“I’m at a place in my life where I feel like I have a target on my back and because of that I should make smart decisions, and recently I didn’t.”
At the time, Kevin Hart was referencing reports that he had cheated on his then-pregnant wife Eniko Parrish, admitting to making “a bad error in judgment” after he said someone had threatened to expose his wrongdoings if he didn’t agree to pay up, essentially extorting him for his poor behavior.
But he just as easily could have been referencing the nearly decade-old offensive tweets—and his stubborn refusal to re-apologize for his old thoughts, how ever many times it took for everyone to get that he truly was a changed man—that led to him losing a long-dreamt of Oscar hosting gig that he had held for just 48 hours.
Hart, as he’s said more than a few times across the course of his two-decade career, has never claimed to be the guy with the wholesome, squeaky-clean, mistake-free image. Rather, he’s built his livelihood—climbing up from his days being booed off comedy house stages to landing a spot on the upper half of Forbes‘ 2018 list of top 100 celebrity earners—on his willingness to be open about past screw-ups, the mistakes he made as he toiled to climb the Hollywood ladder.
And, along the way, the 39-year-old, whose Kevin Hart: The Irresponsible Tour was 2018’s biggest comedy show, learned a bit about what it takes to maintain that marketability. “I’m at a point now where I’ve grown tremendously as a man. I’m smarter. I’m more educated in the realm of business and what goes into the entertainment,” Hart told Esquire in 2016. “That’s what I think people don’t understand—that term ‘show business’ is real. It’s a business and the more that you develop and the more that you learn it, the more powerful you have the potential of becoming. I’m learning it inside and out, and hopefully putting myself in a position to become a force to be reckoned with for quite some time.”
But it’s hard to see this latest move as anything but a misstep.
When Hart was announced Tuesday as the host of next February’s Academy Awards, he seemed like the perfect fit. He had instant name recognition, his resume now bursting with movies, TV shows, comedy specials and producing credits, was funny enough to spice up a presentation that has been lagging in the ratings in recent years and yet was not so edgy to turn off a certain type of audience.
Then the Internet did its thing.
By Thursday, one investigative Twitter user had uncovered a 2011 missive in which the father of daughter Heaven, 13, and sons Hendrix, 11, and Kenzo, 12 months, wrote, “Yo if my son comes home & try’s 2 play with my daughters doll house I’m going 2 break it over his head & say n my voice ‘stop that’s gay,'” prompting another to search for every time the comic used offensive, homophobic terms.
The list wasn’t short.
His thoughts weren’t a one-off either, he’d discussed the issue at length in his 2010 comedy special Seriously Funny. “One of my biggest fears is my son growing up and being gay. That’s a fear. Keep in mind, I’m not homophobic. . . . Be happy. Do what you want to do. But me, as a heterosexual male, if I can prevent my son from being gay, I will.”
It’s a bit, he admitted to Rolling Stone in 2015, that he wouldn’t trot out today, mostly because he feels it takes too much explaining for people to get what he was trying to say. “It’s about my fear. I’m thinking about what I did as a dad, did I do something wrong, and if I did, what was it? Not that I’m not gonna love my son or think about him any differently. The funny thing within that joke is it’s me getting mad at my son because of my own insecurities — I panicked. It has nothing to do with him, it’s about me,” he noted. “That’s the difference between bringing a joke across that’s well thought-out and saying something just to ruffle feathers.”
Still, he continued, he wouldn’t try it now “because when I said it, the times weren’t as sensitive as they are now. I think we love to make big deals out of things that aren’t necessarily big deals, because we can. These things become public spectacles. So why set yourself up for failure?”
Which is what he must have been thinking when he tried to quietly delete that and other distasteful messages, a tactic that doesn’t work so well after they’ve been outed.
So he took a different stab, stressing to his nearly 35 million followers how much he’s lived and learned in the seven years since he thought that joke would fly. “If you want to search my history or past and anger yourselves with what u find that is fine with me. I’m almost 40 years old and I’m in love with the man that I am becoming,” he wrote. “You LIVE and YOU LEARN & YOU GROW & YOU MATURE. I live to Love…. Please take your negative energy and put it into something constructive. Please…What’s understood should never have to be said. I LOVE EVERYBODY..ONCE AGAIN EVERYBODY. If you choose to not believe me then that’s on you…Have a beautiful day.”
