It’s hard to believe Kevin Hart wasn’t always funny. At a diminutive 5’2, the site of his oversized pants and small frame warrants a giggle at his struggle to be bigger. But the truth is that at a point in life, the only one who believed Kevin was funny, was Kevin. After high school he hit the comedy scene in Philadelphia, eager to perform in dirty clubs. His passionate, anxious hustle was met with snarky, bully-like boos off the stage. But the tiny man, who at the time called himself, "Lil' Kev the Bastard," was more like an annoying, determined gnat, ducking swats, knowing he'll keep coming back. "I was trying to be everybody," says the 33-year-old. "I was so confused, I didn't know what to do."

    But Kevin had heart. Pun intended. All he knew was that he wanted to be a comedian. He had to do it. So the funnyman found a mentor. Keith Robinson. An old school comedian who went on to teach Hart one of life's most valuable, therapeutic lessons – laughing at one’s self. Embracing difficult experiences. Sharing tales in a way that helps release the pain, make people laugh, and heal the wounded soul. With the newfound skill in honest self-assessment, Kevin hit the comedy clubs again. But this time, things were different. This time, people were giggling, relating, and understanding the struggle of a little man who grew up with a family from the hood, that had no couth, in a single parent household with a drug addicted dad who was a system regular. The cathartic exercise ran Kevin to confidently sign up for amateur comedy competitions. Some he won, further expanding his name and reach. Slowly, Kevin Hart took off, touring the country, snagging gigs, and eventually landing him roles in Hollywood films. But a one-sentence description, makes his climb sound too fast and easy. “I think so many people want so much, but they don't understand the work ethic that has to be put in, to get to a certain level of success. It doesn't happen overnight. I have a saying I said before my show, Laugh at My Pain, ‘Everybody wanna be famous, but everybody don't wanna do the work,’” he says. “I’m 16, 17 years in the biz. And my last years have been my 3 years of success from stand-up comedy to movies. So it took 16 years to get to a point where now people say, "Oh who's this guy?" I been around for a long time. I just have the patience to do it.”

    What started as small scenes in TV movies back in 2001, grew to roles in the Scary Movie franchise, Along Came Polly, The 40 Year Old Virgin, to name a few. With his growing success, he eventually self-financed the hugely popular, 2011 comedy tour and documentary, Laugh at My Pain. Despite it costing only $2.7 Million to make, the project amassed over $27 Million making it, according to Forbes, the 4th top grossing standup film of all time. Now, 13 years after his initial IMDB credit, Hart has his very first leading man role in Ride Along, working next to hip hop and Hollywood veteran, Ice Cube. “I was excited by the opportunity. He's responsible for so many people's careers and so much success of his own. " says Kevin. "I'm stepping into something that has already worked several times. So it's about me having my shit together, to not throw this man off his balance and what he's done. So I was just pumped up.”

    The buddy cop comedy features Kevin Hart as Ben Barber, a wannabe police officer and husband. After being accepted to the academy, he finally feels ready for marriage. But first he must win the respect of his fiancée’s brother, James Payton, played by Ice Cube. With nearly three decades in the business, Cube’s film career has seen him work with everyone from Chris Tucker to Mike Epps. But his experience with Kevin was different.

    “What surprised me was his energy level. Some comedians I've worked with, they don't have the energy to keep it light for the crew and when it's time to work, jump in front of the camera. Either they mess around with the crew too much and can't get their stuff on camera right, or they quiet as hell and then they turn on when the camera turns on,” says Cube.  “Kevin? What you see is what you get, on and off. And the energy level is extremely impressive, how witty he is and how quick he is and how he's able to own a scene, control a take, control the environment. Basically having you eat out the palm of his hands till he lets you go. Not too many actors have that quality. To me, that's Eddie Murphy atmosphere, when you can just command the stage. That's what Kevin has.”

    Kevin Hart: Cube’s a good dude. People have this certain idea of who he is because he has this certain profile. But I’m not gonna tell you that he’s a softy. But Cube is a hugger.

    Ice Cube:  You a damn liar.

    Kevin: No, he’s really a nice guy. He gave me a hug. He said, ‘I love you man. I never did mean it when I said, ‘Fuck the Police.’ And I was glad he shared that moment with me.

    Cube: Kev is a damn liar…

    Ride Along hits theaters January 17