This summer comedian Kevin Hart has been the king of New York. He sold out three shows at Madison Square Garden, followed by a doubleheader at Barclays Center, then spent the weekend in New Jersey knocking out a pair of gigs at the Prudential Center, all during the second week of July. Now he's returning on Aug. 28 to conquer Long Island when he headlines Nikon at Jones Beach Theater.
Newsday caught up with Hart post-MSG and just before he rocked Brooklyn on his "What Now?" tour. When asking him what he's been up to, the 5-foot-4 comedian casually says, "Just drinking milk, trying to get tall."
CONNECTING THROUGH STAND-UP
On stage Hart, 36, discusses all kinds of personal subjects like his family and relationships with extreme exuberance and animated body language. He's upfront and honest with his fans about where he's at in his life. In his 2013 concert film, "Let Me Explain," Hart tells the crowd about how he ended up getting divorced.
"Lying ruined my marriage," he says frankly. "That's a lie -- I cheated. Let's talk about it, though. Don't judge me. Let me explain."
Hart then proceeds to take them through a line-by-line fight he had with his ex-wife when he got caught lying and cheating.
"My goal is always to be relatable and talk about things on a broad scale that my fan base can identify with," says Hart. "I want them to say, 'I've done that!' or 'That's me!' "
Part of Hart's charm is his warmth and ability to emotionally connect with his audience on both film and stage.
"When you talk about your kids or your relationship problems, you're opening up to people and it brings you closer to them," says Hart. "I'm very much a normal individual."
Never known for being a dull guy, Hart says it was his parents who gave him with his "perky personality," which comes across in his stand-up act. But now that he's famous, the bar is raised a little bit.
"I think it brings a different level of excitement to the shows," says Hart. "The crowd is not coming in negative, like, 'Man, he better be funny or else!' They want you to be funny. It's more of an anxious laughter that's coming."
Just like all the other comics, Hart works out his material in small clubs and theaters before moving it into an arena.
"You build up to it; you can't just jump on an arena stage," says Hart. "The blueprint that the comedians before me used isn't broke, so I don't want to try and fix it."
Chris Rock and Louis CK are two guys that Hart looks up to and cites as mentors and inspirations.
"To be able to get advice from Chris anytime has been a plus," says Hart. "Louie is someone I'm a big fan of because he's always putting out specials, revamping and rebuilding. It makes me get off my butt and work on days that I don't want to."
COMEDY RETURNS TO ARENAS
Stand-up comedy is currently running at an all-time high, moving from nightclubs to sports venues. Following in the footsteps of Steve Martin ('70s), Eddie Murphy ('80s), Andrew Dice Clay ('90s) and Dane Cook (2000s), Kevin Hart has brought comedy back to arena status.
"I think this is the greatest time in comedy since the '80s. Comedians are relevant again," says Marc Lund, co-owner of Governor's Comedy Club in Levittown. "Kevin worked really hard to get where he is and he's developed a big following. Young comedians coming up should follow his lead."
Hart's goal is to turn a large arena into an intimate space. "The biggest bonus is getting 15-20,000 people quiet and listening intently to my story," says Hart. "People are listening with anticipation for the punchline or the next piece of the story. It's a different level of excitement for me."
However, this time around Hart is moving his production outdoors at Jones Beach on Aug. 28, but he's not worried about the transition.
"When it's done right, the vibe is the same, depending on the seating situation," says Hart. "If it's an open space with no structure or system in place, then it gets tough. But if you are sitting down pointed toward the stage, it will be fine."
Hart, who grew up in Philadelphia, says his mother instilled lessons in him that he still taps into today.
"My mother taught me to treat people the way I want to be treated," says Hart. "In order to get respect, you have to give respect. I live by that."
Another key lesson Hart has learned is to be global, not just focus on the United States but play to a larger audience.
"There are a lot of people in the world -- my goal is to make everybody laugh," says Hart. "Everything so far in my career has been amazing. I'm just taking it all as it comes."
Kevin Hart has been busy, appearing in five films in 2014 and co-starring in two this year ("The Wedding Ringer" with Josh Gad and "Get Hard" with Will Ferrell). However, stand-up remains his true love.
"Stand-up is first and always will be," promises Hart. "I enjoy doing movies, but I'm always going to stay true to stand-up comedy. It's what I do, it's my identity."
Next year Hart will share the screen with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in "Central Intelligence," an action-comedy in which he plays an accounting wiz that helps Johnson's character when he gets blamed for a crime he didn't commit.
"Me and DJ are very good friends. Our chemistry is great and I'm excited about our collaboration," says Hart. "It's a buddy film that puts both of us in a different light than we've ever been before."
Also coming up is "Ride Along 2," in which he reteams with Ice Cube in a sequel to their 2014 hit.
"We really want to wow the audience on this one," says Hart. "The best way to do that was come with more action, more bang and more star-power."
Doing the 2013 film "Grudge Match" with two screen legends, Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro, was a unique experience for Hart.
"These guys are polished vets who take their jobs very serious. They always show up prepared and ready to go," says Hart. "When you are around that type of company, you hope it rubs off."
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m., Friday, Aug. 28, Nikon at Jones Beach Theater
INFO $30-$199, 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com