We all need our anxiety and unease alleviated one way or another so you get your laughs where you can get them. For some this is in Kevin Hart’s latest Netflix special Zero F**ks Given. The special doesn’t start off too dissimilarly to the way most of us will have watched it: Hart is at home surrounded by his family. Where things deviate from our own normality is Hart utilising a room in his house as a comedy club.
Hart’s wealth is not an issue. He has experienced unprecedented success as a standup comedian and has complemented that with an ongoing acting career. If anything, Hart should be owning his monetary status in more brazen and shameless ways. The way he approaches it at various points in his special, however, removes much of the sympathy from the equation. There’s an acerbity and resentment on the surface for the vast majority of the show. His prickliness and defensive stance are just a bit too real to be funny.
He first tackles prosperity under a broad section he himself tags as him returning to comedy and talking about his everyday experiences, chiefly his children and two wives. This leads to a bit about his children’s private school and a charity request made from the school which he deemed too degrading for a person of his status. Again, the premise is fine, but the way he approaches it is unimaginative, telegraphed, and pandering for laughs. This general pattern applies for the vast majority of the special. There’s also underutilisation of the traditional tools used in comedy, which makes for some pretty barebones storytelling at times.
Speaking of retreading old ground, take the bit about his girlfriends abandoning him after a tape of him cheating got leaked on the internet. He uses names like Loraine, Gladys and Pearl, alluding to them being older women. It’s not joke theft by any means but Gary Gulman had a tangentially overlapping joke about female names signifying age in his Trader Joe’s bit in his It’s About Time special about four years ago.
His bits about the coronavirus and the use of emojis in group chats also fall flat. Though he had to touch upon the issue of the pandemic, especially with him contracting the virus earlier this year, the way he goes about it feels outdated and it’s not hard to see why when social media has been inundated with Covid jokes for months.
For me, the first laugh was elicited at around the 34 minute mark with Hart’s bit about him not liking to argue with his wife, while the opposite is applicable in mirrored situations. It’s quick, it’s lean, and there’s a nice rhythm to it. His bit about his wife being made to pick one day in the month for him to deliver an exceptional performance in the bedroom was also one of the better sections in the special, particularly his “better buckle the f*** up” punchline. Sadly he loses momentum again with his popcorn bucket and Seinfeld bits shortly after.
Hart’s best bit by a comfortable distance is unsurprisingly reserved for the end, where he details his back injury, his time at the hospital and the struggles that came with being so debilitated during recovery. It’s succinct, it’s effectively told, and it’s empathetic without losing the laughter. Sadly, it’s too little, too late for it to make the special worthwhile.