Going the “I’ve changed” route was a smart move, but without a full-throated apology for reinforcing negative, repugnant views, no matter how old the messages, well, it simply didn’t fly. And by that evening he revealed on Instagram that Oscars producers had demanded he deliver a mea culpa.
“So I just got a call from The Academy. That call basically said, ‘Kevin, apologize for your tweets or we’re going to have to move on and find another host,'” he shared in a passionate, minute-long clip.
He refused. On principle.
“The reason that I passed is I’ve addressed it several times. That’s not the first time this has come up. I’ve addressed it. I’ve spoken on it. I’ve said where the rights and wrongs were. I’ve said who I am now versus who I was then. I’ve done it,” he explained. “I’m not gonna continue to go back and tap into the days of old when I’ve moved on. I’m in a completely different space in my life.”
Besides, he felt that by reopening a seven-year-old wound he was giving credence to the type of online haters that live to build people up and then watch them tumble down. “We feed into the internet trolls and we reward them,” he continued. “I’m not gonna do it. I’m gonna be me and stand my ground. Regardless, The Academy I’m thankful and appreciative of the opportunity. If it goes away, no harm no foul.”
Which is essentially where he’s at now. By taking a stand, however prudent it may or may not have been, Hart was forced to wave goodbye to a dream job.
By late Thursday, he had announced on Twitter that he was giving up the role, his words, in an odd twist, including an apology to those he may have offended. “I have made the choice to step down from hosting this year’s Oscar’s….this is because I do not want to be a distraction on a night that should be celebrated by so many amazing talented artists,” he shared. “I sincerely apologize to the LGBTQ community for my insensitive words from my past.”
In a second tweet, he continued, “I’m sorry that I hurt people.. I am evolving and want to continue to do so. My goal is to bring people together not tear us apart. Much love & appreciation to the Academy. I hope we can meet again.”
So in the end, Hart stuck to his guns while still admitting that, yeah, maybe he was a little in the wrong here.
Which pretty much sums Hart as a person. He’s certainly flawed, having written in his 2017 memoir I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons about his past alcohol abuse and the times he cheated on his first wife Torrei Hart. He even came clean about getting aggressive enough during fights that he ended up spending a night in jail.
“I’m not afraid of being honest. I’m an open book,” he shared while promoting the tome at last year’s at BookCon. “I’m very good at finding a positive out of every negative.”
He certainly found a way to turn his cheating scandal around. More than a year later, he and Parrish are still together, having recently celebrated their second wedding anniversary and Kenzo’s first birthday. Meanwhile, his former pal Jonathan Todd Jackson was charged this May with one count of both attempted extortion and extortion by threatening letter and faces up to four years in jail.
“Our marriage has been put to the test. It’s the most difficult test ever. And, you know, sometimes those tests come from stupidity,” he told People in September of his now-improved union with Parrish, 34. “But it’s how you handle it, and how you decide to move forward from it.”
He credited his model wife “for just displaying a high level of strength that I can’t even explain. I applaud her for being my backbone, my support system, and more importantly, taking my life to the next level.” Because now, he continued, “The tests we’ve passed made us love each other even more.”
So chances are, he’ll find that sliver of a silver lining in this fuss as well.
Ever the hustler, Hart was back to work hours after giving up his hosting gig, taking the stage in Sydney for the latest stop on his tour. During the hourlong set, he remained his wise-cracking, upbeat, self-deprecating self and though he didn’t make reference to the Oscars, he certainly didn’t shy away from other missteps, including last year’s infidelity. “At one point during his act, when he was discussing his cheating scandal, he said, ‘Always embrace your flaws and f—k ups,'” a source told Us Weekly. “He repeated it a couple of times.”
Because that gets to the core of who Hart is. It’s incredibly likely that more mistakes lie in his future, that’s just a part of being human. But there’s also plenty of positivity for him to hang his hat on. He was, after all, the one to donate $50,000 last fall to help up aid the clean up efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, and then nudge his deep-pocketed celeb pals to do the same, eliciting upwards of $1 million from the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Khloe Kardashian, Nicki Minaj, Dwayne Johnson and DJ Khaled.
And he knows that to embrace the good, means also taking his lumps when necessary. “Your fan base can only grow if there’s a strong sense of authenticity to go behind it,” he explained to Esquire. “I have that. I’m not fake or phony. This isn’t a façade. What you see is what you get. The personality of Kevin Hart is the same personality that you think it is from what you’ve seen on TV, in stand-up, in interviews. I don’t change. I’m a good person.”