Comedian Kevin Hart on Bill Cosby: He ‘taints not just the image but the legacy’

Kevin Hart has it all, but he could have had more.

“Definitely missed Uber,” he said.

As one of the most successful entertainers and comedians in the world with a global brand that is his name, Hart has access to money and people who could have made him even more. That includes the little app car service that has crushed the taxi industry.

“There are some investment trains that I missed; that was one,” Hart told the Star-Telegram in a recent interview. “Oh my God, I had an amazing shot at Uber. (Music mogul) Troy Carter is one of my closest friends. He said, ‘Hey, give me $100,000. I’m telling you .....’ If I had done that, I would have been sitting on $60 or $70 mil’.”

The Kevin Hart you meet is about as tall as you might expect, but he’s not as funny as you might want. Because the Kevin Hart you meet is a promoter/businessman first, whose personality on stage and on the screen do not align in real life.

The guy who whiffed on investing in Uber on the ground floor is constantly aware of you. He’s aware of his audience, the ticket-paying customer who has made him one of the most relevant names in an industry that disposes of people every morning.

Hart was in Dallas to promote his new comedy “Night School,” a movie opening Friday in which he plays an adult who returns to school to complete his GED, mostly to impress a girl.

The movie could have been a version of the “40-Year-Old Virgin,” with an assortment of raunchy and R-rated jokes. Instead, the producers, and Hart, clearly wanted to attract a wider audience; there are foul moments, but the movie went the PG-13 route complete with the Hollywood ending that is safe for a test audience.

Hart was slotted for a 15-minute interview, and in those precious seconds it’s apparent that although he is naturally funny, the priority isn’t to make you laugh in this setting but to promote. To promote his new movie. To promote his brand. To make sure that you like him.

Because to this generation, strictly as a comedian, Kevin Hart is Bill Cosby.

As performers their language is considerably different, but they are/were wonderful story tellers who could spin some crazy tale that resonates with a large number of people. Both are African-American comedians from Philadelphia who became giant brands on stage, and then on screen.

While Cosby’s persona as America’s dad is nothing like Hart’s, ticket-paying patrons loved both men across multiple platforms. So did studio executives.

Hart is bankable. He sells out shows, to black and white audiences. Everywhere.

Hart is so acutely aware of his audience at all times that, just by watching Cosby’s career trajectory, he knows while there is a clear distinction between the performer and the person, to the audience there is none.

On Tuesday, Cosby was sentenced to 3 to 10 years for drugging and sexually assaulting a woman.

“It’s not about rationalizing what he did. A man’s personal life and his career are two different things,” he said. “I don’t condone what was done in his personal life at all. I’m not ‘Team Bill Cosby Personal Life.’ I’m still a fan of what he was able to do within the craft of standup comedy.

“The bad thing about what he did and the volume he did it at, it taints not just the image but the legacy. It puts a cloud over it. Although you are listening to these jokes and family things, and ... oh my God, they were so funny but, in the back of your mind, you are thinking about the other stuff.

“So, it does tarnish it but I can’t say that his style of comedy didn’t have an effect on the way I do comedy. I tell stories. I love to tell stories. One of the best storytellers to ever do it is Bill Cosby.”

And the other comedian who made a big impression on Hart?

Watch Hart’s standup for five minutes and the answer is easy.

“Eddie Murphy. He’s an amazing storyteller,” Hart said. “He would tell a story and paint these pictures but be so authentic. Be so real about his world. He would tell stories about his dad coming home drunk and his mom not wanting to deal with it. And his brothers.

“You were in his house. That’s a talent. There are certain people who can paint a picture of their world and make their world so interesting that you say to yourself, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe was able to do that at that level.’ ”

To this generation of audiences, that’s Kevin Hart.

He knows you’re watching. And while he may have blown it on Uber, he doesn’t want to blow it with you.

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