Even though he’s one of the few stand-up comedians who can release his live specials into movie theaters, Kevin Hart’s latest premiered today on Neflix. How does Steven Spielberg feel about that?
If you’ve seen Hart’s stand-up, you’re fully prepped for Irresponsible. It’s another hour of Hart’s high-strung energy and anxiety, as he plumbs his experience as a husband and father and his own irresponsible behavior for relatable nuggets of comedy. With his focus on the tenuous and ever-shifting relationship between two parents and their children, Hart could be seen as a family-friendly comedian, if you’re cool with your family hearing a ton of cuss words and a list of sex positions. Irresponsible feels like a modern-day take on a pre-disgrace Bill Cosby’s special Himself, only instead of wanting chocolate cake for breakfast Hart’s kids are refusing to give him the passwords to their phones. (The password, of course, is “fuck you.”)
Hart tries to cluster his jokes in a series of overarching set-ups throughout the special. He largely pulls it off over the first half, where he segues from his kids walking in on he and his wife having sex, why he needs to make his second marriage work, and how he realizes he can’t keep fucking up like he used to now that he’s pushing 40. The focus grows blurrier, though, as the show goes on, eventually collapsing into a muddle of jokes that Hart still tries to awkwardly thread together.
Hart’s physicality pulls him through. He’s performing in the round, with the audience of London’s O2 Arena surrounding him; it’s a brave choice that lets him show how commanding his presence is despite his often-joked-about short stature. Hart knows what works for him—he knows how much of himself and his family life to put into his material, how to develop and tighten those jokes for maximum efficiency, and how the verbal and physical delivery of a joke is as important as the joke itself. Irresponsible reveals a consummate professional whose performance more than picks up the slack when his material suffers.
He doesn’t address the controversy over his old homophobic jokes that got him removed as the Oscars host. Irresponsible was actually shot well before that situation happened, even if it’s only being released today. Unfortunately Hart is still working with Dave Becky, the powerful comedy manager and producer who covered up Louis C.K.’s sexual misconduct, and who has been fired by performers like Pamela Adlon and comedian John Mulaney. Becky’s name is the fifth to appear in the credits, over an image of a confetti-covered Hart saluting a rapturous London crowd. It’s unavoidable that some comedians will make us think of Bill Cosby, a man who was one of the most famous and influential figures in the business before his downfall—despite his monstrous actions, comics are still going to be influenced by Bill Cosby’s comedy, at least ones who came of age before the truth was revealed about him. Working with Dave Becky after Louis C.K.’s downfall is a choice, though, and one that more comedians need to reevaluate.
Despite that disappointing postscript, Irresponsible is another energetic hour from the most popular stand-up comedian working today. It’s not the most cohesive hour of comedy—we’d wonder if Hart rushed into releasing another special, if it hadn’t been almost three years since his last one—but despite his antic persona Hart remains an assured and confident performer. The Kevin Hart engine keeps on humming even when it’s not firing on all cylinders.
Irresponsible is now streaming on Netflix.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.