people that I want to talk to … it’s something I know will be good. So, Cold As Balls is a way for me to tiptoe in that just to see how it would be. … The questions I’m asking may make [my guests] uncomfortable, may not, but the personality ultimately drives the conversation, and that’s why you’ve been seeing a lot of funny interviews. They’re coming out really, really good. I’m happy.

You didn’t play in the Celebrity Game at NBA All-Star this year, but there was a moment where the thing people thought about Kevin Hart wasn’t athlete. Initially when you started playing in NBA Celebrity Games, people were probably like, ‘Oh. The funny guy who’s short is going to play in the basketball game.’ And then, of course, you dominated.

Damn right I did!

“I stay hungry as if I have nothing.”

But you actually train — who is Kevin Hart the athlete?

Kevin Hart the athlete is a guy that just fell in love with the idea of giving myself a long time to live. When I looked at it, I lost some family members. I lost friends to just simple health issues, from severe heart attacks to strokes. High blood pressure that’s gotten crazy to where it’s flipped a person’s life upside down, to where that person can’t even maneuver the way they want to maneuver. When you look at the effect that just not taking care of yourself can have on you as a person, these are things that I think you don’t believe until you get hit with it. There was a point in time when I was younger [and] you couldn’t tell me that drinking and driving was as bad as everybody said it was … but I got a DUI at one point, and I said, ‘Oh, my God! Oh s—! I could have died. I could have hurt somebody.’ The reality hit … so I decided to choose a healthy road. That person that you’re defining as an athlete is really a person that’s just trying to stay healthy. I put a large demand on my body. You know, 14, 15 hours a day consistently. If I’m not taking care of myself, there’s no way that I can do that at a high level. It’s impossible.

Was there a point where you started shifting? Was it like five years ago?

There was a point that I was onstage — this is a true story — I fell asleep onstage one time. Nobody noticed. It’s a real story. I was literally performing, and like, you know, I’m up every day, but I’m drinking, I’m eating fast food, everything. And there was a moment we’re onstage and I stopped, and in the middle of a joke I fell asleep. It was like a good 30 seconds. And I woke up and I was like, ‘Yeah, man.’ And I got right back to the set. And I was like, ‘Oh s—!’ I just, I didn’t pass out. I really just fell asleep. I was like, ‘What the f—?’ I remember being so in shock at that moment, and then I remember I went and I looked at my data and I was like, I’ve been eating cheeseburgers and cheesesteaks and fries all day, and I get onstage, I’m giving like a half of a show. It’s like I’m sluggish, farting all onstage. Come on, Kevin. What are you doing, Kevin? Have you ever had that conversation, you had to really talk to yourself?

I’m having it right now!

Listen, I really was in the mirror and I was like, ‘Kevin, what the — come on, man. Look at you, Kevin.’ And I really had a moment where I was like, ‘Nah. This isn’t, it can’t be like this.’ Not if I’m supposed to give these people a show at a very high level every night. Not if I got to be on set and I’m supposed to be acting at a very high level every single day. Not if people are depending on me every single day. I got to make sure that I’m doing it to the best of my ability. And I don’t want people to think that when they read this that that means that should be your thing too. I think that when I say that, it’s also a heavy mental thing. So, for anybody out there, this is you understanding that, ‘Hey, you know what? Let me make sure that I’m taking care of me.’ There’s different levels to taking care of yourself. I’m a little extreme with it. That doesn’t mean everybody else should be extreme. There’s levels, but I think when you have that mentality, when you’re aware, you’re OK. Just don’t not be aware. That’s my piece of advice to any and everybody. Because when it smacks you, and then you go, ‘Oh, oh, what? Huh? I got to lose my foot?’ People really don’t understand that’s how fast the reality is. It’s not a, ‘Oh, you get a warning.’ It’s like, ‘Heart attack! Oh, s—! I almost died!’

That’s very real.

I saw it firsthand. So that’s where the athlete, that’s where the healthy guy, that’s where the running the marathons comes from. And then there’s a piece of wanting to achieve greatness in there too. Do you know the percentage of people in the world that have run a marathon? This is going to blow your mind.

Hit me with it.

It’s under 5 percent of the world.

Really?

So out of how many billion people, under 5 percent have actually ran a marathon. I want to be in that 5 percent … the marathon, I’m going to try to do five.

“Kevin Hart the athlete is a guy that just fell in love with the idea of giving myself a long time to live.”

Chasing personal greatness is part of the Kevin Hart story.

This is all a part of the story. The goal is while I’m on tour, I’m trying for a marathon, I’m going to be filming a movie at the same time. So the goal is to consistently keep it up, and then I think I run the marathon in October, so that would be checked off the list. I don’t want to fall asleep onstage.

What has to happen in 2018 for you to say that you outdid yourself this year?

I’m already trying to lay out 2019. The tour goes into 2019. It has to be the biggest tour ever in comedy … what’s my total number of specials that I want to do? George Carlin did 10. I’m on No. 6. I’ve got work to do. When it’s all said and done, what’s my catalog going to look like? What’s my movie catalog going to look like? Am I going to do more dramas? More animation? I’m producing stuff now. My company is part of me, with studios, it doesn’t stop. It literally just continues to grow and grow. Just a little Energizer Bunny.

Kelley L. Carter is a senior entertainment writer at The Undefeated. She can act out every episode of the U.S version of "The Office," she can and will sing the Michigan State University fight song on command and she is very much immune to Hollywood hotness.