If you’re most people, you probably remember the Kevin Hart Oscars Hosting Controversy of 2018 as an incident that was briefly in the headlines four years ago: The actor and comedian was named the host of that year’s Academy Awards, some old, of-their-time gay jokes of his came to light, and two days later he wasn’t the host anymore.
To most of us, it was one of those controversies that blew over relatively quickly. But to some of the world’s top comedians, the Hart/Oscars flap was a calamitous moment in their lives, akin to Pearl Harbor or 9/11.
Ricky Gervais, himself no stranger to awards show controversies, complained in a 2019 Variety interview about how unfair “looking back at historic tweets” is. He was back at it again in a Netflix special earlier this year, SuperNature:
“Like, poor Kevin Hart! See, Kevin Hart, he got the job hosting the Oscars. His best day ever. He was on Twitter, ‘I’ve wanted to do this all my life.’ And then someone found these ten-year-old tweets. Look, they were sort of childish, sort of shitty homophobic tweets. It was about his son, he was mucking around. He said, ‘oh, my son’s doing so-and-so, I hope he’s not gay.” He went on to rip the Oscars for asking Hart to “apologize again.”
In his 2021 Netflix special The Closer, Dave Chappelle, who like Gervais had spent a large chunk of his special expressing contemptuous vitriol towards transgender people, went into a long riff about how horrible it was that Hart didn’t get to host the Oscars. This was part of a larger theme in the special, and the comic’s several specials before that, of Chappelle blaming “the alphabet people” (his term) for ruining things for everyone else.
“Kevin Hart dreamt his entire life of hosting the Oscars, and when he finally got the job they just took it,” Chappelle said in the special. He went on to say, of Hart, “Taking a man’s livelihood is akin to killing him!”
This is all ridiculous for several reasons. For one thing, the inability of Kevin Hart, four years ago, to get to host the Oscars just plain isn’t something that matters all that much. There have been several Oscars ceremonies since then — in addition to a pandemic, wars, and numerous other things more worthy of outrage and attention — and it’s kind of ridiculous to still be relitigating something so meaningless, this many years later.
It’s very much of a piece of the comedy world’s general position on cancel culture, which is that comedians are the last, most important vanguard of freedom of speech in America, and also that their free speech is so important that anyone critical of anything any comedian says is committing the equivalent of a hate crime. It even extends to people like Louis C.K., whose downfall had nothing whatsoever to do with his jokes.
On top of that… these comics are very much sanitizing what Hart said, and the circumstances of his stepping down. It wasn’t just one or two tweets — Hart tweeted a great deal of ridicule at LGBT people over a period of a couple of years. And this was in 2009 and 2010, not 1991.
Hart even talked on stage — not in rushed-off tweets, but in a televised, written stand-up special, 2010’s Seriously Funny — about wanting to “prevent” his son from being gay:
Hart also made an entire movie, the 2015 comedy Get Hard, which drew about 95 percent of its humor from gay panic/prison rape jokes.
There’s a pretty fine line between, say, referring to something as “so gay,” and threatening to “break a dollhouse” over the head of one’s own son if you thought he might be homosexual. The latter is the kind of thing that’s going to land pretty hurtfully to any LGBTQ person, especially those with first-hand experience of fathers who acted that way in their youth.
And besides, Chappelle and Gervais sort of fudged the timeline of what happened with the Oscars. Contra Gervais, Hart had said a few years earlier that he wouldn’t tell the gay son jokes “today” but didn’t specifically apologize for them.
And the Academy did not, in fact, fire him from the gig; they issued an ultimatum, according to Hart, that he must apologize for the jokes, and he, therefore, stepped down as Oscar host.
“I passed on the apology … I’ve addressed this several times. This is not the first time this has come up. I’ve addressed it. I’ve spoken on it. I’ve said where the rights and wrongs were,” he said at the time.
He did, in fact, apologize… while stepping down:
For a few weeks afterward, there was even talk that Hart might return as host, with Ellen DeGeneres — in a particularly nauseating interview with Hart in which Ellen, as she often has, put her celebrity/comedian solidarity first — even declaring that she had called the Academy and asked that Hart be reinstated. But he wasn’t, and there’s been no word about him being in contention to host the Oscars in the years since.
But then, there’s another big hole in what the comedians said: Kevin Hart’s “livelihood” has not been taken away, or anything close to it!
Hart was not “canceled” in any meaningful sense of the term. His movie and comedy careers continued, post-Oscars as if nothing had happened. Hart was in three movies in 2019, two in 2021, and four in 2022.
There’s also his seemingly endless series of streaming projects. Following the controversy, Hart was so canceled that he starred in a six-part Netflix series, Kevin Hart: Don’t F**k This Up, which chronicled the Oscars flap, and joined multiple movies and stand-up specials he’s appeared in for Netflix. He stars in a series for Quibi called Die Hart, later repurposed as a Roku Original, and hosts a talk show on Peacock called Hart to Heart. There’s probably no living entertainer who’s simultaneously in business with more streaming services than Kevin Hart.
Hart is also currently on a comedy tour, in which he plays arenas. And that’s to say nothing of the endorsement deals. He endorses Mountain Dew and AT&T. Hart’s DraftKings commercials air constantly during football games. If you go to Wawa, including in Hart’s hometown of Philadelphia, you can order the “Kevin Hart Combo”:
And to be clear: I’m not saying this is wrong! I do not believe that Kevin Hart should have lost his career over the anti-gay jokes, or for not apologizing for them. I don’t think many others believe that he should have either, certainly not the executives of just about every major streaming service, or of DraftKings, or Wawa. Watch his movies, go to his comedy shows, and eat his hoagies to your heart’s content.
But Kevin Hart’s livelihood has not been taken away, and to suggest it has, is just having blinders on to the world. He is not, in any way whatsoever, a victim of cancel culture, and the last four years of Hart’s career, if anything, form a strong argument for cancel culture not actually existing.
I feel like not getting to host one awards show, four years ago, and not having his career suffer in any other way, was a pretty fair punishment for what Hart said, even before considering that he’ll forever be treated like a fallen martyr by some of the most famous comedians in the world.
CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.