‘Paul Blart’ Actor Kevin James Was Once a Football Stud

Kevin James is one of those celebrities who seems pretty easy to figure out. He’s the hilarious, lovable bigger guy that his fans can’t help but commiserate with. But there’s one potentially surprising aspect of James’ past you may not be able to guess. It came well before he reached superstardom during his college days.

You’ve seen him as a comedian, delivery guy, and an overmatched mall security guard. Now here’s the story of James’ career and his somewhat unexpected past as a football stud. 

The career of Kevin James

Kevin James arrives for the "Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2" New York Premiere at AMC Loews Lincoln Square on April 11, 2015 in New York City.
Kevin James | Brent N. Clarke/FilmMagic

RELATED: ‘Kevin Can Wait’ Killed Donna Off So Show Could Survive

James got his start as a stand-up comedian. What truly put him on the map was his role as the husband on The King of Queens. Playing opposite Leah Remini as delivery guy Doug Heffernan, the duo had a longstanding run on the popular CBS sitcom. Throw in Jerry Stiller’s Arthur as James’ father-in-law, and the show had the recipe for a hit. 

James is also known for starring alongside Adam Sandler in a number of Happy Madison films including I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and the Grown-Ups series. One of James’s most successful solo acts was in the film Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Critics may not have loved the film’s sophomoric humor, but audiences did: It was a box office hit that spawned a sequel. 

James’s shtick is to play the goofy big guy that viewers can at times relate to and other times laugh at. Behind some of his seemingly simple roles lies a gifted comic mind. James’s early stand-up routines show his ability as a writer, and his ability to pick projects that resonate with audiences shows how savvy a performer he can be. 

The physical comedy of Kevin James

James’s early career as a stand up comedian was punctuated by an innate sense of how to use physicality to get a joke across. According to IMDb, James released his seminal stand up special Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff in 2001. His next comedy special wouldn’t come for another 17 years.

While movies and TV took their toll on James’ schedule, he seems to always return to his stand up roots. One of the hallmarks of stand up comedy is the ability to not just write jokes, but also perform them. Some comedians aren’t physical in their acts.

For example, comedian Steven Wright delivers deadpan one-liners with little movement. James had a different style. He always used outlandish act outs to accompany his punchlines. This brand of physical comedy made its way into his movie and TV roles as well. 

With that in mind, James’ history of athletic achievement may be a little less surprising. 

Kevin James’s past life as a football player

James (or, more accurately, his characters) may have received a reputation as stumbling man-children, but there’s more to James than meets the eye. He actually was something of a gifted athlete in his younger years. According to CBS.com, James played college football. He played for the football team at the State University of New York located in Cortland, New York. He also majored in sports management. 

While this may seem surprising at first, it shouldn’t be. A lot of what James does involves physical comedy. Like other big guys before him (Chris Farley, John Candy, etc.), James shows a special knack for using his body to underline the humor of a scene and tell jokes.

This type of comedy does require a certain gracefulness and athleticism. His early years as a football player shows he has that athletic side.