Kevin Hart: What Now?

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One of the perks of being a movie critic is obvious — free movies. Lately, the studios have screened two different movies at the same time, and I’ve had to choose. This time it was between The Accountant and Kevin Hart. We went with Big Ben over little Kev. But I’m a Kevin Hart fan. Before he was famous, I used to catch him on Colin Quinn’s show “Tough Crowd” (which ran from 2002 to 2004). Watching Quinn, Hart, Jim Norton, Patrice O’Neal, and other comedians sitting around riffing…was magical.

When Kevin Hart started doing movies, I was thrilled for his success. It’s tough for comedians to make it. As Jon Favreau said, as a struggling comedian in Swingers, “They make it seem like if you’re a comedian and go out to L.A., they’re handing out sitcoms at the airport.”

Every time Hart is on a talk show, I’m in stitches. Yet when I saw one of his stand-up specials on cable a few years ago, I was really disappointed. His energy and facial expressions were great. The material — not so much.

Yet after a few bad movies, I was pleasantly surprised with Central Intelligence last month, and was looking forward to this stand-up comedy film.

The opening was a James Bond parody with Halle Berry, Ed Helms and Don Cheadle. They all played nicely off each other, and there were a few cute jokes.

Once Hart hit the stage, the laughs stopped.

He was playing to a sold-out crowd of over 50,000 at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, and perhaps that was one of the first problems. Stand-up comedy doesn’t work well to a crowd like that. Maybe Heart singing “Barracuda”, but not Hart doing stand-up. Sam Kinison came close to pulling it off. That’s because he did a lot of yelling, and occasionally pulled out an electric guitar. I still think about the sold-out show I saw him do at SDSU.

Andrew Dice Clay pulled it off because…well, he wasn’t that funny, and he’d just shout dirty nursery rhymes into a microphone. A big crowd, with other dolts that felt the same thing was funny, probably enhanced the experience.

Hart is the type of comedian that probably plays better to a smaller room. He also needs to up his game, if he’s going to keep doing stand-up as well as movies. His material was awful. At one point my girlfriend said, “I didn’t realize he was so vulgar.”

I’d have no problem with that. I was a senior in high school when I went to the theatre to see Eddie Murphy’s stand-up film “Raw.” I had the album from Richard Pryor’s Live on the Sunset Strip. Vulgar can be funny. The problem is that Hart was using the f-bombs and n-word gratuitously, as if you’re supposed to laugh simply because he yells a naughty word. Bill Cosby’s head would’ve exploded (he always knocked comedians that worked blue).

Sure, the n-word was slightly amusing when in reference to this gangster raccoon he went to battle with in his backyard.

The movie also did a few creative things when he’d tell a story, and screens in the background would accompany the story. One of those involved being on a toilet at an airport bathroom. There was another story about the fear of taking out the trash when it’s dark outside and you hear animals (one of the rare bits that worked). Many of the bits were mean-spirited towards women, and just not funny. For example, would you date a woman that had a few limbs eaten off by a shark? They felt like conversations we thought were funny in 8th grade.

Another surprising thing was his long bit about Starbucks. Isn’t that hack material? Comedians stopped making fun of ordering at Starbucks the same time they gave up on bad airline food and the clerk at 7-11 not speaking English.

Another joke started out cute. It was about how African-American women never believe anything. He bugged his eyes out and said in a deep voice, “Really?” You chuckle, but by the 10th time he goes back to that, you roll your eyes (well, the audience was in hysterics; not sure why).

Again, I’m happy for his success. He grew up with a dad that was in and out of jail and a single mom. And he’s a genuinely, nice guy. He’s the hardest working comedian in show business. It seems once a week, he’s either in a movie or on a talk show. So if this was his big return to his hometown, why not show us your hometown? The stand-up could’ve done a bit, then shown him documentary style, with his old friends or walking around his old stompin’ grounds. Let us learn a little more about him.

Anybody that thought this movie was worth the hour and half sitting there, doesn’t have a good barometer for what makes good comedy.

I recently saw a local comedian named Josh Nelson do almost an hour set, and almost every joke had me laughing. This was in front of a relatively small crowd on a weekend night. And it irritates me to know there are talented stand-ups like that, working their asses off…while Hart is going to make $40 million from a movie that wasn’t that funny. That’s not just me and my girlfriend’s opinion. There were six people in the audience with us, and they weren’t laughing either.

This gets 1 star out of 5.