Kevin Hart's limited-release 'Laugh at My Pain' scores $2 million
Stand-up comedy specials often earn strong ratings on television and sell briskly on DVD, but rarely do they make it to the big screen.
That's what makes the success of "Kevin Hart: Laugh at My Pain" at the box office this weekend all the more implausible. The film, comprised primarily of footage shot during one of the comedian's shows at the Nokia Theater last February, opened this weekend in 99 theaters and collected $2 million. That amounts to a solid per-theater average of $20,000 for the movie, which played in 25 markets this weekend including Los Angeles, Dallas and Atlanta.
The film was produced for only $750,000 by Jeff Clanagan, chief executive of the independent production company Codeblack Entertainment, which distributed the movie domestically in AMC Theaters.
"We all bet on the back-end to manage the cost," Clanagan said via telephone Sunday morning. "Laugh at My Pain," he added, is not merely made up of material from Hart's stand-up concert. The comedian is also shown visiting his Philadelphia hometown in a brief documentary-style segment, and later acts in a short action clip spoofing the movie "Resevoir Dogs."
Clanagan said he did not spend a lot of money promoting the movie through traditional marketing channels. He purchased one national advertising spot on "Basketball Wives," VH1's highest-rated program, as well as a few others on MTV2 and BET. Hart hosted the BET Awards in June and appeared in a number of vignettes during MTV's Video Music Awards last month.
The majority of the word-of-mouth about the movie spread on social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, where Hart has more than 2 million followers.
"It's a lot easier to reach your target audience these days," Clanagan said. "On Facebook we just asked our fans, 'Hey, we're gonna expand the movie, what market are you in?' And we had 6,000 responses in an hour that showed me, for instance, that we need to go to places like Boston next. We asked fans what key art we should use, and they had a different opinion than what we'd initially chosen -- so we changed the art based on that feedback."
In recent years the few comedy special-based films that have made it to theaters have a mixed track record. "The Original Kings of Comedy" with Cedric the Entertainer made a respectable $38.2 million in 2000, and "Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat" grossed $19.2 million two years later. But just a few years ago, Vince Vaughn's "Wild West Comedy Show" flopped with a weak $603,984 in 2008.
Meanwhile, "Laugh at My Pain" will expand domestically to 58 additional theaters next weekend." The film is also being released in East Africa and West Africa through a partnership with Silverbird Cinemas, the sole theater chain servicing countries in that region.
-- Amy Kaufman
Photo: Kevin Hart at the premiere of "Laugh at My Pain." Credit: Chris Pizzello / Associated Press