(CNN)It hasn’t been a great couple of weeks in the press for comedian Kevin Hart. Last week, he and his wife were slammed and accused of racism on social media for a cowboys and Indians-themed birthday party for his son, which he refused to apologize for.
Hart refused to apologize because he claimed he already “addressed” the tweets years ago (although he appears to believe saying people are “too sensitive” is an apology). Hart also complained that people were being negative by holding him accountable. Hart stepped down from the Oscar hosting gig — then bizarrely apologized after he said he wouldn’t.
Here is what comedians who get in trouble need to understand: You can’t “punch down.” Skinny people cannot crack jokes about overweight people. Rich people cannot mock poor people. White comedians cannot make black people the butt of their jokes. Straight men cannot joke about assaulting gay men. And if anyone dares go down this lane, the joke must be so hilarious that even the community who is being insulted will laugh out loud. There are very few comedians who have that gift.
Hart has been trending on social media for several hours and now he has been defended by conservatives who shout things like, “People are too sensitive!” Sadly, Hart is being used as political fodder, because certain folks want to whine that asking someone to be held accountable for offensive language is an attack from a “leftist mob” or the PC police.
They want an excuse to defend, for example, a sitting senator who “jokes” about a “public hanging” and is still elected a senator of Mississippi. A man running for governor can caution voters not to vote for his black opponent, lest they “monkey this up” — and still be elected governor of Florida. Our sitting President can insult countless people, even deceased war heroes, and still have a high approval rating among his own party. Therefore, their outrage is selective and partisan.
Don Lemon to Kevin Hart: Call me, let’s talk
In reality, we aren’t more “sensitive.” People — including celebrities and politicians — constantly get away with verbal murder, winning elections or even evading accusations of sexual assault, and their careers are unscathed.
Hart has more class than Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, Florida Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis and our current President. Personally, I wish he hadn’t resigned and that GLAAD, a major LGBTQ advocacy organization, did not want him to bow out. Hart could have engaged in a teachable moment and probably cracked some good jokes about the incident in his opening monologue. Furthermore, the Academy Awards should have done its research before giving Hart the gig; these jokes were well known.
That said, no one should shed a tear for the comedian. Kevin Hart is unaffected and safe. He is a rich celebrity who has several sources of income; he will not suffer. Not hosting the Academy Awards will not affect his life. He will thrive.
As for his actual comments, among the many tweets that resurfaced is one from 2011 that read, “Yo if my son comes home & try’s 2 play with my daughters (sic) doll house I’m going 2 break it over his head & say n my voice ‘stop that’s gay.'” As someone who grew up with an extremely abusive homophobic father, I know firsthand this isn’t funny, it’s triggering. But maybe I am too sensitive…
In another tweet, Hart wrote that an actor had an avatar that looked like “a gay billboard for AIDS.” I’m not sure when HIV/AIDS jokes became funny, but it’s hard for me to chuckle when I have been at the bedside of someone dying of HIV-related diseases. But maybe I am too sensitive…
For most of his career, Hart has framed himself as a non-political, safe comedian who actively avoided race and politics in his comedy (until he recently told Trump to “suck it,” which people on the right who are advocating for him now should consider before praising him). I like my comedy political and edgy, and these tweets weren’t edgy or funny. That said, it’s interesting Hart has avoided race in his work, but had no issue talking about LGBTQ folks, even though that is a community he apparently knows nothing about.
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Kevin Hart owes his success to black audiences, and considering how many LGBTQ people are black, the Philadelphia native should certainly do better. A message for Hart and for all of us: What you find funny and what you believe people are “too sensitive” about speaks volumes about your character.
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