People Askin’ Questions: Is Kevin Hart “Black Famous”?

Kevin Hart just opened his latest concert movie Let Me Explain,bringing in $17.5 million at the box office. That’s astounding.One man, one mic, no pillowcase, on a stage, BY HIMSELF … 17 and a half milly. By the time it wraps up its theatrical run,Let Me Explain will undoubtedly nestle itself right beneath Eddie Murphy Raw, The Original Kings of Comedy and Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip as the fourth highest-grossing stand-up comedy concert film of all time and it could leap all the way to the No. 2 slot.

Hart taped Let Me Explain at his sold-out show at Madison Square Garden. You don’t sell out the Garden unless you are Big-Time with capital Bs and Ts. Matter fact, you don’t even play the Garden unless you’re Big-Time with capital Bs and Ts.

Yet, one wonders if Hart’s comet, with all his recent success, has finally left the orbit of, uh, black planet. Is he a legit mainstream star now, or is he still “black famous?”

At its core, that’s an exceedingly silly question, since, come on, “black famous” is an entirely made-up and subjective idea that’s based on something wholly subjective (i.e. being famous) in its own right. And there’s a level of shame inherent to willfully ghettoizing or stigmatizing someone’s fame with a modifier that, if we’re being honest, is being used somewhat pejoratively in this sense. But there’s no getting around the existence of niche fame. Go to certain urban high schools, drop the name Thom Yorke or Tunde Adebimpe, and Instagram the blank stares you’ll get in return. Ask a working man to name the biggest soap opera star. There’s “hipster fame,” “housewife fame,” “reality-TV fame,” “sports nut fame”… and there’s black fame. Boris Kodjoe will send a mall full of black women to the ER. Bono? Please.

It’s possible to be huge without being widely known.

For instance, the comedian with the top-grossing comedy tour of the past couple of years has been Jeff Dunham. Do you know who that is? Large swaths of the country (especially the coasts) do not. But if you count Jay Leno or David Letterman as parts of your nightly routine and/or watch Comedy Central like some folks watch ESPN, FoxNews or the Food Network, then you know Dunham to be the country’s most popular ventriloquist. Last year, he made more money than every comedian not named Jerry Seinfeld or Chris Rock. “Everyone” knows Seinfeld and Rock, just like everyone knows Larry the Cable Guy and Dave Chappelle. Everyone does not know Dunham.

Second to Dunham on 2012’s list of top-grossing North American comedy tours was Hart’s Let Me Explain tour, which grossed over $18 million in 2012. Hart sold out MSG twice, the Staples Center in L.A. … and London’s O2 Arena. The fact that Hart has gone global is another indication that his audience is expanding.

Last August, fresh off his highly successful 2011 Laugh at My Pain tour (which grossed $15 million on the road and surprised everyone, bringing in $7 million at the box office despite it costing less than $1 million to produce) and coming off his starring role in Think Like A Man – a “black blockbuster” – the New York Times interviewed Hart on the eve of his gig hosting the MTV Video Music Awards. It contained this nugget:

Though he estimates that 60 to 70 percent of his current audience is black, Mr. Hart said he did not cater his act to any particular group and expected that those numbers would become increasingly diverse as he takes his stand-up act global.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily white people or black people,” he said. “It’s people in general. If you want to appeal to everyone, you can’t do a world tour and expect black people to show up at every date — when you’re in Australia, when you’re in Dubai, when you’re in Indonesia.”

Let Me Explain was a world tour. And although a K-Hart concert crowd still skews overwhelmingly black (unlike, say, a Rock/Chapelle show), and although Hart is still a major celeb during NBA All-Star weekend and “just another star” during Super Bowl weekend (a cultural line of demarcation), the man’s national profile is unquestionably on a hurried rise with a steep trajectory. In 2014, he’s starring in a David Mamet remake as well as a buddy-cop flick with Ice Cube; he has a major role in a film with Sly Stallone and Robert Dinero, and according to a recent interview with, he’s scheduled for films with Will Ferrell, Seth Rogen and Chris Rock.

No more of that 2010 routine where you’d be with a group of friends, drop “say it with ya chest!” to gut laughs, find out someone present hadn’t yet watched Seriously Funny – or maybe still thought Hart was, at worst, the dude from Soul Plane or, at best, the dude from that one scene in The 40-Year-Old Virgin – and then initiate them into the cult. He’s bona fide now. He’s “host SNL the week after Bieber hostsSNL” famous now, like he did in March (hosting SNL is, in itself, a pretty good indicator of a widening audience). When that familiar SNL camera-pan closed in on Hart coming out of a commercial break and the man that Hart introduced on the stage was a young white dude, rapping about thrift shop clothes, hopping around the stage like Cesar Romero’s Joker on Batman the TV series it was clear – he’s just plain old famous now.

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