Kevin James booking
Originally born Kevin George Knipfing on April 26, 1965 in Mineola, NY, his family soon settled in Stony Brook, NY, where his father Joe, an insurance salesman, and mother Janet, who worked for a chiropractor, raised him and two siblings. James enjoyed a quiet childhood, developing into a serious athlete as he got older. Attending Ward Melville High School, he wrestled on the school team alongside future WWF wrestler Mick Foley before becoming a football running back in his senior year. After his 1983 graduation, he headed upstate to study sports management and play football as a fullback at the State University of New York at Cortland. Several credits shy of graduation, a disinterested James dropped out of college and spent his summer of 1986 looking for a life beyond sports – initially finding work painting houses, selling gym memberships and finally as a personal trainer. He auditioned for a comedic role in a play at a small theater in Shoreham-Wading and landed the part. Not surprisingly, he fell in love with performing. His brother had formed an improvisational comedy group, so James joined up. After performing all across Long Island, he was prompted to officially adopt James as his surname, while his brother became Gary Valentine.
In 1989, James segued into stand-up comedy, making his comedy debut at the East Side Comedy Club and garnering a wildly enthusiastic reception that was nowhere to be found in his second performance a night later. Despite the blow, he was ready to make a career of it. James took a regular gig working at a warehouse that stocked industrial equipment and began crafting a comedy act in the multitude of local clubs available to the Long Island scene, as well as in New York City. Working out material about his local life and upbringing, he befriended a like-minded comedian, Ray Romano, and the two bonded; often supporting each other emotionally during their struggling years. As his material accumulated, James made it onto “Star Search” (NBC, 1983-2004) and, in 1992, “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” (NBC, 1992- ) – the holy grail of stand-up television bookings.
In Montreal for the “Just for Laughs” festival in 1996, James made a strong showing, and his appearance led to a development deal with NBC, which in turn led to an introduction to producer Michael Weithorn. That year, while in Los Angeles going over his options, he found himself spending a lot of time with Romano again while the two were struggling to audition for parts and sharing their professional woes. James became frustrated as his ties with NBC stagnated, but Romano’s acting career took off, after inking a sitcom deal with David Letterman’s production company, Worldwide Pants. This collaboration led to Romano’s own sitcom, the insanely successful CBS series, “Everybody Loves Raymond” (1996-2005). During the inaugural season of “Raymond,” James made his first appearance on the series as Kevin, the hang-out buddy of Romano’s sportswriter character, Ray Barone. He and Romano even wrote their own “Raymond” script together for what became James’ second “Raymond” appearance. That episode – “The Ball” – was seen by CBS head Les Moonves, who figured the network also needed to be doing business with Kevin James.
Wiethorn and co-creator’s David Litt’s pilot script for “The King of Queens” originally landed on the desks of NBC, who passed on the show, failing to their grasp the concept of James’ character, Doug Heffernan, to be a winner, though married and content with his small, blue-collar life. CBS, however, saw the material as a good match for its demographic. “The King of Queens” (1998-2007) was developed for the air, kicking off in the fall of 1998 and focusing on the titular husband, a well-meaning parcel delivery man who shares a modest house with his legal secretary wife and her aging father. As James’ character Kevin had seemingly morphed into the character of Doug on “Raymond;” Romano’s Ray Barone was able to make the occasional appearance on James’ show, putting them both in the same, viewer-comfortable outer-borough universe. In the series’ first year, CBS further put its New York-set comedies into the same cohabitated orbit as James’ Doug Heffernan also visited “Cosby” (1996-2000) and up to the Bronx for “Becker” (1998-2004). “The King of Queens” quickly found its stride and a loyal following with the network’s audiences. As the show took off, James came to realize a crucial romantic component was missing from his own life. While having his apartment redecorated, the interior decorator fixed him up with a friend, Steffiana De La Cruz, a pairing which ended up in an engagement by 2003.
Having attained solid popularity on the small screen, a trip to the movies was in store by 2004. James had done some voice dubbing for a translated version of Roberto Benigni’s adapted fiasco, “Pinocchio” (2002), but officially hit the big screens with a small factory employee role in Adam Sandler’s romantic comedy, “50 First Dates” (2004). The actor then stepped into the male co-lead role of the Will Smith-anchored “Hitch” (2005) as Albert, the shy accountant patient of Smith’s “date doctor,” looking to woo a wealthy company client. At the close of the shoot, he married De La Cruz in June and immediately reteamed with Romano on a feature comedy about a San Fernando Valley-based meat salesman. Following production, the ensuing result, “Grilled,” was shelved while James returned to work on his sitcom.
In the summer of 2005, “Hitch” was a surprise smash, both critically and at the box office. The movie made use of James’ everyman persona and honed comic verbiage, but also tapped into his gift for physical comedy; no small feat, opposite Smith. Nevertheless, James still managed to snatch a bit of the A-lister’s comedic thunder. A year later, James’ work on “King of Queens” was at last recognized by Emmy voters through a lead actor award nomination. With the familiarity on both TV and movie screens, James was soon putting his much-heard voice to use in a series of CG animation features. He spent the summer onscreen in the suburbs and in the country, first taking on the duties of an officer with “Monster House” (2006), followed by the carefree farm cow, Otis, of “Barnyard” (2006).
“The King of Queens” bowed out in the spring of 2007, having admirably retained its core tone while managing to gradually expand the lifestyle and dreams of the Heffernans over nine seasons. On his downtime, the actor continued to perform his stand-up comedy as he had done over the years, but with his past taste of movie success, James was ready to explore the possibilities on the big screen full time. Awaiting the release of another summer comedy, “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” (2007) – one that put him back alongside comic superstar Adam Sandler, but this time, in a co-lead capacity – James did not stray too far from his “Queens” persona, starring as firefighter Larry, who marries Sandler’s firefighter Chuck in order to keep his family benefits package. Just like many of Sandler’s talented friends, James continued to pop up in the funnyman’s productions, including a cute bit in “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” (2008). He surprised Hollywood on his own, however, when his low-budget comedy “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” (2009) became an enormous blockbuster. The mix of low-impact action and James’ goofy charms helped make the film one of the biggest success stories of the year. Proving just how popular he really was, James was also chosen to host the 2010 Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, and appeared alongside Adam Sandler and a gaggle of “SNL” alum in the good-hearted comedy “Grown Ups” (2010).
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