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‘Jumanji’ Star Kevin Hart Remains True to His Comic Roots

When Kevin Hart leaves his mark in the hallowed ground on Dec. 10, he’ll be joining a veritable who’s who of Hollywood legends over the past 90 years in an honor he’s still wrapping his head around.

“You don’t see these things coming, and when they happen you just get blown away,” says Hart. “Seeing it in the ground, lasting forever, giving my kids something to see, to hold onto, is so powerful.”

The honor comes as Hart rides a wave of success and popularity stemming from appearing in hit films such as “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” and its upcoming sequel, “Jumanji: The Next Level,” as well as having a versatile television presence whether acting or hosting, along with juggernaut stand-up comedy tours, specials, albums and a robust online presence.

No matter where his career takes him, he’ll always look back to comedy as the starting point.

“Comedy has just, forever, been a major piece of me. It’s acted as an escape,” Hart says, recalling difficult early days in his hometown of Philadelphia. “When I was younger, when things were tough in my household or tough in my life in general, I just gravitated toward the Philly approach to life. The laughter is what pulled the wool over those moments. I was able to shoulder, shrug and maneuver and get away, all through the power of laughter.”

As with many comics who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, Hart points to Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor and Martin Lawrence as major early influences.

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“When you look at these guys, this is a time when all I wanted to do was to make people laugh,” he recalls. “You saw the impact that humor had on people, so it was an immediate ‘I want that!’”

Hart entered comedy on the ground floor, performing at amateur nights and paying his dues by touring small clubs and honing his craft, and that was sometimes daunting.

“You’re constantly challenged and faced with the decision to keep going, stay at it and stay on course. For me, the biggest go-ahead was the self-belief — really understanding that the only way I’m to get where I want to is to stay true to my dream.”

While the crowds have gotten exponentially larger, and he’s traded small clubs for packed arenas, Hart still draws his seemingly endless supply of energy from stand-up.

“The feeling has not changed. Regardless of my success, there’s a high level of excitement that comes from doing stand-up comedy,” he says. The thrill he feels just before setting foot on stage hasn’t receded. “The reaction I get, it’s something that I’ll never grow accustomed to, because I know where I’ve come from, and I know how hard it was to get here — I won’t take it for granted.”

As he built his stand-up career, Hart was always preparing himself for more, making sure he was ready when and if the time came for him to add acting to his toolkit.

“Stand-up comedy merges very nicely into the world of acting,” he says. “Opportunities come because one of the things that is required is humor. It was just up to me to be prepared for it. It didn’t start out pretty, but I took it all with a grain of salt and understood that everything was only going to make me better or stronger.”

Along with performing, Hart is also a formidable producer, with dozens of producing credits to his name. His production company, Hartbeat Prods., which has been making comedy specials for more than 10 years, produces content across multiple online channels and last year released its first feature, “Night School.”

Hart sees Hartbeat Prods. as focused on generating positive content.

“The world is in desperate need of laughter and people that can take our minds off of so much of the negativity,” he says. “I figured if I can put a team together that’s responsible for producing this kind of content, I can be forever on the ground. That’s what the grind has been for.”

Hart watched and learned as he made the transition into acting, noting one behind-the-camera influence specifically.

“Judd Apatow, from a producing side, has always been a big inspiration,” he says of the man who cast him in “Undeclared,” one of Hart’s earliest television roles. “I love the way he thinks, I love the way he produces and the ideas that he comes up with. He was somebody that just made me understand that it was possible for me to follow suit and do the same thing.”

Acknowledging those behind his success is important to Hart.

“It’s all done from a team perspective. From my Hartbeat Prods. team to my Laugh Out Loud team, to my Sirius XM LOL Radio team to my friends, my wife, my kids, managers, agents, everyone’s played a major part in helping me get to where I am today. And it’s not about staying here, it’s about seeing what else can be done.”

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