Comedian Kevin Hart on Saturday made an incendiary entrance at the first of his four shows at Hampton Coliseum.
He slowly rose from beneath the stage amid billowing red smoke, then glided toward the audience aboard a conveyor belt. Next, tall jets of flame shot toward the rafters.
Hart said he was inspired to add pyro to his show after seeing a concert by rap stars Jay-Z and Kanye West. He thanked the crowd and noted that tickets to his Hampton shows Saturday and Sunday had sold at a blazing pace. That called for -- you guessed it -- more jets of flame.
"I'm setting this stage on fire -- literally!" he boasted.
Next, the crowd of 5,500 was treated to stream-of-consciousness tales about the risks of dishonesty in relationships. It's a subject about which the recently divorced Hart seems to feel passionately. "Lying will ruin your life, people!" he said. "Lying ruined my marriage. That's a lie. I cheated."
Hart's skyrocketing popularity, both in Hampton Roads and the nation, is one of the big entertainment stories of still-young 2012. His manic storytelling comes across as a hybrid of Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor. It's thoroughly modern and refreshingly self-deprecating.
"It's something we can relate to day to day," said 38-year-old Virginia Beach resident Fred Baxter, a Navy man who has been following Hart's career since his "Soul Plane" days. "We all have that family member that's a little … funny. He's just a down-to-earth guy."
Baxter was at the show with Navy friends. He just recently returned from a deployment and was looking forward to unwinding with a few laughs at Hampton Coliseum.
"This is a great way to celebrate being back, to go hear some great humor from a great comic."
Baxter's friend Fred Martin said there's no magic formula that's fueling Hart's popularity. "I can relate to him. I think everybody here can relate to him."
One Hampton fan said he believes Hart's growing popularity is simply a factor of the comic's drive and persistence. "He keeps it fresh," said Armand Harper, 27, of Hampton. Harper saw Hart perform last year at Chrysler Hall in Norfolk. "He's been working hard. He has a good work ethic."
Jason Ramsey, 35, of Hampton described himself as an avid comedy fan, one who often drives to Virginia Beach to see stand-up shows at the Funny Bone comedy club. From Hart's movie and television appearances, Ramsey can tell that the comedian has refined his act. "He seems to get funnier and funnier as time goes on. He just hits the spot. He's very good at what he does."
Ramsey was somewhat surprised that Hart had sold out so many shows in Hampton. "I didn't realize he was this popular," he said. "But I'm pleasantly surprised. I'm definitely not alone."