Kevin Hart’s “What Now” At Madison Square Garden, Tuesday, July 7th, 2015, review
So, let’s put it this way, Kevin Hart was better than Louis CK was at the very same venue, Madison Square Garden, when Louis performed there last year. I mean filled the room with more power, and sustained his jokes and built on them, and moved between his anecdotes, used his body, got bigger laughs, Kevin was better in most ways that count . If the job of a standup comedian is to be funny, Hart was funnier than the best stand-up comic of his generation. In a tight snowball 60 minutes, half family humor, half sex jokes, he balanced it out with all the sureness of a masterclass in comedy. The kick might be that Kevin doesn’t do ‘serious” comedy and it is true, he is all anecdotal observation that veers into the absurd at any given moment: the summer movie of comedy built to do something and doing it, it was the most utilitarian of comedy, it set out to make you laugh hard and it did so. So why was something missing? It is all a little shallow. Kevin Hart is the diminutive Philadelphian of color comedian and comedy actor who has built himself a very popular personae: Bob Hope meets Eddie Murphy, he tells shaggy dog stories with a deftness of touch and an actor’s prowess. I liked him a lot for what he was and still… something didn’t entirely click.
Last night at MSG during his eagerly anticipated “What Now” tour (three nights at MSG, one at Barclays all sold out, locally… culminating in a Stadium show in Philly for HBO), Hart did himself no favors. He squandered a fair amount of good will for no reason I can see. The doors were at 7pm, and it would be fair to expect the show to start at 815 latest. It started at 845pm and in between we were seriously harassed about the use of cell phones. While I accept Hart’s worries that his new standup routine would be on the internet before he had the chance to perform it if he didn’t clamp down hard on people videoing and putting it on Youtube, and while I absolutely didn’t believe he had hired 200 ushers to police the Arena (50 people, tops), or that 70 people were thrown out with the one strike you’re out policy for cell use, the vibes behind it were so nasty, I wonder if it doesn’t begin to work against him. It was like roll call at Stalag 17 –creepy, intrusive and unamusing. While it is true, comedy works best when fresh, it isn’t ENTIRELY TRUE. Comedy is all about pacing and when you see a sketch over and over again you fall into its rhythm the way you might for a song. We call that the “dead parrot” theory. Sure, new is nice but at what price?
Perhaps it would be more forgivable if they didn’t have some jackass on a taped loop threatening us every twenty minutes during a wait longer than the damn performance. When the show did begin, we got the Plastic Cup Boyz, Joey Wells, Will “Spank” Horton, and Na’im Lynn. I was well angry and ready to hate them but they were too good –I couldn’t do it. MC Joey laughed at our disappointment at seeing him instead of Kevin to start (later he’d compare himself to Lil Cease), and then explained the way different ethnic groups were reacting to being thrown out of MSG for using their cells (the white guy: “One, I know my rights…”). In between he compared being in your 40s to being in your 20s (your 20s are better). Next,“Spank” Horton was very funny wondering what he would do if his son was gay (“I hope he’d be the man”) and Na’imm Lynn kept to sex situations and what instigators women can be.
At 945pm, Kevin came out to a montage off his TV specials and a James Bond parody and proceeded to move between great and good for an hour. Incidentally, the first ten minutes was the SNL monologue from January, so I guess you don’t need a cellphone to ruin those punchlines. Still funny stuff, and building to one of his funniest creations, his seven year old Private School “let me get my flops” white black son. Uproarious stuff, indeed so funny that the reason I was there yesterday was because I saw it on SNL.
And it wasn’t the highlight; the highlight was his sketch on what to do if a mountain lion attacks your girlfriend (“nothing”). He riffed for a long time on why you don’t want a one shouldered woman. Very funny, but he moved from there to a man without kneecaps and it wasn’t as funny and from there, around the half way mark, the laughs stopped being as big. Kevin could be a rapper, his pacing is impeccable, he has a bellow and like a baritone he reaches the rafters, plus he deals in overreaction and so he pitches himself over the top. If you have seen “Get Hard” –the Will Farrell Kevin Hart comedy, that is the Hart personality, a cowardly lion, a blowhard who gets by on his wits. His timing on stage and his timing in movies is very similar; he uses righteous syllogisms to excuse his unethical behavior. But I have never heard a woman, white or black use “reaaaallly” to suggest disbelief. It didn’t work because it isn’t true. The wrecking your car on purpose rather than tell your wife you fell asleep playing ping pong didn’t work either. The problem with ridiculous jokes is there is no aftermath, no resonance, they aren’t deep enough.
Kevin’s essential shtick is taking something completely ridiculous, sex aides seducing you for instance, and making it seem reasonable. It is a great concept and he does it well and has for years and it is funnier than Louis CK, but it has no edge to it, and nothing really sticks. It is the summer movie of comedy at Stalag 17.