Sunday, June 18, 2017

Review of "I Can't Make This Up: Life Lessons" by Kevin Hart and Neil Strauss

Kevin Hart is an award-winning comedian and actor, and it took him only 16 years to become an 'overnight success.' In this inspirational and entertaining memoir - written with Neil Strauss - Hart talks about his life, career, family, and friends - and it's clear that he's a loving son, loyal friend, devoted father, and exceptionally hard worker. Hart is also an honest man and admits that - in his youth - he was a bad husband to his first wife.....and gambled, drank, and splurged too much.

The book, though funny in places, is not chock full of jokes and hilarious bits - just so you know.

Hart was born and raised in North Philadelphia. His dad, nicknamed Spoon, was a drug addict and a 'player' - with girlfriends all over town. Spoon spent four years in prison, after which he split from Kevin's mother for good. Kevin - who says he was 'born with the gift of the shoulder shrug' - accepted the situation, said okay, and got on with his life. In fact, 'the shoulder shrug' helped Kevin get through many low points in his life.

After the split, Kevin and his older brother Kenneth would occasionally see their dad, which led to some of the 'scariest experiences' in Kevin's life. Among other things, Spoon let 8-year-old Kevin drive a motorboat - which he promptly crashed; and sicced a large dog onto the boys after Kenneth beat him at basketball. Spoon also stole from his family. At one point - when the boys were grown - Spoon robbed all the equipment from a barbershop Kenneth was about to open.....AND took his car. In spite of everything, Kevin chose not to get angry, and to appreciate his father.....who could be a very entertaining guy.

The biggest influence in Hart's life was his mother, Nancy. After Kenneth got into trouble with gangs and criminal activity as a teen, Nancy kept Kevin on a very short leash. If he stepped out of line, Kevin got hit with an open hand, fist, belt, shoe, slipper, or even a section of Hot Wheels track - which Nancy kept scattered around the house for convenience. (LOL)

To keep young Kevin occupied, Nancy enrolled him in extracurricular activities like basketball and swim team - which had hours of practice and weekend meets. When Kevin wasn't at school or doing sports, he had to stay with his 'foster grandmother', Ms. Davis.....or tag along with his mother to work, church, shopping, friends' homes, and Bible study. Though he was frustrated at the time, Kevin says all this activity prepared him for his life, which is very busy.

In school, Kevin wanted to be cool and attract girls - which is hard to do when you're short and don't have any money for flashy clothes. So Kevin decided to be funny....and the gals started hanging out with him. Thus, a comedian was born.

After high school Hart spent a short time in community college, then got a job in the sneaker department of City Sports. Kevin would often entertain his colleagues and customers with funny stories and jokes, and eventually started doing stand-up at 'The Laff House Comedy Club'.....using the stage name 'Lil Kev the Bastard.' This was the start of Hart's professional career. Around this time Kevin also met Torrei, the girl he'd be with for the next 12 years.

By the time he was 20, Hart was a regular performer at comedy clubs in Philadelphia - but itched to break into the big time. Invited to tag along by his friend, comedian Keith Robinson, Kevin began going back and forth to New York - 'the comedy capital of the world.' At New York's clubs, Kevin watched, learned, honed his craft....and eventually started performing. When Hart wasn't in New York, he did shows in Philadelphia. Kevin's frequent trips and gigs led to constant fights with Torrei, who continually accused him of cheating.

By the time he was 22, Hart got some movie and television deals, and moved to Hollywood with his girlfriend. Unfortunately, Hart's early opportunities didn't pan out, and he squandered what money he made on jewelry, furniture, and expensive meals. Then, at the age of 23, when Kevin was flat broke, he and Torrei got married - thinking this would improve their relationship. It didn't.

Hart's failed movies and cancelled TV series made him 'Hollywood poison', and the comic was compelled to reinvigorate his stand-up career. So, for the next seven years Kevin traveled all over the country, performing at EVERY comedy club and college he could book. Kevin's plan: to build a fan base so huge that entertainment moguls would HAVE to give him another chance.

To assist with his career, Hart engaged various agents and promotors, and his memoir contains advice about the right (and wrong) people to employ (hint: stay away from aggressive loudmouths and scam artists). In time, Kevin hired an agent named Dave Becky, who's still with him today. Hart also improved his act by doing away with contrived jokes and using his real life for inspiration - like the time he called the cops after Torrei slapped him across the face.....and the police didn't do a thing. In short, Hart learned to make comedy out of his uniqueness and personality.

Hart also surrounded himself with an entourage of fellow comedians and friends, who communally called themselves 'The Plastic Cup Boyz' - for the red cups they drank from. Everyone involved benefitted from the relationship. The chums helped Hart with his act, and Kevin provided jobs and career promotion.

While all this was happening, Kevin and Torrei started a family. Unfortunately, their relationship got more contentious and their fighting escalated. Kevin admits to numerous infidelities and much bad behavior during this period. To add to his woes, Kevin's mother passed away from ovarian cancer. The comic notes: "In my mind, my heart, and my life, she is still completely present to this day - and as wise, compassionate, and stubborn as ever."

When Hart was 30, he finally split from Torrei for good - so the children wouldn't have to see their folks fighting constantly. Around this time Kevin also starred in a hit movie, 'Think Like a Man' - which was a turning point in his career. From this point on Kevin's life was on an upward trajectory - with movies, comedy tours, TV productions, and more. Kevin, who never gets complacent and doesn't know the word 'enough', has even bigger plans for his future - both personal and professional.

To finish up, I'll mention a few bits of the story I found particularly memorable and/or funny:

- Kevin's mother could put 'the fear of God' into anyone.....except his father.

- Hart honed his 'charm' on his minder, Ms. she wouldn't tell his mother when he did stuff he shouldn't. Kevin later used this cultivated charm - and winning personality - to get jobs and opportunities.

- When Kevin got fed up with his mother's strict rules he went to live with his dad.....for ONE day. Then he hustled right back home. His mom KNEW that would happen (ha ha ha).

- In middle school, Kevin longed to have pubic hair - which he thought would make girls like him. So Kevin tried everything he could to sprout a bush - including hair oil, shaving cream, fertilizer, and prayers. (The fertilizer really cracks me up.)

- Young Kevin also thought a big weiner would attract the ladies. So he wore his brother's large shoes....hoping the girls would think his pecker matched his feet. LOL

- By the time Kevin was a teen, his mom gave up corporal punishment and switched to verbal reprimands. Nancy knew that - short of stabbing, shooting, or mace-ing Kevin, there was nothing she could do to physically hurt him.

And the best bit of all:

- When he was financially strapped early in his career, Kevin maxed out an American Express card.....and couldn't pay the bill. The company never forgot, and - even when Kevin was a huge success - denied him a card. In the book's acknowledgements, Kevin writes: "American Express, if you're reading this, please run my credit again. I wrote this entire book just to send a message to you: I'm now ready to handle the responsibility of a credit card."

I enjoyed the memoir, which is well-written and includes photos of people in Kevin's life. Highly recommended.

Note: Some of Hart's comedy shows are available on Netflix, in case you're interested. They're really funny!

Thanks to Netgalley, the authors (Kevin Hart and Neil Strauss) and the publsher (Atria/37 INK) for a copy of the book.

Rating: 4 stars


  1. Sounds interesting, Barb. I know from my daughter's experience how serious AmEx is about credit. She struggled for over a year--after what seemed to me a minor infraction--to 'get back in the Club'.

  2. Kali, I guess there's a lesson to be learned: Never get on the wrong side of American Express :)