Kevin Hart is creating a comedic empire right before our eyes. After more than a decade of building two companies focused on funny—Laugh Out Loud (LOL!) and HartBeat Productions—the comedian and actor has used his business savvy for the formation of a multiplatform mega media company; and he has chosen a Black woman to be at the helm.
Thai Randolph is the CEO of -HARTBEAT, the entertainment conglomerate announced this past spring that’s shaping up to be one of the top platforms for comedic storytelling and experiences. With roles at brands such as Sony and Facebook on her résumé, Randolph is something of an advertising and business-development savant. And now the world will know her name. “She’s grown with me, and she’s grown with my business,” Hart says.
Since she began working with Hart in 2019, Randolph, 40, has risen through the ranks from executive vice president and general manager to president and chief operating officer— and now to CEO. “From the inside, I’ve been running really sound and disciplined businesses,” Randolph says. “In entertainment, where there are so many shiny objects, it’s easy to get distracted. We’ve buckled down and said, at the end of the day, we want to be a business that makes money and provides opportunity.”
Part of that discipline involved raising capital for HARTBEAT, which received a $100 million investment from private equity firm Abry Partners. While founders often look externally for a chief executive once their businesses reach this point, Hart instead turned inside.
“I saw something special in Thai, and I told her that I wanted her to be a part of this enterprise, and I didn’t want to lose her,” Hart explains. “I thought the sky was the limit, and if she stuck with me, she could do amazing things. She believed me. I haven’t failed her— and in return, she has over-delivered.”
Now in the top position, Randolph is dialed in and ready to take over the company’s comedy streaming content. The brand already has a great head start with programs like Dave, Real Husbands of Hollywood and the movie Me Time, plus Hart’s interview series Cold as Balls. “We consider ourselves a mission-driven company,” Randolph says. “Our mission is to keep the world laughing together.”
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To do this—whether it’s at a live event, through audio, or a project on film or television—the vision for HARTBEAT is to highlight emerging writers and directors; and then to turn viewers into real-life crying–laughing emojis. And Randolph made it a point last year to showcase one specific subset of comedians: Black women. “Comedy, in general, can be a boys’ club,” she says, adding that she and her team want to assist in changing that narrative. In partnership with LOL!’s CEO Jeff Clanagan and head of development and production Candice Wilson Cherry, Randolph created the comedic screenwriting fellowship for Black women, Women Write Now. With the Sundance Institute signed on as a collaborator for the inaugural year of the program, Randolph recalls receiving roughly 670 submissions—one of which landed a developmental deal with NBCUniversal.
“It literally was this village supporting Black women,” Randolph says. “It’s so important—because so often diversity can be viewed as an initiative, but for us, it’s a business imperative.”
To that point, close to 70 percent of HARTBEAT’s employees are people of color, with Black women leading in executive roles. “That’s not because it’s a good thing to do,” Randolph states. “If our mission and Kevin’s vision is to keep the world laughing together, then you need to design an organization that looks like the world, right?”
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HARTBEAT’s programming is reflective of that mission too. They’ve turned out SiriusXM audio shows like Amanda Seales’s Smart Funny & Black Radio, Jazzy Brown’s The Ladies’ Room, Vanessa and Chris Spencer’s Date Night with Chris & Vanessa and London Hughes’s Netflix comedy special To Catch a D*ck? “Our goal is to amplify Black women’s voices across the platform,” says Randolph.
The name-dropping is strategic and purposeful. Hart says he wants his company to be talent-friendly, not a controlling entity where entertainers feel powerless. “If we can ignite a different level of fire in that younger generation, to say, ‘Wow, we can do this? We can grow? We can be a part?’—well then, we’re creating future brands; we’re creating future companies; we’re creating the future. That’s what we want to do.” All that to say, the future of comedy content is here, and it’s very funny and very Black. And as Randolph says of HARTBEATs’ impact: “We’re just getting started.”