Kevin Hart em­braces fail­ures, re­demp­tion

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Pa­trick Ryan

Co­me­dian talks about Os­cars hub­bub, per­sonal strug­gles and his new spe­cial

Kevin Hart isn’t run­ning away from past mis­takes. ❚ “You should em­brace your flaws, be­cause they help make you who you are,” the co­me­dian says in his aptly ti­tled “Ir­re­spon­si­ble,” stream­ing Tues­day on Net­flix. Hart’s hour-long spe­cial, filmed at Lon­don’s O2 Arena last Septem­ber, can­didly tack­les par­ent­ing, di­vorce and cheat­ing on his se­cond wife, Eniko Par­rish, in 2017.

It also ar­rives four months af­ter Hart stepped down as Os­car host af­ter pub­lic out­cry over ho­mo­pho­bic tweets he posted in 2011. In an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with USA TO­DAY, Hart, 39, talks about that con­tro­versy, his past in­fi­delity and com­edy evo­lu­tion.

Ques­tion: In your last spe­cial, 2016’s “What Now?” you say that “36 is the per­fect age to stop giv­ing a (ex­ple­tive).” Has your phi­los­o­phy changed or stayed the same at 39?

Kevin Hart: Well, I’m about to be 40, so there is a high level of not giv­ing a (ex­ple­tive), but I want to make sure that peo­ple un­der­stand what

that means. (It) means that you’re OK with be­ing hu­man, and as a hu­man, you’ve got to be OK with be­ing flawed. You’ve got to be OK with know­ing that mis­takes can be made, and that there’s al­ways op­por­tu­nity for growth and im­prove­ment. The only way to learn is to (mess) up. My stand-up com­edy is an open book to my life, all the good and the bad. So I think at 39, I’m be­com­ing a pol­ished ver­sion of what I once was.

Q: You ad­dress your in­fi­delity and the me­dia at­ten­tion it got early on in “Ir­re­spon­si­ble.” Did

your wife have any trep­i­da­tion about you us­ing it as part of your act?

Hart: Me and my wife were on the same page, be­cause this is some­thing we ad­dressed in our house­hold first. Be­fore it gets to the stage, my home has to be handled; we have to be in the space where we’re OK, and our con­ver­sa­tions are ul­ti­mately what led to the ma­te­rial . ... So there wasn’t a push­back, be­cause this is al­ways who I’ve been . ... This acts as ther­apy for me – I don’t go to a ther­a­pist, my fan base is that. That’s my drug of choice: vent­ing and let­ting it all out up there.

Q: You men­tion in one of your jokes the need to help her feel se­cure about your mar­riage again. What has been most valu­able for you, in terms of re­gain­ing her trust?

Hart: The best way to gain any­one’s trust is to put ac­tions be­hind your words. So just mak­ing sure I’m do­ing ev­ery­thing to show that I’m aware of my mis­takes and mov­ing for­ward. I want to show that there’s a high level of ma­tu­rity that goes with me now. I’m not in the streets, I’m not out the way that I once was, and I’m just fo­cus­ing more on that fam­ily en­vi­ron­ment.

Q: On the day of the Os­cars, you posted a video of your­self box­ing. Did you watch the show?

Hart: No, I didn’t watch it. Of course, not out of mal­ice or any­thing like that, I was just work­ing – I got done and I went to the gym after­ward. So that’s the only rea­son. I heard it went very well, which is a good thing.

Q: Now that you’re a cou­ple of months out from the con­tro­versy, what was the big­gest les­son from that whole ex­pe­ri­ence?

Hart: It was about mak­ing sure peo­ple are aware that you’re re­morse­ful for your past and the things that you’ve done. And the best way to over­come those wrong­do­ings is to pro­ceed with change.

I had con­ver­sa­tions with good friends of mine that are part of the LGBTQ com­mu­nity, and lis­tened and heard the point of view, which was: “Hey, Kevin, we just want to know that you don’t feel the way you felt then. We wanted to hear you say that,” which is what a good friend of mine, Lee Daniels, told me. And I said, “You know what, Lee, I can un­der­stand that.” I thought me putting my change on dis­play and never go­ing back to that was the best way to do that. And if the ver­bal (apol­ogy) would have been bet­ter, then I can un­der­stand that. But at the time, I didn’t grasp that con­cept. ... Hope­fully the peo­ple of the LGBTQ com­mu­nity know that I in no way, shape or form em­brace any ill will to­ward anybody in gen­eral. It’s not who I am.

Q: Many peo­ple took is­sue with the fact that you didn’t apol­o­gize im­me­di­ately, and when you did, it seemed as if you were play­ing the vic­tim. Do you re­gret any­thing about how you handled things?

Hart: The way that I handled it in the be­gin­ning was never from a place where I’m be­ing neg­a­tive or an­gry or play­ing vic­tim. It was: “Hey, guys, I apol­o­gized about this. I talked about this years ago and I said I’ll never do it again.” To me, that was the apol­ogy. The apol­ogy was never do­ing it again. So I didn’t un­der­stand why that wasn’t good (enough). Why isn’t the 10-year change of a guy never talk­ing like this, never do­ing it again through stand-up or jokes, be­ing no­ticed? I thought the best way to say sorry is by chang­ing, whereas some peo­ple still wanted to just hear me say it again.

Q: In your “What Now” spe­cial, you say that you and your kids don’t al­ways see eye to eye, but they’re still your best friends. What’s been their take on the back­lash, given that your son was the sub­ject of those past ho­mo­pho­bic jokes?

Hart: There were con­ver­sa­tions I had with my kids through­out the whole thing of: “Hey, guys, you know who your fa­ther is. You know your fa­ther’s heart. I know that you guys are on your phones and the in­ter­net, and you’re go­ing to read stuff. But I want you to al­ways un­der­stand who your fa­ther is and don’t let things change your judg­ment.” And they said: “Dad, we know who you are. We know that you love ev­ery­body.” So it wasn’t some­thing that was blown into a big thing at all.

Q: Many co­me­di­ans have spo­ken about want­ing to evolve and be more sen­si­tive in their acts while also not los­ing their edge. What has that process been like for you?

Hart: I don’t want to say it’s a tough time, be­cause this is life. In any level of life there’s change, and within change there should al­ways be growth. In this par­tic­u­lar pe­riod that we’re in, so­cial me­dia has given ev­ery­body a voice. It’s hard to ma­neu­ver around all of it. For me, in the last 10 years, you see me stay away from cer­tain things. And the rea­son is be­cause there’s just there’s no win in it; you’re not go­ing to be able to please ev­ery­body. So I try to main­tain a high level of ap­peal to ev­ery­one – I want to make ev­ery­body laugh.

KEVIN KWAN/NET­FLIX

Kevin Hart’s spe­cial “Ir­re­spon­si­ble” is stream­ing now.

DANNY MOLOSHOK/INVISION/AP

Kevin Hart and his wife, Eniko Par­rish, were mar­ried in 2016.

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