(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.
More importantly — and, for those who still don't get Hart's appeal, pay attention — Hart's humor is, dare I say it, revolutionary. Not in the traditional sense — his humor is too friendly and apolitical for that — but in the sense that what he's doing is legitimately subversive.
Hart is a black man. An American black man from Philadelphia, undoubtedly aware of and influenced by American culture in general and African-American culture in particular. Those who are subject to these influences know that within black culture is a certain hyper-heterosexual ideal that black men are "supposed to" embody. And, when one is supposed to be hyper-hetero, "self-deprecating" and "unfailingly uncool" are two of the traits he's not supposed to possess.
He's not shy about the fact that he does, though, as he revolves entire sets around a few things to which it's still somewhat taboo for heterosexual black men to publicly admit and/or bring attention:
1. Being small/physically weak
2. Not being good at fighting/defending yourself
3. Not having much success with women
Basically, not just being a "punk," but a self-aware punk strangely secure enough in his insecurity to invite others to laugh at him.
There's no doubt much of Hart's act is hyperbolic. He is rich, very successful and extremely popular, and I have trouble believing he's as uncool in real life as the character he portrays both onstage and in shows such as BET's The Real Husbands of Hollywood. And, if he's been beaten up as many times as he says he has in his acts, I doubt he'd even be able to stand onstage without a cane.
But, although the exaggeration may seem unnecessary (and even dishonest), sometimes you may need to be over the top in order to drive home a point. Hart's act does this — ultimately satirizing that hyper-hetero, super-cool ideal that all black men are supposed to live up to — and his humor reminds the audience that while stereotypical black men are one way, neither he, nor many who relate to his humor, are that way at all.
Damon Young, contributing editor at Ebony.com, is the co-founder of VerySmartBrothas.com and co-author of Your Degrees Won't Keep You Warm at Night: The Very Smart Brothas Guide to Dating, Mating, and Fighting Crime. Follow him on Twitter.
Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VerySmartBrothas.com. He is also a contributing editor at Ebony.com. He lives in Pittsburgh and he really likes pancakes. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.