Kevin Hart’s new concert film opening July 4th weekend against ‘Lone Ranger’

I am a big fan of today’s news that Kevin Hart’s new stand-up concert film “Let Me Explain” will be getting a theatrical release date, and especially the idea that Summit is aiming for a major summer weekend slot for the film.

It’s not even because of Kevin Hart.  As a stand-up, I think he’s been very good at cultivating a certain voice and a certain character, and I think when he’s on a roll, he is very good at riding a laugh and really milking the audience.  He is a comedian who has paid his dues on the road, building a fanbase, and who has also been very smart about how he has handled the release of each of his stand-up specials and CDs so far.

What excites me most is the mere idea that any stand-up concert film in the year 2013 could go head to head with things like “Man Of Steel” and “Pacific Rim” and “Iron Man 3” for box-office real estate.  A few years ago, I saw Louis CK’s “Hilarious” at Sundance and pretty much tore something inside myself laughing at it.  It remains one of the best theatrical stand-up experiences I’ve had, and I’m a fiend for this stuff. 

I got bit by the bug when I was very young and I saw “Richard Pryor Live In Concert” on cable.  Holy crap, that special put a whammy on me.  I felt like I’d been struck by lightning.  It changed the way I saw everything.  It is impossible to overstate the impact that hearing unfiltered in-his-prime Richard Pryor had on a  12 year old white kid being raised by parents who were born in the ’40s and raised in Tennessee.  It was like getting an e-mail from Mars. From the Future.  Opened my eyes to things I had no way of processing fully.

There was a time when stand-up was more than something that can be used to fill programming slots easily on Comedy Central at 4 in the morning.  The late ’80s and early ’90s created such a glut of recorded comedy that it was no longer special.  It was devalued in the same way the music video was.  It got to the point where I avoided new stand-up specials instead of seeking them out just because it was omnipresent.

There are always exceptions, though, and over the years, there have been films and one-hours that have excited me anew, where it felt like it all came together just right.  Chris Rock is still riding out the heat that was generated when “Bring The Pain” debuted, and deservedly.  That was electric.  There are guys like Carlin who used stand-up specials as a way of marking milestones.  Watching his next-to-last special, after he lost his longtime wife, is a fascinating window in the very real and personal pain of a guy who had spent decades sharing every corner of his mind with us, and then seeing him bounce back in that last special, rediscovering some simply joy in the act of pointing out how batshit crazy we all were… that was powerful and beautiful, and it’s captured forever for anyone who wants to go back and watch his work.

The reason this is happening with Hart’s movie is simple: he’s got the numbers.  “Laugh At My Pain” did almost $8 million theatrically.  For a concert film, that’s real money.  And since then, Hart’s had a real “movie” hit in the form of “Think Like A Man,” which almost hit $100 million, and it seems like he’s due for his giant opening weekend, like there’s a real interest.  When the competition is “Despicable Me 2” and “The Lone Ranger” that weekend, Hart looks like a smart bet for counterprogramming.

The deal involves Codeblack, Lionsgate, and perhaps Summit.  The reporting in several places today mentioned both companies, but Summit and Lionsgate still have different identities, different agendas in terms of what they’re releasing this year and why.  I’m curious to see which company handles the film, and I genuinely hope it’s the “surprise” hit they’re hoping for.  It can only make it easier for other comics to try the same thing, and to hopefully give some of my favorite comics the push to do something similar.  I think Louis CK could do it now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if several other guys have the audience to try it as well.

Will you see it theatrically, or will you see it at home?  Do you like filmed comedy in general, or does it seem like something that belongs on TV to you?

We’ll see how it goes July 4 weekend, 2013.