An excerpt from Kevin Hart's Seriously Funny tour says it all. Popular sets from all four of his standup tours, one of which will hit the American Airlines Arena this Saturday, feature the acclaimed comedian labeling women "bitches" and "crazy." Hart's routines from past to present include jokes that normalize derogatory language about women and mock the gender roles in relationships. Not only that, but also, over the past few years, the comedian has been entangled in personal and professional controversies regarding the opposite sex.
As one of comedy's most recognizable faces, Hart has built an entertainment empire from the ground up. With a net worth of roughly $150 million, the comedian has released four standup albums, starred in blockbuster hits such as Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Ride Along, and was named one of Time's "Most Influential People in the World" in 2015.
Along the way, the man known for a mocking comedic style attracted millions of fans across the globe. Expanding beyond humorous posts to promoting a motif of self-empowerment, his platform grew with his popularity. Advocating physical fitness, fashion, representation, education, and other topics, Hart has eagerly stepped up to the podium of celebrity influence and grabbed the mike. More than 100 million fans follow his social media accounts, so it's safe to say the messages Hart sends are widely influential.
Which is why, almost a year ago, Hart found himself in the hot seat over an Saturday Night Live monologue that vilified mothers and praised dads. In the clip, he lauded the role of the man in a child’s life and relegated women to nothing more than caretakers: "Women, I give you so much credit. Like, you guys do so much. When it comes to putting
Hart’s joke wasn’t received well. Twitter more or less exploded with a frenzy of tweets in which men and women alike called the comedian out.
Hart's publicist did not respond to New Times' request for comment.
The joke was especially poorly timed, following headlines earlier that week that reported Hart had been caught cheating on his pregnant wife. Some observers saw both the joke and the comedian’s serial adultery as an indication he looks down upon women.
But Hart’s antics date back several years. In 2014, his tweet from 2010 resurfaced that poked fun at women — but this time, based on race. “#Handsdown Light-skinned women usually have better credit than dark-skinned women... Broke ass dark hoes... lol.”
In an interview with Playboy, Hart attributed the tweet to "comedy" and a trending topic. "I didn’t feel I had to apologize for something that was misconstrued and taken out of context," he said. "I have no ill will toward women, not dark-skinned women, not light-skinned women. I was just being silly. I’m a comedian."
Unsurprisingly, the Twittersphere again blasted the comedian for his tasteless joke. It was later deleted, but people of the internet refused to let the comment go. The tweet made another appearance this past April, along with another, related tweet — "#handsdown Dark-skinned women take a punch better than light-skinned women... u soft as yellow bitches. Lol" — that drew more disappointed and angry responses.
Still, Hart has millions of engaged fans, some of whom take offense to the label of sexism. Hordes of Twitter users jumped to his support following the SNL debacle. Some of these social media defenders were women, but overwhelmingly his defenders were male.
Samantha Greenberg is a 23-year-old account manager in Miami. She’s been a fan of Hart's since late 2009. As she sees it, there's no reason to react to any of his jokes. "I don’t think I would get offended by anything he’s truly said in his jokes. He has a wife and even a daughter, so I don’t think anything he’s saying is malicious or something I should get offended about." She enjoys his standup routines and says he is a "well-respected, funny guy."
Other fans recognize the sexism in Hart's work but are willing to overlook it. A fan of Hart's who didn't wish to be identified says, "Some of the jokes do have sexist undertones. But it is a comedy show, and I think comedians should be able to make people laugh, even with sometimes-taboo topics."
The general response to Hart's history of misogyny has been as divided as the political partisanship of America. Some say these are harmless jokes; others say they promote sexist attitudes and are compounded by Hart's real-life cheating scandals. But does a tendency to privately betray women translate to publicly excusing or even advocating for mistreating women in his work? For some followers of the standup star, the link between Hart's personal and professional lives is difficult to ignore.
"I find it particularly disheartening when it comes from people that look like you," says 31-year-old Aurélie, a fan from Toronto. "I am not the darkest woman, but I was still offended for the women that don’t seem to catch a break due to the percentage of melanin in their skin." She calls the comedy landscape a "boys' club" where "sexism has always been a present topic."
Hart says he's "just being silly," but his jokes are part of a much larger problem: the vilification of women in comedy. Sami Schalk, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin's Department of Gender and Women's Studies, says derogatory jokes about women are a deep-rooted practice in comedy. "There's an
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Jokes like those, she says, reinforce sexism in society. "They confirm for men and women in the audience that women are inferior, annoying, or otherwise bad, encouraging men to recommit to their beliefs (because someone onstage said it and people laughed, it must be widely accepted and true) and pushing women to distance themselves from the qualities being mocked (being demanding or emotional or needy) as a way of protecting themselves."
That's why, Schalk says, it's impossible to defend those jokes by claiming they're simply comedy, separate from real life. "This is a problem with how women are viewed and treated in our wider world, not just within comedy or the entertainment industry in general." Pretending there's a divide between the two, she says, is just a way for fans to avoid accountability.
"These worlds are not separable," Schalk says. "These men comedians were raised in the same world as the men who create policies to police women’s bodies and the men who sexually assault."