Kevin Hart, coming to PNC Arena May 1, is one of comedy's biggest stars—so where's the critical love? | Comedy | Indy Week
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Kevin Hart, coming to PNC Arena May 1, is one of comedy's biggest stars—so where's the critical love? 

Lonely at the top: Kevin Hart

Photo courtesy of Live Nation

Lonely at the top: Kevin Hart

Kevin Hart should've gotten a solo cover from Entertainment Weekly a long time ago.

Hart, a 35-year-old Philadelphia native, is one of the most popular, successful comedy superstars out there. His list of accomplishments this year alone is impressive: He starred in two of the most money-making recent comedies, The Wedding Ringer and Get Hard. He hosted Saturday Night Live for the second time. He presented at the Oscars. He emceed the Comedy Central Roast of Justin Bieber. And he was in Time's annual 100 Most Influential People issue, with Chris Rock contributing the accompanying essay. Now he's selling out arenas on his "What Now? Tour," which makes a stop at Raleigh's PNC Arena on Friday.

And yet there is a sense that Hart doesn't receive the same acclaim, esteem or media attention as comedians like Louis C.K. and Amy Schumer, both of whom have rated Entertainment Weekly cover stories. They are seen as brilliant comic minds, whereas Hart is dismissed as that funny short guy you see all over the place. In a recent Daily Beast piece titled "Who Thinks Kevin Hart Is Funny?" writer Stereo Williams pondered why Hart doesn't get respect.

"Hart's success shouldn't be slighted," Williams wrote. "He's worked hard to get where he is. But it doesn't feel like he's where a comedian of his stature should be."

One is almost compelled to yell the dreaded R-word about this. After all, Hart also has a TV show, Real Husbands of Hollywood, which actually pulls in big ratings whenever a new season airs. But since it's on BET—Black Entertainment Television, for those who don't know—people other than black folk might assume it's geared only toward black audiences (it's not, by the way); that it's not as white people-friendly or buzz-worthy as, say, Louie or Inside Amy Schumer.

Raleigh comedian (and African-American) Thomas Dixson isn't ready to pull the race card just yet. He feels that Hart is a comedian for all audiences, and his positive, populist swagger may turn off tastemakers who like their comedians progressive, thought-provoking and a little pissed-off. (That would certainly explain why biracial comedy duo Key & Peele gets so much mainstream love.) "I think Kevin Hart is kind of like Drake and Louis C.K. is like Kendrick Lamar," says Dixson. "Hart is way more popular, but Louis C.K. does the kind of work that warrants the kind of attention he gets."

But it's not like Hart is seeking that sort of attention anyway. After all, he originally built his own brand and fan base through social media, extensive stand-up touring and YouTube videos. So he is very aware that if you go straight to the people and give them what they want, you don't need to wait for the media or the industry to call you the Next Big Thing.

Saul Austerlitz, journalist and author of Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy, thinks this may explain why the media won't hop on the Hart-train.

"I think that, particularly for African-American performers, there does seem to be this track of creating your own brand and finding your own audience, and achieving incredible success without the awareness or the assistance of the mainstream media," he says, citing Tyler Perry and Katt Williams as other examples of self-made black stars. "And I think that what happens, in part, is that the people in the media feel like, 'Oh, someone like Tyler Perry or Kevin Hart has become really famous without my being aware of it.' And therefore, that success is somehow less significant, because it didn't involve media attention."

Hart continues to work hard for the laughs. Next year, he'll star in Central Intelligence, a buddy action-comedy with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and Ride Along 2, with Ice Cube. He'll also voice a character in the animated feature The Secret Life of Pets—alongside media darling Louis C.K.

So even if the purveyors of hype are still sore that they weren't involved in launching Hart's success, he'll be letting them know he's not going away anytime soon.

This article appeared in print with the headline "The Hart is a lonely brother."

  • "Kevin Hart is kind of like Drake and Louis C.K. Is like Kendrick Lamar," says local comic Thomas Dixson.

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