Kevin James is one of those comedians people love or hate. His comedy appeals to a large portion of Middle America, but also has a tendency to turn off those who want their chuckles from something a bit more sophisticated. With his upcoming film True Memoirs of an International Assassin, a Netflix Original, James may win over some of those would-be fans who weren’t impressed with Paul Blart: Mall Cop. However, it seems foolish to ignore the role his earlier work will have on the film, as some write-ups are doing. With that in mind, let’s look at the development of his career.
Kevin James as Doug Heffernan
Kevin James was born as Kevin George Knipfing on Long Island, New York in 1965. Raised in a Catholic family, James played football and wrestled through high school, until a back injury kept him from competing during his senior year. After graduation, Knipfing went to the State University of New York at Cortland, where he majored in sports management and played as a halfback on the football team, until another injury ended his sports career.
After taking a public speaking course for his major at SUNY Cortland, Knipfing became to develop an interest in performing, and the following summer auditioned for a part in a comedic theater production in his home town. He got the part, and really fell in love with performing, leaving SUNY and joining up with his brother, who did improv comedy. The troupe performed at the now-closed East Side Comedy Club in Huntington, New York.
While there, Knipfing developed a friendship with the comedian Mookie Barker, as well as the club’s owner, Richie Minervini. In 1989, Minervini offered him a short slot performing standup at the club, which is when he took on the stage name Kevin James, an homage to a childhood teacher. His stand-up routine was immediately popular, and he soon started performing stand-up across Long Island.
While touring Long Island, Kevin James became friends with Ray Romano, who was also just beginning his comedy career. Romano helped James get started on the late-night talk show circuit, which then helped James get a job working on The New Candid Camera in 1991. Later, he worked as an announcer for MTV’s sports gameshow SandBlast. It was during his tenure at that show when he performed at the Just for Laughs comedy festival in Montreal, Quebec.
After SandBlast ended in 1996, James moved to Los Angeles, and almost immediately guest starred in a few episodes of Ray Romano’s Everybody Loves Raymond. Romano and James then worked together on a script that had Kevin James as the lead, and Romano handed the script to his superiors at CBS.
Les Moonves, at the time head of CBS programming, fell in love with James’ approach to comedy, and on September 21, 1998, King of Queens premiered. Doug Heffernan, James’ character on the show, was a deliveryman living in Queens with his wife Carrie (played by Leah Remini) and his father-in-law Arthur (played by Jerry Stiller.) The show ran until 2007, making it the last of the 90s live-action sitcoms to be cancelled. But by the time the series was ending, Kevin James had earned his reputation as a comedian, and was already transitioning into film.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop
Kevin James’ first venture into film was for an HBO special about golfing that he did with Ray Romano in 2004, titled Making the Cut: The Road to Pebble Beach. It earned him a Sports Emmy nomination, and early the next year, James made his first theatrical debut with Hitch.
Starring opposite Will Smith, the rom-com was a commercial success despite unfavorable reviews. Later that year, he was in another silver screen comedy, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, which trivialized years of oppression directed at gay people for a few laughs. The film marked the first of many films where James would work with Adam Sandler. The next came in 2008 with You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, which Sandler produced as well as starred in.
In 2009, Kevin James co-wrote and starred in Paul Blart: Mall Cop. The film, which had a budget of $29 million, opened as the #1 film in North America, grossing between $32 and $39 million its opening weekend. Even though the film was met with intensely negative reviews, it eventually went on to earn nearly a quarter of a billion dollars, between theater tickets and DVD sales.
The next year, James appeared once more with Adam Sandler (and Rob Schneider and David Spade) for Grown Ups. Written by Adam Sandler, the buddy comedy brought the four comedians together for the first time since they had all worked on Saturday Night Live in 1990. The film was generally panned by critics, though most criticisms focused on the direction and writing, not the actors. In fact, Kevin James’ performance was highlighted as being above par, for himself and his costars.
After Grown Ups, James starred in a string of films. He was cast with Vince Vaughn for The Dilemma, and wrote and produced Zookeeper in 2012. Later that year he starred in Here Comes the Boom, and last year he starred in yet another Sandler creation, Pixels. He also released Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, which managed to receive even more unfavorable reviews than its prequel had. Despite that, Mall Cop 2 had a strong opening weekend, finishing just behind Furious 7, the latest Fast and Furious film.
What is Kevin James Doing Now in 2018?
Kevin James has two films coming out soon. The Netflix Original True Memoirs of an International Assassin is set to come out later this year, and 44 is expected either late this year or next spring. True Memoirs casts Kevin James as the lead character, Colt Rodgers, a soft-spoken accountant who writes a fictional novel about an international hitman. The novel is published as a true story, which leads to instant fame for James’ character. Attempting to avoid the spotlight, James heads to Belize, where he quickly becomes wrapped up in the world of espionage and assassinations.
44 will be based off the true story of Joey Williams, who will be played by James. Williams was recruited as a high school senior to play football at Tennessee Tech, but after a knee injury late into his senior season, backed out and opted not to risk more harm to his knee. In 2002, at the age of 44, Williams began getting in shape to enroll at Lambuth University, explicitly to play football on their team. Without giving too much away, Williams’ route to college football would strain not just his physique but family relations, since he ended up having to compete against his own son on the field.
True Memoirs of an International Assassin and 44 are both likely to be very different films, from each other and from the rest of Kevin James’ catalog. However, the actor has been in show business long enough that there shouldn’t be any doubt over whether he’ll be able to pull it off. If Kevin James can turn a profit off not one, but two Paul Blart films, he can certainly pull off a spy comedy and sports inspirational.