Book notes: I Can’t Make This Up by Kevin Hart

I Can’t Make This Up by Kevin Hart book summary.

I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart



“Superstar comedian and Hollywood box-office star Kevin Hart turns his immense talent to the written word by writing some words. Put them together and you have the funniest, most heartfelt, and most inspirational memoir on survival, success, and the importance of believing in yourself since Old Yeller.

In his literary debut, he takes the listener on a journey through what his life was, what it is today, and how he’s overcome each challenge to become the man he is today. And that man happens to be the biggest comedian in the world, with tours that sell out football stadiums and films that have collectively grossed over $3.5 billion.

He achieved this not just through hard work, determination, and talent: It was through his unique way of looking at the world. Because just like a book has chapters, Hart sees life as a collection of chapters that each person gets to write for himself or herself.

“Not only do you get to choose how you interpret each chapter, but your interpretation writes the next chapter,” he says. “So why not choose the interpretation that serves your life the best?” -Audible

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Opening thoughts:

I was pretty excited when I saw this book under my recommendations. The last autobiography I read by a comedian Born A Crime was not only extremely insightful, but hilarious as the author read the book himself. Kevin Hart is hilarious and known for his stand-up comedy and improv, so I knew this would be a treat.

Key notes:

  • In life you can choose to cry about the bullshit that happens to you, or you can choose to laugh about it
  • You can’t control the events that happened to you, but you can control your interpretation of it. So why not choose the story that serves life the best
  • His dad got jumped and told his brother and him to go run home and he’ll be back later like he was hanging out with friends
  • Life lessons from mom: hard lessons are only hard to the weak that can’t survive them
  • Important lesson about bullying: defend yourself at all times, and don’t let nobody mess with you
    • If you don’t stand up to them then they’ll just keep bullying you
    • The real message for sticking up for yourself is that you are somebody, you matter, and nobody is allowed to take away your right to your property, your safety, or your right to be yourself 
  • Lastly, fights should always be a last resort as you should try to defuse it through reason and humor if possible
  • He wondered if he really had to stick up for himself every time. When it comes down to choosing between your life and your pride, it’s smart to choose to keep your life
  • He appreciates the tough and strict schedule his mom put him through because even though he hated it as a kid, they are the same things that served him the most as an adult
  • He learned that charm is an amazing skill to be acquired
  • You’ll discover that everyone has their own problems, and they’re usually worse than yours
    • Because your problems are specifically designed for you, with the specific purpose of helping you grow
  • Logically, no other response to the ups and downs of life makes sense besides gratitude
    • You’re already in your experience, so you can either resist and resent it and make it that much less enjoyable, or you can accept it and find something positive in it
  • Education is important, you need it, you can’t succeed without it. Unless you’re talented and intelligent and find another way around it
  • At times, life is random, if not downright stupid
  • He chose to be the funny guy. Having nothing to prove is the most freeing thing in the world
    • Rather than constantly defending your ego, you can have a sense of humor about your shortcomings
    • The fun guy always wins, because no matter where you are, you’re going to have a good time too
  • The secret to life: have fun
  • He regretted not trying in high school to get into college, but he also learned that it’s never too late to start caring
    • The real test: can you fail and still be strong? Can you not fit in and still accept yourself? Can you lose everything and still keep searching? Can you be in the dark and still believe in the light?
  • Never stop believing in your power to create another day
  • Life lessons from work: people with callouses work hard, but some people with soft hands work even harder because they got themselves to a level where they can take care of their hands
  • His first stand up on stage was his 15-minute freestyle set during his participation award for the swim team banquet
  • He found out he was good at shoe sales
    • Personality + knowledge = success
  • He learned from his co-workers, whom he considered a second family, that he needed to grow up
    • He finally moved into his own place with a door
    • His older brother wanted to move his mom’s stuff to his house, but it “wasn’t stealing”
  • He can’t keep a secret
  • His coworkers gave him the idea to do standup comedy
