Walk into a Kevin Hart show and the warning couldn’t be clearer: Put your cellphone away. Once the lights are dimmed, you can’t text, tweet, talk, shoot pics or take video. Follow the rules or – as the computer printouts taped to every door of First Niagara Center warned – you’ll be booted.
“NO REFUNDS,” the signs proclaimed.
As Joey Wells, who opened the show along with Na’im Lynn, told the crowd, Hart wanted you to tuck away your phone and enjoy the evening. And then there was that niggling reality that the show would be posted online almost immediately. This was Hart’s swashbuckling retaliation against e-piracy, and based on the hawk-eyed, flashlight-wielding security guards who weaved through the crowd, he meant it.
So people’s thumbs got a rest, which was fine.
But so, too, did their stomach muscles.
That was unfortunate.
Hart was funny, to be sure, but his humor wasn’t gut-busting. Nor was it ground-breaking. Comedy needn’t be those things in general, but when you’re the world’s hottest comic – when you can sell out two shows in a single night in Buffalo, when you possess the sway to hold an arena crowd to the same standards of comportment as a Broadway or ballet audience, and you can require security guards to police the seats for phone glows – you’ve got to be better than good. If you’re going to tell people to cut off the world and give themselves to you for a couple of hours, then you need to deliver a new world — your world, a place they could never get by themselves. Instead, the crowd of mostly 20- and 30-somethings walked out seeming to simply feel happy they saw Kevin Hart. But frankly, that’s pretty easy to do nowadays. Cellphone bans aside, the man is everywhere. Along with his “What Now?” comedy tour, Hart, 35, stars in movies and TV shows; he’s a frequent red-carpet honoree, and recently hosted the Justin Bieber roast. He’s a stylish man whose Friday night ensemble of black jacket, T-shirt, jeans and sneakers punctuated with a gold belt buckle, bracelets and trio of chains befit his superstar status. The guy’s got energy, timing, and a raspy, quick voice that is his pop culture fingerprint.
Where did Hart fall short? In the same places he succeeded. He told a story about a problem raccoon. He lamented taking out the trash in his long, unlit driveway. He talked about his fiancée giving him a sex toy. He spent some time poking fun at the countless ways to order at Starbucks.
He didn’t strike out even once; every joke was funny. But no joke was a grand slam, and that’s the disappointment.
Where Hart could have dug deep, he didn’t.
There must be humor in the deeper recesses of Hart’s life. Four years ago, during his “Laugh at My Pain” tour, he told stories about his drug-addicted dad and highly protective single mom that were simultaneously hilarious and harrowing.
Hart can self-probe. But unfortunately for this show, the only probing jokes were related to masturbation. It was funny at best, but that isn’t Hart’s best.
So maybe it’s just as well that the cellphones were away.