On Jan. 3, “The Ellen Degeneres Show” aired an interview with Kevin Hart in which Hart discussed his resurfaced tweets that came about shortly after the announcement went public that he would be hosting this year’s Oscars. The main controversy revolves around tweets and jokes that fall between the time period of 2009 and 2011: a segment from Hart’s 2010 stand up show “Seriously Funny” showed him explaining that one of his biggest fears was his son growing up to be gay and a series of now deleted tweets that contained homophobic slurs.
Hart stated in the interview that he felt as though the tweets had resurfaced as a result of a malicious attack, intending to smear his name and cause public outrage and thus make the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences reconsider their decision to have him as a host. Hart did ultimately step down from the position when requested by the Academy to apologize publicly. He initially refused to apologize, explaining in an Instagram video that he had already addressed his past multiple times. Eventually, however, Hart did apologize again on Twitter.
Although Kevin Hart’s instinctual reaction to not apologize for his past creates the image of a lackluster attempt to make amends with the people he offended, it’s also important to acknowledge that Hart has addressed his past jokes before. As a result, his seemingly half-hearted apologies may be coming from someone who has found himself caught in a cycle of beating the same dead horse. There were some things mentioned in Hart’s tweets that will always be tasteless (such as the slur “f**”), but comedians themselves also shouldn’t have to make a conscious effort to refrain from jokes that seem out-of-pocket to certain audiences.
While it was right for Hart to be held accountable the first time around for his tweets, it’s worth trying to bring context to the era the jokes were made in. American society has been progressive, especially in the past half century, but there was a time not too long ago where crude humor was much more prominent, and where attitudes towards LGBTQ+ rights weren’t as inclusive as they are today. Both Democrat and Republican candidates for president in 2008 all asserted that marriage should be between a man and a woman, including former President Barack Obama, who expressed evolving stances on gay marriage rights. This is despite the fact that Obama did applaud the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality in 2015.
It’s laudable that society is continuing to embrace the LGBTQ+ community more, but one must keep in mind that Hart’s jokes weren’t too far from popular public opinion at the time they were being made. However, it’s worth conceding that the derogatory terms Hart used in his tweets towards gay people should always be off limits, time and place aside.
Kevin Hart definitely isn’t the first celebrity to be caught in a storm of public outrage from past tweets containing vulgar jokes. Recent internet sensation Kevin Pena, better known as “Brother Nature,” who gained popularity for his videos documenting his interactions with wild animals, had to issue an apology after some of his tweets from 2011-2012 resurfaced. The tweets contained racist and sexist jokes, and while earning condemnation, many did find it unreasonable that Pena was apologizing for ignorant tweets that came from an impressionable twelve-year-old. Pete Davidson, a long standing comedian, has recently come forth and publicly apologized to former Congressman Dan Crenshaw for making a joke about Crenshaw’s eyepatch, which Crenshaw has worn ever since he lost his eye in combat.
Pete Davidson is more correlated to Hart in the sense that both are comedians who are simply doing their job. It’s not fair to ask them to pull certain jokes from their routines in order to try and be more politically correct, especially given the inherently subjective nature of humor. Comedy itself is also not meant to be politically correct – the shock factor is often what attracts people to it.
Davidson, despite only recently coming under public scrutiny, has always had a comedy style of dark humor. In a New York Times interview in 2015, Davidson talked about making jokes about his father, who died in 9/11, to which he described this post-trauma comedy as his coping mechanism for uncomfortable topics. Even though today’s environment is much more aware of trying not to overstep boundaries for the sake of not offending someone, comedy has long contained jokes that push boundaries and offend, hence the category of dark humor and satirical comedy.
The reactions towards these public figures brings us to wonder whether jumping onto the bandwagon of public outrage has become normalized in society. Whether or not Kevin Hart gains back popularity from this blunder, it’s likely that he’ll always be associated with his unfortunate past. Again, dark humor has been around for a long time, found in the repertoire of stand-up comedians like Davidson and Hart or in TV shows such as South Park. However, given the context of today’s “call-out” culture, which has been spurred on by social media, perhaps we may be witnessing a new age in which comedians entering the industry choose to withhold from telling certain jokes in order to become more popular and attract a larger audience.
It’s worth speculating that whoever brought Kevin Hart’s old tweets into the spotlight was doing it with the intention of harming his opportunity to host the Oscars. However, it’s become old news for Hart to continue addressing jokes that he has acknowledged already. Despite the tendency for people nowadays to be more aware of political correctness, we as a society shouldn’t continuously shun celebrities for past mistakes or for trying their hand at dark comedy. The moment we attempt to censor comedy is when we start sliding down a very slippery slope that misses the point of comedy itself completely.