Kevin Hart embraces failures, redemption
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 Hart’s special “Irresponsible” is streaming now.
Kevin Hart and his wife, Eniko Parrish, were married in 2016.