Kevin Hart on Stepping Into Jerry Lewis’ Shoes as MDA Telethon Host: I Hope to ‘Walk in Them Correctly’

Kevin Hart Variety Cover Story
Pamela Littky for Variety

As first-time host of the Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon, Kevin Hart knew he had to make the event big and starry. The lineup includes Gabrielle Union, Daniel Levy, Jack Black, Usain Bolt and Michael B. Jordan.

“You just go through the phone,” Hart told Variety ahead of the virtual fundraiser. “You just call everybody and if you can’t make it, then you’re donating.”

Expanding his involvement in philanthropy, the actor-comedian inherits late legendary comedian Jerry Lewis’ role as host of the annual fundraiser. “I’ll hopefully step into the amazing shoes that Jerry Lewis wore and walk in them correctly,” he said. “It’s something that I don’t want to do one time. I’m hoping that this is going to become a yearly thing that I can be a part of, and check off something next to my list that hasn’t been checked off for a while.”

Leading up to the virtual event on Saturday at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET are seven weeks of live gaming and esports activities. “I’m excited to raise money. I’m excited to give,” Hart said. “I’m excited to change lives.” Hart’s most high-profile job offer — hosting the Oscars in 2019 — went down in flames after controversy erupted over anti-gay jokes he made on Twitter about a decade before.

Working night and day in quarantine, Hart divides his time between pitching upcoming projects, including a “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” remake with Will Smith, and overseeing his Help From the Hart charity that provides college scholarships to Black students.

With universities unexpectedly closing campuses this year, Hart and his team are “trying to see the temperature of the world” to understand when would be best to provide additional funding for students returning to campus.

Meanwhile, Hart hopes to spread hope for those with muscular dystrophy: “I’m excited to put up a nice new reason for more hope, not that there isn’t hope, but more hope and understanding that things are going to get better, that they’re loved and that they’re not forgotten about.”

The two-hour special can be watched on LOL Network streamers, including YouTube and Pluto TV, and on Facebook, Twitch, TikTok and Triller. It will be rebroadcast on SiriusXM on Oct. 26.