In the book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life, Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, describes creating comics as a process where you strip out the unnecessary noise to reveal the "absurd-yet-true core".
A different kind of comic, Kevin Hart, embodies what’s possible when one man takes this advice to the next level. In his memoir, I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons, Hart tells the story of his hard-knock-life upbringing in Philadelphia and all of the failures he encountered along the way to becoming the first stand up comic to ever sell out an NFL football stadium.
What struck me about I Can’t Make This Up is the way Hart declares:
“Life is a story, and I’m gonna tell you something it’s full of chapters. The beauty of life is not only that you get to choose how you interpret each chapter, but your interpretation writes the next chapter. It determines whether it’s comedy or tragedy, fairytale or horror story, rags to riches or riches to rags. You can’t control the events that happen to you, but you can control your interpretation. So why not choose the story that serves life the best?” -- Kevin Hart
What drew me to write about Hart was the way that he spoke about his relationship with his father and how it impacted his relationship with his first wife, Torrei. Kevin and Torrei met when they were kids, fell in love (or at least in lust), and then things went sideways. They fought constantly, it turned physical, and the police were called on more than one occasion.
I listened (on Audible) to I Can’t Make this Up through the eyes/ears of a thirty-six year old woman who grew up watching her parents fight a lot. It took me back to one time in particular when the cops were called to my house. We all have seminal moments from childhood that shape us, and one of mine happened when I watched the City of Willowick police as they took my father away. It was a Saturday morning; I was eating cereal and watching cartoons when they came to the door. My brothers and sisters were asleep.
Whatever choices my brain made that day altered the way I viewed authority figures for the next 30+ years. As imperfect as my family was, it didn’t seem right that the cops could come into my house and remove a member of my family without explanation and without asking my opinion (clearly I thought very highly of myself as a kid and the role that I should play in decision-making). I lost trust in “the system” and to this day maintain a healthy skepticism of anyone who demands respect solely by virtue of their authority (and, just to clarify, by “healthy skepticism” I mean that every fiber of my being rejects their authoritarianism...don't worry, it gives me something to work on in therapy).
Stop and Choose
So when, in I Can’t Make This Up, Hart talks about domestic violence in a way that shows he has reflected on it, is sorry, admits that what he did was wrong and has taken the steps necessary to build a respectful relationship with his ex-wife, part of me is thankful that he put words to the unspoken truths that my father still carries inside him. And another part of me is thankful that I can now notice when I’m interpreting the world through the eyes of Paula from 30 years ago. I can now stop and choose. Are you really mad at this jerk or is it just that this jerk reminds you of what happened back then? The distinction matters, but often goes unnoticed.
On a lighter note, I Can’t Make This Up is funny; really, really funny. I'm talking pick up a pack of Depends funny, because while you're reading/listening to it, you might pee your pants. Hart's perspectives on race, class, family, and cycles of fame and fortune culminate in a true rags-to-riches hero’s journey that leaves you believing that hard work really does pay off in the end and any obstacle can be overcome (or at least later laughed upon). If you’d prefer to read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People or some other white-bread canonical success-at-life book, then I Can’t Make This Up probably isn’t for you. But for the rest of us who are looking for a spoon full of laughter to help the life lessons go down, Hart is our man.