No matter the success Kevin Hart has obtained in TV, film, literature, and business, his meteoric rise all began with stand-up. It’s something he admits he can’t quit, despite past proclamations to the contrary. He sees the value in the platform so much, in fact, that in his new Comedy Central series he’s attempting to bring more comedians into the spotlight.
Debuting Sunday, Kevin Hart Presents: The Next Level features the Ride Along star providing a group of comedians with a career milestone: a televised half-hour special. Each episode features a new performer showcasing his or her comedic skills, but before they take the mic, they sit down for a brief conversation with Hart, who still may be the biggest name in stand-up. His last two specials have landed on the big screen, and for his previous tour What Now?, he became the first comedian to sell out a football stadium.
Ahead of the Next Level premiere, EW talked to Hart about how the series factors into his goal of being a mogul, what’s his next level, and why he can’t walk away from the stage.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why did you want to do this series? Is this you deciding to put the power of the name Kevin Hart to good use?
KEVIN HART: I think I’m in a position to help. I’m all about expanding my brand and building on it. When you have opportunities to do that, you take them. For me, with the goals of becoming a mogul and wanting to really do any and everything I possibly can, that comes with helping others and creating opportunities. And the more success you create for others, ultimately, creates more success for you. So that’s what it’s about: giving people a platform and a launching pad.
What did getting your first half-hour special mean to you?
It was everything. My first half-hour special was on Comedy Central, and I remember when the opportunity came, I was so grateful and, more importantly, excited about it. Because it felt like a stepping stone, the first big hump that I was able to get over. I want these comedians to have that same feeling and understanding. Then, match that to the fact they can associate it with somebody sitting in my position who is reaching back and giving this to them. I think it’s a big deal.
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Giving the Kevin Hart stamp of approval to a comedian is a big deal. How did you decide who you’d give this opportunity to? It’s interesting that these aren’t necessarily comedians new to the scene — many have been doing stand-up for more than a decade.
From the other series we do, Hart of the City, we thought it was a great idea to reward some of those comedians with the next step from that opportunity and keep that train going. It acts as the next level from the level they just crossed, so it’s one of those things where both ideas kind of merge with each other. They’re both great platforms, but one acts as an extension from the first, which is really good. These are people that are vetted out and we feel have amazing potential within the realm of stand-up comedy and can take advantage of the opportunity that is being given to them. And this opportunity is one that nobody is frowning upon. I think all of these comics are jumping at it and really trying to put themselves in the best possible position. So with that being the case, it makes it that much more exciting because everyone is bringing their A-game.
What did you hope to accomplish with the interviews at the top of each episode? And how was that role different for you? Even right now, you’re used to being the one answering the questions.
It was fun. I don’t think it was anything that came off as hard for me. I look at myself as an all-around talented individual, so multi-tasking and playing both sides isn’t something I’m a stranger to. It was good to be on the other side and to practice for my future hosting role, whether it’s me doing a late-night show at the tail end of my career or something in that realm. Asking questions and getting people to talk falls within the stand-up comedy hub.
As a once-struggling comedian, you said how much your first half-hour meant to you. What do you hope the comedians take from this opportunity?
I don’t want them to take any opportunity for granted. This is the first stepping stone of many for these talented comedians. You’ve got to take this and smile for now, but eventually, take that smile and turn it back to a stare that has a crazy level of focus in it, because they’re that much closer. These people will be our comedians for this generation to come. They’re more than funny, they take the craft serious, and I personally stand behind them and put a stamp on them. So I’m hoping they can put themselves in the position to be headliners and tour and create different financial opportunities.
This is the next level for them, but with all you’ve accomplished, what’s your next level?
Like I’ve said, I have goals of becoming a mogul. It’s not just one particular thing; it’s doing everything, whatever it is that I possibly can. I’m not content in no way, shape, or form. So from movies to stand-up to producing to writing to directing to launching a network, these are all things that are on my plate and more than excited about doing on the highest level.
Considering everything on your plate, is stand-up something you’re still as passionate and interested in doing? Last year, you seemed to declare that you were done touring.
I can’t walk away from stand-up. This is my baby. This is where it all started, so for me to turn my back on what got me to where I am today would be crazy. I’m in a really, really good position right now and I don’t want to end this. I want to keep it going, if I can.
The Next Level airs Sundays at 11 p.m. ET on Comedy Central.