Who Is Kevin James?
Born in 1965 in Mineola, New York, Kevin James pursued a burgeoning career in comedy while still in college. He first appeared as Doug Heffernan on The King of Queens in 1998, a role that would launch him to fame through the show's conclusion in 2007. James later starred in such films as Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Here Comes the Boom, and returned to TV in 2016 with Kevin Can Wait.
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's 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 liked James's everyman approach to comedy.
'King of Queens' and 'Kevin Can Wait'
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 prime-time 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 new comedy, Kevin Can Wait, playing a retired Long Island cop. The show was renewed for a second season in 2017, this time with his old on-screen partner, Remini, included in the mix.
Later that year, after actor Kevin Spacey was fired from his starring role on the Netflix show House of Cards over sexual harassment allegations, a Change.org petition circulated, calling for Spacey's role of Frank Underwood to be filled by James. As of the afternoon of November 6, the petition had nearly 18,000 signatures.
In 2005, 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. That same year, James made his feature film debut opposite Will Smith in the romantic comedy, Hitch.
After teaming up with Adam Sandler for I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007), James co-wrote and starred in Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009). In 2010, James paired up with Sandler, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider and David Spade for the feature film Grown Ups.
James tried a slightly more dramatic turn in The Dilemma (2011), before returning to his usual comedic ways with Zookeeper (2011), Hotel Transylvania (2012) and Here Comes the Boom (2012). He revisited previous screen personas via Grown Ups 2 (2013) and Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (2015), before diving into new roles in True Memoirs of an International Assassin (2016) and Sandy Wexler (2017).
A devout Catholic, James wed longtime 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 three more children: daughter Shea Joelle (born in 2007), son Kannon Valentine (2011) and daughter Sistine Sabella (2015).
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