In January, when Kevin Hart backed out of hosting the 2019 Oscars after his homophobic tweets resurfaced, he held his ground that he shouldn’t have to apologize for his statements. After backlash, he went on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in a bizarre last-ditch effort to win back public opinion (if not the hosting gig) citing previous apologies he claimed to have made but that no one could find.
Since then, he’s had to repeatedly address the controversy on press tours, which he’s done with the same speech about how he doesn’t actually have to address it. And now, his latest Netflix stand up special Kevin Hart: Irresponsible, which taped months before the Oscars debacle, is entirely about not wanting to own up to misdeeds in real life too.
The (admittedly hilarious) special is essentially a running list of stories about him messing up and the various ways he tried to play it off or begrudgingly apologize. But it wasn’t all lighthearted screwups; among his admissions are having cheated on his current wife in Las Vegas, which he prefaced with, “This time I fucked up, but I don’t like it when people act like you planned to fuck up …. the important thing is to learn from your fuckups.” He then proceeded to joke about how annoying it was to have to win his wife’s trust back, setting it up with the explanation, “When you try to fight for your woman to feel secure, you end up feeling insecure as a man. You’re questioning yourself.” Essentially, he framed making things right as laughably awkward, vaguely unnatural, and out of his comfort zone.
He also told a fairly cringey story about having spat on his wife’s face during sex after seeing that in a porno. And after she went off on him, he said discussing it made him uncomfortable, telling the audience, “What did I tell you guys? I don’t like to talk, let it float in the air and disappear. I don’t like to talk about it.”
The things Hart didn’t own up to in the special stuck out just as much. He practically paused the comedy to defend himself against tabloid speculation that he was responsible for his first divorce, saying, “I want to make it clear to everybody that in my first marriage I did not fuck up. I filed for divorce, which means I chose to leave, which means I made a better decision for me in my life.” (Meanwhile, it sounds like his ex-wife Torrei Hart thinks his cheating had a lot to do with their divorce.) Collectively, his apology stories and omitted apologies painted a picture of a man who’s an unreliable narrator at best, and a flawed person gaining clout from wrongheaded shenanigans at worst.
Hart seems to consider joking about his past a form of owning up to his misdeeds, though. He told USA Today, “stand-up comedy is an open book to my life, all the good and the bad,” adding, “[Comedy] acts as therapy for me–I don’t go to a therapist, my fan base is that. That’s my drug of choice: venting and letting it all out up there is what clears my head and puts me in a good space, you know?” The idea of comedy as therapy isn’t necessarily a new one; it’s also been used to justify comics like Louis CK addressing their historical misdeeds on the mic.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with using comedy as a therapeutic outlet, but a comedian as popular as Hart has a large platform to influence culture at large with what he says. His bit on parenting, for example, was full of outdated tropes, and felt in part like a sanded-down version of the homophobic tweets he’d been called out for.
Of course Hart’s jokes can’t be taken literally as serious opinions. But jokes still affect the zeitgeist. And there are plenty of comedians who don’t turn their sets into a safe space for men to commiserate over how hard it is to behave properly. Hart went out on a limb, and certainly pulled out another laugh-out-loud routine, but his flaws were showing too—not just the ones he wanted us to see.
This article was changed to reflect that Kevin Hart’s special taped before his Oscars controversy occurred.
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