Kevin James was born on April 26, 1965, in Mineola, New York. In 1996, his performance at the Montreal Comedy Festival earned him a network development deal. He made several appearances on Everybody Loves Raymond, which helped to establish his career as a comedian and actor. In 1998, he got a lead role on the sitcom The King of Queens, which premiered on CBS and starred James as Doug Heffernan.
Actor and Comedian Kevin James was born Kevin George Knipfing on April 26, 1965, in Mineola, New York, the son of Janet and Joseph Valentine Knipfing. The Knipfing family relocated to Stony Brook in Long Island, New York, where James attended Ward Melville High School. A sports fanatic and talented athlete, James excelled as a tailback on his football team. After graduating in 1983, he continued his football career at SUNY Cortland, where he majored in sports management.
Foray into Comedy
At Cortland, a public speaking course awakened James' love of the stage, and while back home on Long Island, he auditioned for a comedic part in a Shoreham-Wading River Community Theater production. James won the part and thrived in the role. Based on the strength of the audience's response and his burgeoning love of comedy, he chose not to return to college. Instead, he spent time with his brother, Gary Valentine, whose improv group performed regularly at Long Island's now-defunct East Side Comedy Club in Huntington Station. At the club, he also forged a long-lasting friendship with actor and comic Mookie Barker.
During his time with the troupe, he developed a friendship with club owner Richie Minervini and also adopted the stage name Kevin James as an homage to a favorite teacher. Minervini offered James a five-minute stand-up slot at the comedy club, and the aspiring comedian lept at the opportunity. His official comedy debut was a raging success, and he soon became a regular presence on the Long Island club circuit, where he befriended fellow up-and-comer Ray Romano. To make ends meet, James worked at a local warehouse.
James spent roughly 10 years refining and perfecting his act, and eventually transitioned to performing at venues in nearby New York City. As he established himself, he became a frequent late-night talk show guest, and was eventually invited to appear on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. In 1996, his performance at the Montreal Comedy Festival earned him a network development deal, and after making several appearances on Romano's sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, Romano and James penned a script intended to showcase James as a series lead. Romano passed the script along to CBS head Les Moonves, who resonated with James' everyman approach to comedy.
'King of Queens' and More TV Projects
On September 21, 1998, the sitcom The King of Queens premiered on CBS. Starring James as "average Joe" Doug Heffernan, Leah Remini as his sharp-tongued wife and Jerry Stiller as his eccentric father in law, the show held down a primetime slot and garnered steady ratings. After nine seasons, The King of Queens—which earned James an Emmy nomination—stopped production in 2007.
In 2016 James returned to CBS with a fall pilot reminiscent of The King of Queens called Kevin Can Wait. James plays a Long Island cop who retires to spend more time with his family, only to be shocked with the news that his daughter plans to quit college and return to the nest, bringing her British fiancé along with her.
In 2004, James teamed up with Romano to co-star in an HBO special entitled Making the Cut: The Road to Pebble Beach (2005). The production garnered a Sports Emmy nomination, and that same year James made his feature film debut opposite Will Smith in the romantic comedy, Hitch (2005).
That year, he starred with Adam Sandler in the big-screen comedy, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Two years later, he co-wrote and starred in Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009). In 2010, James is paired up with Sandler, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider and David Spade for the feature film Grown Ups. After a strong showing in Grown Ups with several comedic heavy hitters, James' film career took off with lead roles in a string of comedies, including The Dilemma (2011), Zookeeper (2011), Hotel Transylvania (2012) and Here Comes the Boom (2012). In 2013, James reunited with Rock, Sandler and Spade for Grown Ups 2.
James is a devout Catholic and wed long-time girlfriend Steffiana De La Cruz—whom he met on a blind date—in 2004 at St. Edward Catholic Church. They welcomed their first child, Sienna-Marie, in 2005. The couple had two more children: daughter Shea Joelle born in 2007 and son Kannon Valentine born in 2011.
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