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How Kevin Hart’s Comedy Counter-Programmer Took on Tonto and Won

Per-theater average for concert pic 'Let Me Explain' tops Johnny Depp movie

For Kevin Hart, the self-chastising approach seems to be working.

In 2011, the stand-up comedian’s concert docu “Laugh at My Pain,” from Codeblack Entertainment, quietly became a standout box office performer, grossing nearly $8 million, from no more than 300 theaters at its widest. Now, “Let Me Explain,” which Lionsgate distributed through its deal with Codeblack, earned a solid estimated $17.5 million through Sunday. The comedy docu’s per-theater average of $11,530 was significantly higher than “The Lone Ranger’s” $7,539.

The opening success of “Let Me Explain” points to the star’s ability to tap into a fervent core audience, particularly in markets such as Baltimore, Atlanta, Dallas and Washington, D.C. The film — which could gross around $35 million, according to some pundits — cost just $2.5 million to produce and should end up more profitable than many a studio tentpole this summer.

SEE MORE: Film Review: ‘Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain’

“The man’s obviously got a rabid fanbase,” said Lionsgate distribution exec David Spitz. “The great win for us was positioning the film against these summer monsters and coming away with an opening like this.”

The diminutive comic also harnessed his large social media following, keeping his 7.7 million Twitter followers and 7.5 million Facebook fans updated with news of the film and endorsements from Hart’s friends such as Ludacris.

Let Me Explain” was filmed during a live set at Madison Square Garden, with two consecutive sold-out shows. Hart’s “Let Me Explain” tour in 2012 generated more than $32 million and sold nearly 541,500 tickets, with material mocking himself and his relationship troubles with his ex-wife.

Hart — who recently told the New York Daily News that he models his career after Eddie Murphy’s — has become a brand name in comedy whose concert pics play as counterprogrammers to tentpoles.

In addition to his stand-up gigs, the actor-comedian has been steadily feeding his fanbase with small — but memorable — roles in films like “Think Like a Man” and “The Five-Year Engagement.” He also recently appeared in Sony’s “This Is the End” playing a version of himself, who is eager break into the comedy circle by befriending the pic’s stars James Franco and Seth Rogen.

Up next for Hart is Universal’s “Ride Along,” co-starring Ice Cube and John Leguizamo, “About Last Night” and “Think Like a Man Too,” both from Sony-Screen Gems, and “Quick and Easy,” another Lionsgate-Codeblack release.

Lionsgate doesn’t plan to expand “Let Me Explain” as the film already has saturated markets where Hart’s core is strongest.

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