Kevin Hart, Revolutionary

The pint-size comedian constantly -- and hilariously -- subverts the image of black masculinity.

Kevin Hart dives into a California crowd. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment)
Kevin Hart dives into a California crowd. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment)

(The Root) — There are many people who do not think Kevin Hart is funny. This in itself is neither a surprise nor particularly noteworthy. There is no comedian who everyone thinks is funny, and, aside from Michael Strahan and a few four- and five-year-old boys, there is no person who thinks everyone is funny.

Yet, it seems like many of the many people who don’t think Hart is funny make it their duty to let you know exactly how much effort they’ve put into how unfunny he is. It’s not enough to merely say, “Kevin Hart isn’t my cup of tea” or “I just don’t think he’s that entertaining.” Hart’s mere existence pains them, and the fact that more people don’t share this pain pains them even more. 

I thought of this while wondering how annoyed those who swear Hart is aggressively unfunny must have been if they were keeping up with the recent NBA All-Star Weekend in Houston. Hart was so ubiquitous that I just started seeing him everywhere, imagining him places where I knew he wasn’t. 

“There’s Kevin Hart, fighting a mascot and dunking on Swin Cash. Wait, there’s Kevin Hart again, making rabbit ears behind David Stern. Who knew Chris Paul’s son was so big? Wait … that’s actually Kevin Hart! Oh sh-t! Kevin Hart’s singing the Canadian National Anthem? I had no idea he could sing. Or was Canadian. Is that Kevin Hart hiding inside of Shaq’s shoe?”

Admittedly, it’s not difficult to see why Hart’s particular style of comedy may be off-putting and why his popularity may be puzzling. He’s not a cerebral comic in the same way a Chris Rock or Louie CK might be. He’s definitely not as intentionally iconoclastic as a Richard Pryor, George Carlin or even Paul Mooney. He doesn’t make you laugh at things you’re kind of ashamed to be laughing at the way Patrice O’Neal did and Bill Burr currently does. And while Hart is a good storyteller and impressionist, Eddie Murphy was/is much better at both.

Often, Hart seems to get his laughs in the cheapest way possible — by being the loudest, shortest and most obnoxious person in the room. Basically, it’s as if he’s made a career out of being a professional court jester, a well-paid perpetual foil, and I can understand why people wouldn’t be too happy about paying money to watch the guy who reminds you of the guy in sixth-grade French who never had a pencil (and would spend the entire class asking you and everyone else for one).

Assessing Hart’s career in this superficial manner, though, dismisses certain qualities that make Hart’s humor quite a bit smarter than it initially appears. Although I don’t know Hart personally, there’s a level of self-awareness to his act-persona that allows his shtick to work. He knows exactly who he is, and much of his humor comes from him placing himself in situations or telling stories where both he and the audience know he’s in over his head.