kevin hart
Kevin Hart is in the spotlight again, but this time it isn't so positive. (Illustration by Luca Bowles, Kingston University)
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kevin hart

Given how ambitious Hart usually is, the routine felt phoned-in.

Kevin Hart first became nationally recognized in stand-up comedy, and from there he expanded to a variety of projects. He has acted alongside names like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (“Jumanji” and “Central Intelligence”) and Ice Cube in both “Ride Along” movies.

On top of his extensive on-screen performances he has done voiceovers for several animated films, such as “The Secret Life of Pets,” which thrived in the box office. However, after his successes, could Hart’s newest project, “Irresponsible,” spell decline?

Previous Work

In addition to stand-up comedy, Hart is no stranger to television or the internet. Aside from his work on the silver screen, Hart led five seasons of the reality-television parody series, “Real Husbands of Hollywood,” and, last year, became the host of the competition reality show “TKO: Total Knockout,” though he is awaiting confirmation for a second season from CBS.

On YouTube, Hart continues to push content to 3.6 million subscribers with his “LOL Network.” He heads two shows himself, one being the “locker-room” talk show “Cold as Balls” where Hart sits in ice baths with athlete guests who are primarily NBA players. The comedic workhorse also produces another fitness-themed show on his YouTube channel called “What the Fit” where he and celebrities — such as recent guests Anna Kendrick and Kourtney Kardashian — get active in various inventive ways.

Despite his comprehensive portfolio and constant roles in film, television and online platforms, Hart continues to perform stand-up comedy and releases comedy specials every few years. His earlier specials, like “I’m a Grown Little Man” (released originally as a CD in 2006) and “Laugh at My Pain,” were popular, containing jokes that are still present in memes and gifs to this day.

In 2016, Hart broke several records by selling out Lincoln Financial Field in his home city, Philadelphia, for the production of his comedy special “Kevin Hart: What Now?” Hart was very ambitious with this production, including a short 15-minute James Bond spoof film featuring Halle Berry before the performance. The comic also incorporates boundary-spanning special effects such as large, high-definition background screens that illustrate the dynamic settings of his bits.

Another unorthodox component to “Kevin Hart: What Now?” is the playful lighting Hart incorporates into his performance. The massively successful project seemed to be pioneering new conventions for stand-up comedy, without sacrificing any of its humor, as Hart employed an arsenal of enthralling anecdotes, impersonations and noises.

“Irresponsible”

Similar to his 2016 performance, Hart took a grandiose approach to his newest special, “Irresponsible,” which was released on April 2 as a Netflix Original. His 2019 performance begins when an octagon of walls made up of screens ascend from the stage, revealing a cloud of smoke where Hart suddenly appears with Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble” booming and lights flashing at the audience.

Unlike most stand-up concerts where the entire audience faces the stage from one side, Hart changes things by placing himself smack dab in the middle of the venue, fully surrounded by a massive London crowd. He breaks into the show strong with anecdotal humor that centers around his family, typical material for Hart. The stories about his children and relationships are very relatable. In one spiel, he says,

“If you’re a parent here tonight, and you don’t think your kids curse, you’re a stupid parent. You’re stupid. As soon as you walk out the house your kids let it fly. ‘F—, mother b—, d—, p—, a—, b—.’ It don’t even go together. They say it at the same time.”

Although kids cursing is far from a new topic, Hart delivers it in an abrupt and enthusiastic fashion that appeals to both parents and young adults who remember acting that way. His observations of his children are often hysterical because of their realness. However, when Hart begins meandering through his sex life, the honesty can become superfluous, which is apparent in the crowd’s mild reactions.

Corporal punishment also nonchalantly pops up in Hart’s material and often comes off as awkward. Although lack of seriousness is customary in stand-up comedy, his mentions of corporal punishment negatively stick out to audiences. Regardless, his anecdotes make up a well-rounded beginning to “Irresponsible” and they keep his audience heavily engaged through the first 30 minutes of the hour-long special.

The middle section of the special is where Hart’s performance becomes rocky. The comic goes down a dreary, laugh-free road when he begins his “Great Baby” bit. Hart strains to describe a hypothetical situation where he cannot figure out who s— on the floor in the only blind spot in the house, or whatever he was trying to get across in the jumbled and incoherent story.

As he delivers stale jokes that branch from the ridiculous “Great Baby” bit, the London crowd wears confused or unamused facial expressions. Their displeasure is visible throughout the sequence because Hart is operating without a background at center stage. Luckily, the bit only suffocates “Irresponsible” for eight minutes, but it makes recovery difficult for Hart.

Although Hart transitions from “Great Baby” fairly harshly into his “Secret Gun Compartment” bit, he electrifies the audience with his wacky gesticulations and ludicrous facial expressions as he acts out fantasy scenarios of drawing guns on intruders in his home. The performance is enhanced by intense background music that heightens the irony of Hart’s silliness. For five consecutive jokes, Hart strolls across the stage expressionless until the music hits and his hands fly up as he says, “Oh… Oh, s—. Oh, s—.”

Then the camera closes in on his face as he fiercely delivers “This how you gonna do me? Huh? You going to rob me at [location]? Okay… Okay. I’ma give you what you want. I’ma give you what you want.”

After each buildup, Hart concludes the repetition with a corny punchline like “Just let me check on the turkey one last time. Gun compartment!”

The sequence is without a doubt the most memorable portion of “Irresponsible” because of the ridiculousness of Hart’s body language and verbal deliveries. However, reactions to the “Gun Compartment” bit could be seen as “cheap laughs”; after all, the punchlines are hardly clever and he recites the same lines continuously, as if filling space in an otherwise thin routine.

The “Gun Compartment” bit revitalizes the energy lost during the “Great Baby” incident, but the remainder of the show fails to keep a viewer engaged. Hart also concludes abruptly by referencing his previous “forehead spit” joke, which has little connection to what he was originally talking about. At the end of the show, confetti ironically showers audience members who had their chins in their palms midway through.

“Irresponsible” did not share the strengths of Hart’s previous outputs. The jokes in his routines are not as finely intertwined with each other, his impersonations are not as stellar and Hart didn’t push the envelope with special effects like he did in “Kevin Hart: What Now?” The 2019 Netflix Original is a step back for Hart on the stand-up stage. It’s very possible that he may be struggling to create material due to his long career and involvement in numerous non-stand-up projects.

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