You know the stars that land a big role almost immediately after getting to Hollywood? The ones that steadily ride an upward trajectory from bit parts to starring roles in indies to starring roles in studio films to A-list status? Think Tom Cruise. Think Jennifer Lawrence. Absolutely, under no circumstances think Kevin Hart.

Ten years ago at the tender age of twenty-four, he nabbed the starring role in Soul Plane. And it bombed. Terribly. It didn’t even make its sixteen million dollar budget back. A failure before he even began, he was basically written off by the studios and forced to start from scratch, shackled with a reputation that he wasn’t mainstream enough to carry a movie.

So, over the last decade, Hart has slowly climbed his way back to the top. This weekend, he and Ice Cube are set to topline Ride Along, and in case if you haven’t noticed, Hart is damn near everywhere else too. A strong case could be made that he’s the single most popular comedian in the United States, and he could well turn into one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

Here’s how he got there…

Maximized His Relationship With The Apatow Gang
In case if you’re the last person on Earth to realize this, Judd Apatow is a star maker. He’s a man with connections who produces a ton of movies and loves working with people he’s collaborated with in the past. Hart got his start on the director/ producer’s incredibly underrated sitcom Undeclared, where he met and became friends with Seth Rogen. His three episode arc impressed Apatow enough to land a small role in 40-Year-Old Virgin. Parts in Drillbit Taylor, Five-Year-Engagement and more recently, This Is The End followed, all of which gave him opportunities to steal scenes and stay on Hollywood’s radar.

Even after Hart started building more of his own momentum, Apatow proved to be a worthy contact. He recently introduced Hart to MTV executives with a recommendation that he be given hosting duties. They agreed and a brand new partnership was born. Moving forward, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him work on more projects with other Apatow Gang members.
Improved His Stand-Up Act
Most young comedians spend an overwhelming majority of their time on stage. They perform constantly, tinker with their bits and try to follow that route to its logical conclusion. Hart actually spent a long time after he first got to Hollywood focusing on the acting side, which went well enough to keep him eating and marginally famous. Over the last half decade or so, he’s really started pouring more energy into stand-up tours, stand-up specials and partnerships with premium cable networks. These examples of direct audience interaction allowed him to build a great reputation inside his target demographics. The positive word of mouth eventually spilled out to everyone, and suddenly, his tours started grossing eight figures, which is incredible for a stand-up.

A lot of brilliant comedians get away from stand-up once they start gaining the ability to greenlight their own projects in Hollywood. They return now and again, of course, but that’s no longer their primary occupation. I have no idea which way Hart will go moving forward, but considering how brilliant he is with a microphone in his hand, I hope he always finds time to get in front of a crowd and make audiences laugh in person.
Became BFFs With The NBA
Kevin Hart loves basketball, and the NBA, both the executives and the players, really seem to love him. He’s done promotional spots. He’s done commercials. He’s played in the league’s annual celebrity game. He’s appeared on ESPN to talk hoops. If you watch your television long enough, you’ll see Hart and LeBron James together in Samsung commercials. On the surface, it sounds like a pretty weird interest, but in practice, it’s really, really beneficial for his reputation and for keeping him in the public eye.

There are very few things more popular in urban communities than the NBA, and there are very few careers that have more honest to God stars right now than the NBA. LeBron is quite possibly one of the ten most famous people on Earth, and recently, when he decided he wanted to act, he not surprisingly, picked Hart as his co-star. So, yeah, the fact that he runs around with LeBron and hosts parties with Chris Paul does have a tangible benefit and will continue to for the long haul.
Figured Out Social Media
Kevin Hart isn’t the most active guy in the world on YouTube, but he puts in just enough effort to make fans feel personally connected. His videos regularly generate high six figures, which is massive considering they don’t usually involve his stand-up act. More importantly, the individual clips from his shows work extremely well in small, easily shareable segments. In fact, many of his greatest hits have attracted millions of eyeballs, and rather than steering people away from his live shows, they’ve convinced these new converts to check out tour stops.

His Twitter also boasts almost ten million followers, and he updates it like crazy, interacting with fans, telling jokes and generally, being a real person. He’s sent out almost twenty thousand Tweets, and there’s definitely not some publicist secretly running it. He’s way too genuine and willing to go to strange places for that, a fact that just endears him even more to all of the fans who support his performances and see his movies.
Stole Scenes When He Had The Chance
All of these other things are nice bonuses, but if I were only allowed to pick one reason, I would definitely go with this. Through incredible charisma and brilliant timing, Hart has spent the past decade stealing scenes almost every single time he’s gotten the chance. It happened in Five-Year Engagement. It happened in Grudge Match. It happened in 40-Year-Old Virgin. You pick a movie and Hart was probably one of the best parts about it, and after enough years of that, it can lead to a dramatic increase in roles. Just ask Dr. Ken Jeong. He followed the same trajectory, though while he may have peaked, Hart’s rise seems to just be getting started.

That’s why, when you’re trying to make a name for yourself, it’s good to just say yes. Yes, I’ll grab a scene in Epic Movie. Yes, I’ll take Fold’s Gold and Meet Dave and Little Fockers because if you’re good, I mean really, truly good, it doesn’t matter if the larger material sucks. Being the best part about a horrendous movie is far from a disaster. It makes people want to put you in better shit. Hart knows.
 

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