Kevin Hart

Kevin Hart Should Have Just Apologized

After the star stepped down as Oscars host, debate lingers amid an evolving comedy landscape

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The celebrity apology has become so ubiquitous in recent years, especially on social media, that it’s begun to follow an easily predictable template. Celebrity A says something offensive to a marginalized group of people. Social media pounces on the transgression. Celebrity A either posts an Instagram Live video, Facebook or Twitter post, Apple Notes paragraphs or guest editorial for a publication asking for forgiveness and asking that the world move on. Phrases like “teachable moment,” “sorry to those I have offended” and other boilerplate, largely empty statements are jumbled together like a somber Mad Libs. Depending on the offensive gesture, the celebrity either disappears for a few months, deletes social media or goes about life as if nothing happened.

This happens pretty much weekly, with a new celebrity in the hot seat every time. This past week, it was Kevin Hart’s turn to atone for his sins as the announcement that he was pegged to host the 2019 Oscars was quickly followed by years-old homophobic tweets resurfacing. The tweets, all from before 2011, feature Hart using a gay slur, joking that someone’s profile pic looks like a “gay billboard for AIDS” and more homophobic “humor.” Hart, who inexplicably never deleted his old tweets like most sensible celebrities, refused to follow the celebrity-apology template above. He instead declared that he was tired of apologizing (despite the absence of any history of apology) and stepped down as the Oscar host. Before then apologizing on social media.
The entire fiasco is a convergence of a number of societal triggers: homophobia, race, political correctness, so-called “call-out culture” and the very nature of what makes comedians viable. All of these issues muddy two objective facts: Kevin Hart never should have tweeted out those hurtful words, and he absolutely should have apologized for them.

Hart, though, felt like he shouldn’t have had to apologize again for something that he did years ago and felt like he atoned for. But that’s not how hate speech works. Though Hart is indeed an internationally known comedian with record-breaking stand-up specials and blockbuster movies under his belt, the Oscar announcement was a mainstream move for him that exposed the Philly-bred jokester to a whole new, larger audience. An audience that most likely had no clue of Hart’s past comments. So naturally they would want to know, and have a right to know, that he no longer feels like saying those words and repeating those sentiments are acceptable. That’s not too much to ask.
Comedians like D.L. Hughley, Nick Cannon and SNL's Michael Che have come to Hart’s defense, as is typically the case in the comedian fraternity. The battle between comedians and public outrage isn’t nearly new. Neither is the inclination of the comedians’ peers to rally to defend. When Daniel Tosh came under fire for a rape joke in 2012, Louis C.K. (who, it must be mentioned, has been outed for sexually harassing women by masturbating in front of them) came to his defense. Comedians’ mantras are pretty much the same: Comedy isn’t meant to be politically correct, and if you don’t like it, leave it. The consensus here among comedians is that policing their work is a form of censorship. It all speaks to the way society is dictating the direction of comedy.

When Dave Chappelle returned to Netflix last year, after a decade-long sabbatical, he was met with unfamiliar backlash for his jokes about the transgender community. Something he’d never encountered before. In the old days, before social media, fans who decided to pay to attend a certain comedian’s show were entering a social contract of sorts that they knew what kind of comedy they were signing up for and were agreeing to participate in that brand of comedy. Now, thanks to social-media clips and cheap access to shows provided by streaming apps like Netflix, there’s a larger societal consumption of the art. Comedy cellars have been replaced by global audiences who fire off critical tweets the moment the punchline lands. Comedians aren’t free to drop slurs in the secretive confines of a 20-person-capacity club.

The wider audiences are now causing comedians to be more responsible for the jokes they tell. And it’s causing them to rethink their approaches to comedy and consider audiences they may not have intended to perform for in the past. Sure, it’s a nuisance for some, but if a comedian can’t be funny without calling someone a "f—," then maybe they aren’t great comedians to begin with. Comedians do have the right to use their free speech to say whatever they want, but they also need to understand that fans have the right to take them to task for their decisions.
While it goes without saying that black men face more scrutiny compared to white female counterparts, equality doesn't mean getting away with hating marginalized communities with the same freedom as white people.
Then there’s the racial element in all of this. Hughley and Cannon are also defending Hart on the premise that America doesn’t want black celebrities to get too popular without someone digging up dirt on their past to tear them down. While there’s certainly a historical precedent for this concern, Hart’s case is different as he’s actually done something wrong that he needs to atone for. Cannon took his defense to the point of pulling up old homophobic tweets from Amy Schumer, Sarah Silverman and Chelsea Handler, asking where the outrage is for them. While it goes without saying that black men face more scrutiny compared to white female counterparts, Cannon’s argument is short-sighted. He’s making the argument that equality means being able to get away with hating marginalized communities with the same freedom as white people. That’s a regressive stance that only serves to further threaten the lives of the LGBTQ community.

And therein lies the real issue here: The LGBTQ community needs to be treated better. No longer should artists in any walk of life be allowed to use hate speech toward this group as part of their artistic catalogs. This is the base fact that shouldn’t be disputed. Anything else is a roundabout way of avoiding trying to reckon with a culture that allows violence and hatred toward people who in no way deserve it. Hart should have at least recognized that first, and his acceptance of the Oscar role should have been immaterial in comparison.

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