Kevin Hart has had some interesting career moments lately. Over the past few years he was booted from the Oscars, had a mega hit with Jumanji: The Next Level, a self-indulgent Netflix documentary series, and even a Quibi (RIP) action comedy with John Travolta. But stand-up has always been Hart’s bread and butter and is arguably what he is most skilled at. Love him or hate him, Kevin Hart is one of the only comedians currently working who elevates their show to the level of a professional sporting event. This is largely due to Hart’s boundless energy and his marketing team’s ability to sell his larger than life personality. In his new special, though, Hart moves from football stadiums to something a little cozier: his own house.
Kevin Hart: Zero Fks Given (yes, the asterisks are officially in the title) is Hart at his most intimate. Literally, since he taped this special during the Covid-19 pandemic in his home. From time to time, comedians like to throw in a special gimmick to give their special a little more flare. This year is easy because all they have to do is find a way to tape a special at all during the pandemic. Simply releasing a new special at all is the gimmick right now.
While it may appear at first as a flex to show off how much money and power Hart has accumulated to have a home big enough to fit a small crowd inside, the look of his living room space is so cozy and warm that I found it to be one of the more visually pleasing sets to look at this year. A dimly lit room with warm colors, couches, and a roaring fire behind Hart is the perfect backdrop for folks watching at home while quarantined on a cold winter night.
Following Hart’s career trajectory is an interesting case study in joke writing evolution. He’s now in a position where he has, for the most part, reached the peak of where any comedian hopes to go. With that, comes a different lifestyle—largely a wealthy and spoiled one. Most of the set contains jokes about Hart’s fame and fortune and how that allows him to attend dinner parties hosted by Jerry Seinfeld complete with delicious sounding brick oven pizzas (also known as “BOP” according to Hart), or how off-putting it felt to be asked to be a greeter at his kid’s school event. While some of these stories come off as a humblebrag, Hart has always been self-aware about his lifestyle, especially when it involves his family. The funniest example of this is when he recounts his kid’s first flight from an airport and not with him on his private jet, or how they had to wait in line at an amusement park instead of zipping to the front of the queue. The punchline for all of these jokes is Hart’s ex-wife with whom he has a complicated past.
Hart’s true gift is his physicality and commitment to acting out the stories he tells. It’s no wonder he found a second career in the movie and television business. This is nothing new in a Kevin Hart comedy show, but there is a story he tells at the end of this hour about when he took up boxing and totally got his world rocked by a punch. It is here that he’s at his most animated—his Kevin Hartiest. But even more than his physicality, I look forward to the voices he does imitating his friends and family.
Zero Fks Given is bookended by two small taped pieces, both scenes involving him and his family. The opening shows Hart checking in on his wife and kids before he is about to head downstairs to “get some work done.” He says it like your dad who has a 9 to 5 office job would, only his work ends up being entertaining a few dozen strangers in their house. Hart does work hard. So hard that a lot of his act can feel like style over substance, like a series of meta jokes about his own fame and success. But he also proves that great storytelling can make anything feel engaging in the moment. Hart is clearly in love with where he is in life, and that feeling rubs off on anyone who watches him perform.
Christian Becker is a writer and comedian based out of NJ. You can follow him on Twitter at @TheAmazingBeck.