    • Playing the “what” game. How many times you can make people say “what”?
  • Your friends may love you, but the problem is they love you as you are
    • You play a role in their lives they got used to. So they don’t always want you to change, and most of them think it’s their job to keep you humble and in your place
  • Laughter cannot be faked. His first show was an opportunity to prove people wrong
  • Sometimes other people’s doubt can be the best motivation to succeed
  • Lesson in performing: slow it down. Stage fright is an accelerator pedal
  • How you feel you look is more important than how you actually look, because it’s all about your attitude
  • Acceptance is a drug that’s as powerful as crack
  • Don’t invite the naysayers into the conversation. You don’t need their approval, external approval. You just need internal approval
  • People will support you up to the point where they lose control of you
    • As soon as it pulls you away from them or be more successful than them, then your dream can become their threat
    • His mom believed in supporting anything he tells her he wanted to do with his life. But she gave him one year to be productive and sustain himself
    • Deadlines are motivation to get things done
  • Besides talent and timing, success is also about work and relationships
  • Whenever you can get ahold of a microphone and be around people, it’s an opportunity to hone your act
  • People said he was getting good because he was persistent. That persistence was starting to show in small improvements
    • When you’re trying to make it, you’re not necessarily judged by you talents but by your potential. This is all about your willingness to listen, learn, and improve
  • You get to choose the roads you take, but you don’t get to know where they lead
    • Acceptance then is knowing that when your plan fails, or your road dead ends, it means a bigger plan is at work
  • His mom always stood tall as a model of optimism and resiliency, even in her dark times
  • His brother was proud of him when he won the def comedy jam competition
    • When it comes to family and friends either they believe in you right away before you’ve ever done anything or they’re your toughest critics and the last to offer praise
  • He learned he had to start to experiment more and show people who he was with an original act, not prepackaged safe pizzazz
  • Your job as a performer is to make yourself interesting after your name is called
    • Say stuff that matters instead of what the crowd wants to hear. Just tell the truth and work your way to funny from there
    • In a room with hecklers, he decided to tell the truth, his story of the night
    • With the hecklers, he learned how to be vulnerable on stage
  • Cultivating the ability to listen to advice he doesn’t want to hear, objectively evaluative it, and know when to implement it
  • If you stay ready, you’ll never have to worry about getting ready
    • Without the grind, there is no reward
  • You have to believe in something higher than yourself, your purpose
    • If you believe in your purpose, you can survive the most challenging times
  • He learned he shouldn’t let his relationship get in the way of putting in an extraordinary amount of time and dedication it takes to make it
  • Commitment is keeping the promises made to yourself and others
    • Commitment is the glue that holds everything together, all the qualities that make someone successful
  • Each moment leads to other moments, so treat each moment like a seed and care for it so that something strong can grow from it
  • A relationship is strengthened not by experiencing good times together but by surviving the bad times
  • Being likable will give you the winning edge. No person succeeds alone. Success is a community effort
    • The more relationships you have, the better you’ll be able to survive, thrive and grow
  • The toughest transition is the transition to understanding that being yourself is all you need to be
  • The only way to prepare for what you want is to believe that what you want is coming tomorrow, or sometime very soon
  • An entertainer makes you laugh, but an artist makes you understand
  • A hero rises out of their humble beginning to become a part of a community. And it is only together and as equals that they will save the world
  • He discovered his humor was in his uniqueness and personality, not the way he saw life, but the way he did life
    • It wasn’t his jokes or ideas or delivery that was funny, he was funny
  • The secret is to be excited about what is in your power to control and be accepting of what’s not in your power of control, and then move with that certainty into an uncertain future
  • He learned from his mom to always respect and acknowledge others as equals
  • He got really high with Snoop Dogg for the first and last time
  • His show got canceled and his movie Soul Plane flopped at the box office because there were bootleg versions that came out before the movie
  • They say bad news comes in threes, but it’s more like you’re either in an upward phase or downward phase in your life
  • Struggling when you’re going somewhere is exciting
