Stand-up comedy is a funny thing (pun completely intended), it’s a money making vehicle for companies as they can get millions back on minuscule budgets. It is also one of the few types of films released in theaters that are not narratively based, not to mention its status as personal entertainment, wherein stand-up is so successful because it so completely connects to people. Part of stand-up comedy’s (and comedy’s in general) appeal is that the main figures, the comedians, are relatable; they flesh out stories that we understand the inherent humor in, and they build upon it. They provide new outlooks on common situations that make us look differently at them, with more of an amiable contentedness. Kevin Hart, one of the most recognizable comedians today with a career that has been skyrocketing, built his career on this concept. He is a small man with a Napoleonic complex a mile wide, but he’s relatable, his physical and life struggles combined with his brash attitude and fiery delivery has connected with audiences over the past decade not only in his stand-up specials, but also in his movies as well. However, with his most recent production of Kevin Hart: What Now? we see a heinous decline in form, as the entire special comes off as a sort of weird, ego-driven pat on the back that Hart gives to himself, resulting in a comedy production only faithful Kevin Hart fans will enjoy.
The main abhorrent self-aggrandizing of this show simply comes from its setting. The special was filmed in Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field in an attempt to break a record for largest stand-up special audience. This is a fool’s errand, whatever grandiosity is brought on by such a feat pales in comparison to the terrible and completely misused environment. For the entire stand-up performance, Hart’s voice echoes throughout the stadium, very clearly and distractingly audible to the audience viewing the film. It’s a detail that may seem small but is eminently and annoyingly notable throughout the viewing. The gigantic crowd is not even utilized, far-spreading shots of them being few and far between as singular members of the audience are concentrated on. Because of the acoustics, a good deal of the laughter sounds either piped in via the stadium speakers or perhaps even added in post-production, if it is audible at all, it is hard to tell as the sound levels are incredibly poorly produced throughout the movie.
This egotistical excess is evident from the very beginning, as a James Bond-like intro puts Hart in the position of super-spy hero in a confusingly written skit where Hart portrays himself as a sort of comedy badass, culminating in a scene where he kills multiple men with his bare hands. This intro skit lacks any real sense of cohesive comedy, the jokes are forced into the setting and very few parts are actually laugh-out-loud funny. The one enjoyable portion of this intro is the cameos: Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, and Ed Helms all make appearances, and despite the fact that none of them are given much to work with (even for a skit); it is fun to see them, if completely useless. Once we finally get to the stage act the first thing he does is talk about how much he likes Philadelphia. Why not cut this? It is clearly an attempt to get the audience warmed up but has absolutely no meaning for anyone outside of that city, and this is a national release.
The content of the special itself is middling at best, Hart’s best work has been done in previous stand up specials and this event really pales in comparison. Kevin Hart’s detachment from relatable funny guy and transformation into egotistical comedy “rock star” is never more apparent than in his new material. How is someone sitting in a movie theater or even watching this at home suppose to relate to jokes about the difficulties of being incredibly successful, braggadocios anecdotes about how hard it is to have a super-long driveway that goes up to his mansion, how he laments that his kids don’t have “edge” since he sends them to private schools? Sound effects and a giant LCD screen illustrating them coddle his punch lines, as if the effort given to the jokes already wasn’t simple enough. His attire is bedazzled in gold (even his microphone is gold), not only unnecessary but completely distracting. Worst of all, Kevin Hart has become a new generation’s Jeff Foxworthy, even including the self-fulfilling crap comedy specialty of the audience-provided punch line. Hart’s “Oh Really?” bit, where he goes into a rant about how black women never trust anyone, is this generation’s “You know you’re a redneck if…” it is lazy humor that takes up far too much of the special and really denigrates Kevin Hart’s work into something of a stock comedian, pandering to interactivity not in a creative, personal sense, but rather as a cheap gimmick used to get over with an audience that already loves him.
The ending to the show is similarly cheap: Hart makes a grandiose statement about how he and all of the audience in attendance “did it together”, as if that has any real meaning or impact. It is impressive that Hart can sell so many tickets, but what is the point if your act has gone stale and you provide nothing worthy to your fans? Nothing was more insulting than after the final skit, after the stage act, where it was revealed that the whole production was seemingly nothing more than an advertisement to his pending “Global Tour”. Hart’s fans have been loyal, they flock to his movies in droves, and they deserve far better than an hour and a half of bad comedy turned commercial. It’s almost as if he’s writing his audience an I.O.U., deal with this garbage now for the sake of my ego and perhaps I’ll give you some genuine laughs later on down the line.
Ultimately, I will give Kevin Hart: What Now? two stars, because those that love Kevin Hart will enjoy this feature, if not as much as they deserve to. In my showing there was rip-roaring laughter going on along with the silent seats, and Hart still has that quality of appeal to a lot of people and his shtick is in full form. Hart knows his core audience and still provides just enough laughs for them to make this special, at the very least, serviceable. However, the jokes are so lacking and the environment so ego-driven one has to wonder if his essential skill as a comic, his relatable-ness, is completely gone. Are we looking at another situation like Dane Cook, who, after the release of his special in front of a sold-out Madison Square Garden, faded almost completely into obscurity? I hope not, Kevin Hart was once a very powerful and new comedian, but he is going to have to evolve to have any sort of impact in the coming years.
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