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After already checking off so many boxes on the way to his goal of becoming a mogul, Kevin Hart decided to add author to the list. His reasoning: “Why not?”
That simple question inspired Hart to write his new memoir I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons, which, upon its release in June, landed on The New York Times best-seller list.
Simply telling his life story wasn’t enough for the comedian, though, who decided he also had to be the one to voice the audiobook for Audible. EW got up bright and early to sit-in on one of Hart’s 5 a.m. recording sessions, where he brought his patented energy and improvisation.
During a recording break, EW chatted with Hart about what he wants readers to walk away with, going off-page for the audiobook, and the toughest moments to relive during the process.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’ve been successful in so many endeavors, so why now a book?
KEVIN HART: The question is “Why not?” This is what I don’t understand about people with success. I just don’t believe in gaining a high level of success to not have more success. If there’s something people are doing and it can be done and it’s available to you, why not take it? Why not go for it? That last name Hart has to mean something — the legacy of who I am and who I will end up being. Also, the goal at hand of becoming a mogul. It’s not just a conversation. It’s not just a sentence. It doesn’t happen if I don’t make it happen. But a mogul’s a person who does everything, has his hand in everything. I’m a writer. All my stand-up specials are written by me. It’s all Kevin driven. I’ve got an amazing story and I learned a lot of s— from my mistakes. That’s a book. Why can’t I be an author?
And instead of doing an ordinary memoir, you took the approach of writing in terms of “life lessons.” Why did you steer the structure in that direction?
Because the life lesson aspect of the book has to come from a unique perspective. Everybody can see, “Oh wow, Kevin Hart is successful.” Nobody wants to hear, “And that’s when the movie made $100 million at the box office.” You don’t just want to read about another person’s wins. What happened before that? How did you really get there? I don’t want the hero story. I don’t want to hear that s—. I don’t want to hear about your money. That serves me nothing. I want to know about the story. I want information because then I can apply that to myself, to my life. That’s what I’m doing for others. I’m giving you my story so you can see how many times I was punched in the face, how many times I was hit in the back, how many times I was rejected. But I overcame that. Ultimately, you walk away with something from the material that you’re reading, and I think those are the powerful books.
You’re a storyteller through your stand-up, so do you think that helped you in writing and then performing the book? You kind of have a built-in advantage.
I was going to say, that’s the upside of it. That’s why my process was probably a lot longer than others. It’s work, but I embrace work. I don’t frown upon it. If you want to find a high level of success in something, then you have to put your all into it. So with this particular project, it’s something I had to be really hands on with. Because I am performing it, I’m making sure I’m giving the perfect visual with a comedic tone, but at the same time, a strong level of heart. So because I have an amazing amount of training by being a comedian and doing this for a living, I think adding that component to the actual narration of the book was a big oomph and it’s something that people are going to jump at.
Your producer on the audiobook, Kat Lambrix, was telling me they just let you roll, even if it means going off book and improvising. That’s the comedian in you, adding something you instantly remember or elaborating on a story. As Kat was saying, that’s not normally part of this process, so is that something you felt you had to do to make this a unique listen?
I think that’s the beauty of improvisation is never to change with bad intentions — it’s always to enhance. So the material on the page, even though it’s coming from me, as you’re reading it, there’s more funny things that will pop up occasionally where I’m really talking to the listener. And I think when you can find ways to engage and make things personal is when you separate yourself from the pack. At the end of the day, anything with the name Kevin Hart on it I want to be in a different category. I want there to be a high level of authenticity and realness to it. And when I’m talking to people and not at them, you give that level of real, you give that listener the opportunity to relate and understand and really feel the words, really feel where you’re coming from. Hopefully by the end of it they have a different level of respect for me and my story.
How does this process compare to all the various projects you’ve done in the past, whether it’s stand-up, film, or television?
What I can compare it to is, I’ve done animation now, and when you get in these booths, you’re in a booth by yourself. You have a picture of the character you’re playing and even though you have a script, you have to really make a decision on how you’re going to make this character pop in such a unique way that this audience is not just going to relate and laugh, but that they’re going to care about his story. I say that to say, I’m thinking about the audience and listener at all times. If Kevin Hart’s going to read a book, you want Kevin Hart to read a book. If I just sat there, [monotonous voice] “And then, they came back and that’s what the time came, and the next part of my life was this right here.” What is the point of me doing it? I can have anybody narrate my book. But if I’m going to narrate my book, I’m going to narrate my book. I’m going to give you a show-like performance within the narration so you are intrigued and you don’t want to press the stop button, like, “Kevin Hart has done it again.” That’s the goal at hand. I can’t accomplish that goal if I don’t give you all of me in every single aspect. And in this particular case, it had to be the good, the bad, the ugly, and I gave it. You have to be able to really believe it, you’ve got to really understand that this is coming from a heartfelt place, hence the title, I Can’t Make This Up. You can’t.
You mention giving the good, bad, and ugly — there’s definitely some deeply personal details and stories in here. Were there any specific moments that were especially hard to relive through the writing or recording process?
I’d say the toughest part of the narration is when I talk about my mom passing away. Until this day, I’m not sure if I’ve ever fully mourned my mom. I’m not that type of an emotional person; I’m somewhat of an alien or a robot, the way I can separate reality from false reality and emotion from things you can’t control. So talking about it stirs up a heavy level of “I wish my mom could be here to see this.” But then there’s another part of me that turns on a different button of “I know my mom’s proud of me.” Then, talking about my ex-wife, and the ups and downs we had, of course, you’re going back and admitting your rights and wrongs. I have no problem saying, “This is where as a man I didn’t step up to the plate like I was supposed to.” I cheated. I was the one that started the whole infidelity train. I was young, I didn’t appreciate the situation for what it was, and I lost respect as we got worst. But I had to walk away because I wanted to do right by her. Ultimately, she would be happier. A lot of people can’t do that, they can’t be that honest with themselves. A lot of people can’t put that weight on their back of “I’m going to be a villain for a minute.” You got to be a different type of individual to know that, deal with that, survive that, overcome that, and then, prove everybody that once hated you wrong. Not by throwing what you did in their face, but showing you’re a better individual, a more polished individual, and you’re now in a position to give and love much better than you were before.