Kevin Hart working on next comedy special exclusively at Laughing Skull Lounge in Midtown Atlanta

Kevin Hart is in town shooting Quibi's "Die Hart." Photo: Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

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Kevin Hart is in town shooting Quibi's "Die Hart." Photo: Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

Originally posted Wednesday, February 19, 2020 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Midtown’s esteemed Laughing Skull Lounge, which seats about 85, normally holds three open mic nights a week that frequently sell out.

But when one of the top comics in the world Kevin Hart asked owner Marshall Chiles if he can work on his upcoming comedy special there over a span of months, Chiles couldn't say no and has set aside blocks of nights for him that would normally go to open mics.

Chiles is adding a special Sunday open mic night to accommodate up-and-coming comics who covet time on his stage and make up for all the nights lost to Hart. (He said he already has a two-month waiting list for comics who want to practice at Laughing Skull. About 20 comics hit the stage on open mics for about five minutes each.)

Hart, in town to shoot his new Quibi streaming series "Die Hart" featuring John Travolta, liked the intimate feel of the club and decided to build his show from scratch at Laughing Skull over a span of about 65 to 70 nights.

The “Jumanji” star just turned 40 and has plenty of material regarding marriage, aging, sex and raising a boy-crazy teen daughter. He was in a serious car accident last fall and spent months recuperating from a back injury. That provided comedic fodder for him as well.

On Tuesday night (in which Laughing Skull required all smartphones to be locked away in magnetic cases to stem leaks), Hart did what was essentially a full set for just 85 people.

What’s amazing is that there was no genuinely weak material. Not all the jokes were fully developed and he was actively playing around with the order of the material, even explaining to the crowd how he wanted to segue two stories properly.

But it was all funny.

Hart at times glanced at his smartphone to go over notes and threw in some left-over jokes at the end. At one point, he came up with a turn of phrase he really liked so he literally typed it into his phone for future reference while on stage.

“I’ve seen him try a couple of different tags to jokes,” Chiles said. “Last night, he started with a joke that was normally 40 minutes in his set. I’ve seen him do some jokes he hasn’t done in other shows.”

Hart, who grew up in Philadelphia and has been doing stand up for 20 years, said on stage that after 70 practice rounds, he hopes to have his one-hour special ready to go.

Veteran comic Ron White recently spent time on stage there several times to massage his jokes. And other stars such as Joe Rogan, Bert Kreischer, Hannibal Burress, Bill Burr and Jeff Foxworthy have warmed up or worked on sets at Laughing Skull.

But Chiles, who has run the club for more than a decade, said no comic has ever committed as much time as Hart at his club to formulate content.

In the end, only about 6,000 mostly Atlanta-based folks will see this work-in-progress show live, but whereever the future special lands (probably Netflix), it will ultimately be seen by millions worldwide.

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