North Philadelphia-born superstar comic and fledgling author Kevin Hart was all benevolence and beneficence Wednesday at the Central Library of the Free Library of Philadelphia as he shook hands with more than 650 hometown fans who had lined up, some for hours, to meet him.
Hart, 37, was in town to promote his memoir, I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons.
First in line was Chris Purnell of Southwest Philadelphia, who arrived at 1:15 for a 5 p.m. event.
A graphic designer who turns 29 next week, Purnell said he has been a diehard Hart fan for a good part of his adult life.
“I’ve just really been impressed by his work ethic,” he said of the comic. “He’s a hometown hero, and he’s put Philly on the map.”
Mount Airy’s Kimberly Robinson, who brought her 7-year-old son, Jordan, agreed.
“He’s a positive guy from Philly who made it good, and he comes back, which I appreciate,” said Robinson, 47, adding that she was happy that her son considers Hart a role model.
“I love that he cares for his fans, especially his Philly fans,” she added,
The crowd was dominated by adults, but a few kids took the day off from school to see Hart, including Khyair Billups, 13, a seventh grader at Universal Institute Charter in South Philadelphia, who came with his father, Dante Brownlee.
“He’s funny,” Billups said of Hart. “He loves his city and his people.”
Brownlee was one of several fans who said they were impressed by Hart’s decision to forgo the usual publishing PR event – a reading or book-signing – and instead meet people one by one.
Hart showed up a little after 5. Dressed in a beautifully fitted black suit, which he wore with a white shirt sans tie, he stood on a makeshift stage, where he posed with each fan for a photo. (A professional photographer took the snaps, which will be available free on Hart’s website.)
A few fans seemed to burn with ardor upon meeting Hart.
“I told him I fell in love with him when I was 9 years old,” said Temple media studies major Erin Marie, who came with her 16-year-old sister, Kada, and her friend Haley Zukowski.
Erin Marie was visibly moved when Hart took a few extra moments to sign her ticket stub from his 2015 stand-up show at Lincoln Financial Field.
“I never really thought of him as a sex symbol,” said Marie. “But that was before I met him.”
The comic dallied a little longer with several people, including Tony Harris, 52, who got a bear hug.
Harris said he and his wife, Adria, are from the same neighborhood Hart grew up in. He related how as a youngster Hart would show up to watch the neighborhood kids play basketball. Hart didn’t play, he just kept everybody in stitches.
“We’d play basketball in the yard, and he’d sit on the steps and crack jokes from about 7 o’clock straight to 11 p.m.,” Harris said.
His wife also remembered him from the neighborhood.
He “was a little guy, but he had a big personality,” said Adria Harris, 49, who proudly showed off her shoes, a pair of orange Hustle Harts, Nike sneakers that bear Hart’s brand.