    • Struggling when you’re not getting anywhere is challenging
    • But struggling when you’re going backwards is hell
  • While struggling financially, he learned the biggest lesson of all, humility
    • If you experience loss, it doesn’t mean that you lost. It means you’ve been blessed with an opportunity to take a moment, realize how special someone or something has been to you, and go through new doors that were closed to you before
  • While slogging through the clubs and comedy shows and being productive with his craft, he realized that a true fan pays dividends for life
    • His goal was to make a few new fans her show in order to make his tour and break from Hollywood productive
    • He slowly started to build his contact list for each city, handing out flyers, and personally talking to his fans getting to know their life before shows
  • Desperation is the best motivator. If he hadn’t sunk so low, he wouldn’t have been willing to work so hard
    • But he was happy busting his ass on the road because he was busy creating a business that was completely his
  • Life lesson: if you’re having problems in your relationship, getting married or having children is not going to solve them, it’s just going to create new problems
  • Only a mother thinks you’re special. To everyone else, you look the same as everyone else until you make the effort to stand out. The effort is always worth it
  • His mom was sick and died from cancer, and he wanted to honor her by keeping all the lessons learned alive in himself
    • He gained a new perspective and story, decided he didn’t lose his mom but rather gained an angel
  • He was in an emotional and mental ping ping between leaving the relationship with Tori and staying with it
  • Life lessons from Independence: waiting for other people to make your dreams come true is like waiting for a bus on a corner where there is no bus stop
    • Sometimes the bus driver may feel bad for you and stop anyways, but usually he will speed right past and leave you looking like an idiot
  • When life hands you shit sandwiches, keep your mouth shut
  • When going through his moms stuff, he found out that she followed their lives more closely than they had thought with newspaper clippings and advertisements with them in it
  • Make sure you do things alone with a team
  • Shortcuts may get you there quicker, but all the experience you gain on the long road allows you to stay there once you arrive
  • He got into a fight but was ultimately left off the hook after the cops made him apologize. He realized he was famous enough to stay out of jail, but not too famous to be made an example of
  • Important business lesson: Communication is the key that unlocks the plan. Everyone should know your intentions at all times, as well as any changes to them
    • A good idea with bad communication is as useful as a cell phone with a dead battery
  • While working hard on the road, the entrepreneur in him was born as he started to take his business seriously since he had a responsibility to pay his people
    • He had to learn the crafts of business, entrepreneurship, brand building as well as company
  • His team was a great investment as they all believe they would grow. A team is going to survive better than an individual. Just as a team is always going to beat an individual in a sport
  • Sometimes you have to say yes to things you want to say no to so you can raise yourself to a place where you can get to say no to more things
  • One of the most important life lessons: do your best always, because you never know who’s watching. It may not come when you want to do, but when it does, it’s right on time
  • The limits that the human mind will go to deceive itself are incredible
  • When on the road, always ask yourself what is the worst possible consequences that can happen from this? If you can live with that, then go ahead and have fun. But if you can’t, then back up
  • His wife Tori started to use him as a vehicle to build her own career in comedy
  • Deeper lesson about relationships: what’s important in a relationship is the bricks that every one of your words and actions lay down, because together they add up. They add up to the home you’re going to live in for quite some time
  • Life lessons from Breakthrough: don’t do drugs. Instead prove everyone who doubted you wrong. It’s a bigger high
  • Sometimes a good opportunity can still be a backward step. He turned down a bunch of deals worth $1 million in order to move forward in his true goals
  • If you never talk to strangers, you never talk to anyone, since everyone starts off as a stranger before you talk to them
  • 12 years after being rejected by SNL, he was helping the writers and coming up with the next episode
  • What’s harder than you achieving success is achieving consistent success
    • What’s even harder than that is achieving consistently bigger success
  • The most disappointing thing about making it as a comedian, as Chris Rock once said, is that you don’t get sex groupies like rappers and athletes, you get business groupies
  • It took him a DUI in order to get over his drinking and driving problem
