FIFTY-THREE thousand people packed Lincoln Financial Field last night, and it wasn't for the Birds.
It was for North Philadelphia-born-and-raised comedian Kevin Hart, who became, according to his people, the first stand-up comedian to sell out a football stadium.
The show was the culmination of Hart's "What Now Tour," which has been called the most successful comedy tour in history. Hart's jaunt began in April, and included three sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden among other storied halls. The New York Times called the MSG shows tryout for last night's performance in South Philly.
"What drew us here was history in the making," Matt Lair, of West Chester, said about why he wanted to be at the record-breaking event.
Hart opened with a James Bond-like video montage with himself as 007, complete with explosions and dancing ladies. He, like the legendary Brit crime fighter, has built a persona on being larger than life. That is, until he seemed to jump out of the large screens behind him.
Whereas the openers loped around the stage, Hart glided. "Philadelphia, make some noise," he demanded. The crowd erupted.
"The city of Philadelphia has my back," he said as the skyline appeared on the video screens behind him.
The beginning of his stand-up mentions his incredible ambition: The most common question he gets after hit movies and sold-out football stadiums is, "What now?"
But his stand-up is wholly domestic - his first bit was about moving to the suburbs and being threatened by a raccoon he was convinced was making finger guns at him.
Hart's true accomplishment is not that he can fill a stadium with people, but that his presence can. His stand-up is a series of these stories - even the bluer ones are essentially funny tales about being in a couple - and they feel as if you've just run into Hart on the street, at the bar, at a party. Yet, he's in the middle of a football field.
Here's a guy who has made his entire career on being small, but he feels entirely comfortable on a stage that is so big.
The crowd leaned toward twenty- and thirty-somethings, reflecting Hart's broad appeal. Aisha Henry, from Germantown, had seen Hart at South Street's now-shuttered Laff House, where Hart got his start "many moons ago."
"I knew he was destined for something," she said.
A few sported "Hart Run" T-shirts, referencing the so-called spontaneous 5K run Hart held Saturday around the Philadelphia Museum of Art that drew about 2,500 people.
"Laughter is the best medicine, and it's contagious. It's good for the soul. Kevin is funny, upbeat, and has the ability to light up the room when he walks in. That's what attracts us to him," said Melissa Rivera, who not only ran the 5K, but started the run at Rutgers-Camden along with members of Latinas in Motion. She and her fiance, Justin Quiles, also attended Saturday's dress rehearsal.
There was a strict no-cellphones policy at the Linc last night, with signs posted at the doors declaring that anyone using a mobile device would be booted from the stadium with no refund: "FOR KEVIN HART SHOW, NO: Cellphones, texting, tweeting, talking, cameras, recording devices of any kind DURING THE SHOW OR YOU WILL BE EJECTED."
What, no selfies?
Perhaps the declaration, phrased as "Kevin asks," was so that people would enjoy the show rather than spend their time tweeting. Or perhaps it was because the show was filmed for a stand-up special that will be released in theaters Oct. 14, 2016. No one wants to pay admission for a joke they saw on YouTube a year before. The stand-up film gambit has worked well for Hart in the past. In 2013, he released "Let Me Explain" into theaters, and it grossed $32.2 million.
For the film, audience members were prompted by director Leslie Smalls to participate in B-roll, including a polite clap, a raucous laughter, and a standing ovation.
The no-phones policy became a major part of opening act Joey Wells' set. A member of Hart's comedic entourage the Plastic Cup Boyz, Wells was followed by Philly's Will "Spank" Horton, and Temple University alum Na'im Lynn.
The fact that Hart is from Philly was clearly a selling point for the crowd but not necessarily why they showed up in droves.
"It makes him that much better," said Jennifer Cheely, who surprised husband Kevin yesterday morning with tickets to the show. "I would still like him . . . "