  • He and Tori finally got to a place where they can speak to each other with respect and not antagonize each other. They start to focus on what was best for their kids
    • He put her on a pedestal and never disrespected her in front of the kids in order to be an example of how they should treat her
    • He also took care of them all financially to make sure they had all the opportunities they needed
  • The next few films did extremely well and he became an overnight success with 16 years in the making
  • Near the end of the what now tour, he sold out an NFL stadium and had the highest grossing tour of any comedian ever
  • He visited Africa and the Middle East. He learned about the apartheid and taught him it is never wrong to fight for what is right
    • He also learned the fears and stereotypes he had about other countries were nonsense
    • Outside of minor differences that we’re all surface level, people there are just like people here
    • So much ignorance comes from a lack of experience, and those trips showed him that we are all brothers and sisters
  • How you handle rejection is very similar to how you handle success
    • If you are strong enough to handle rejection without taking it personally, without holding a garage, without losing your passion and drive, then you will be strong enough to reap the rewards
  • Everything you do matters, so treat it like it matters
  • As of now, he feels like he has instilled the right humility and work ethic in his kids
  • Success is not an excuse to stop, it’s a reason to move the goalpost farther out and accelerate
    • There’s no destination, just a journey, and that journey is to keep building on top of what you’ve been building
  • Since age 18 he finally made his dream come true and he was working with Nike to promote fitness and healthy living. He was the first comedian to be sponsored by Nike
  •  If you grind hard enough and stay true to yourself, all your dreams will come true. And even ones you forgot about
  • If you don’t believe in your own greatness nobody else will. You are limited by your doubts, your fears, your desire to fit in rather than stand out
    • There’s room enough in this world for all of us to stand out
  • Persistence. The willingness to be persistent. It’s OK to fail, but it’s not OK to quit
    • Your goal is to learn from these challenges without letting them diminish your motivation. The secret to accomplishing this is to let yourself be driven by your Will to succeed rather than your fear of not succeeding
  • Even if someone hurts you, you still have the option of responding with class and logically instead of emotionally
    • Class is an investment that will pay off your whole life because the people you interact with can become your greatest allies or greatest foes
    • There are no positive consequences to showing up anywhere with an attitude
  • Commitment. In life, you will have many commitments that are like contracts. The most important contract of them all is your word to others and yourself
  • Learning. The key to learning is to shut your mouth. Observe, listen, evaluate, and then choose. Every experience you have is a gift created to teach you a lesson
    • If you learn and implement that lesson in your life, then you get to receive the next gift. If you don’t learn from it, then that same lesson will keep coming back to you over and over
    • In this world, there are nothing but life lessons. Pay attention to them and the world will open itself up to you
  • Passion-centered competitiveness. This is the engine that drives all of those qualities. Having a passion, something you love that gives your life meaning and focus, is just the beginning
    • If you haven’t found your passion yet, don’t overthink it. Just start doing something you enjoy
    • The key that turns passion into directed action though is competition. It can be competition with yourself, others, or even with history
      • The important thing to realize is that you’re not competing against anyone, you are competing with them
  • Positivity. What you put out is what you get back. If you want to achieve positive goals and experience positive relationships, then put out positivity
    • If someone else is putting out negativity, then maneuver around them
    • Cultivate the ability to stay positive and avoid negativity in the face of a sometimes cruel and unfair and indifferent world
  • Discomfort. If you want to get far in life, then never get too comfortable
    • Don’t stop, don’t rest, don’t be satisfied. It is work that gives our lives meaning

Closing thoughts:

Loved this book. Thoroughly entertaining from start to finish. With Kevin reading the book, it always feels like we’re getting extra bonus content because he seems to go off the rails often. I found myself smiling stupidly to myself while in public when listening to this book. Moreover, the life lessons distilled from the experiences in his life are solid. Would highly recommend for the person who wants to personal development, but in a highly entertaining way.


Life lessons from Kevin Hart.



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