‘Zero Fucks Given’ on Netflix, the standup equivalent of an ‘Unplugged’ special
Kevin Hart has made a point to get bigger and bigger with every step of his career. Prior to the coronavirus, his tours and standup specials had grown to arena size. Even his first special ‘I’m a Grown Little Man’, shows him packing big theatres. By 2019’s ‘Irresponsible’, he’s filling stadiums.
But the thing is, stadiums suck for standup comedy.
Steve Martin, the first comedian to ever fill stadiums, quit standup altogether partly because of his negative experiences with huge stadiums and crowds. And the grand scale of Hart’s last few specials may be why, though I love him as a celebrity the whole family can agree on, and though he’s great on the talk shows, I’ve never found him uproariously funny. Standup is simply not something that gets better as it gets bigger.
And so I rather enjoyed Hart’s newest Netflix standup special, ‘Zero Fucks Given’, which pops off in a comedy-club-sized room in the basement of Hart’s own palatial, cubic house, where he apparently built a stage with his name splashed large across it, for the purpose of intimate standup events. ‘Zero Fucks Given’ almost has the small-crowd feel of some of Chappelle’s recent Netflix work, though with brighter lighting (and no smoking).
Wide angle shots of Hart’s impressive stadium crowds are replaced with tight shots of his physical comedy. Hart’s face and eyes get more laughs here. His body language is masterfully engaging. To the small, masked and socially distanced crowd in his home studio, he speaks at a lower volume than he would in an arena, so that his wild vocal dynamics hit harder. I’d almost compare ‘Zero Fucks Given’ to an MTV Unplugged special that accidentally exposes a better version of something that people already loved.
Wearing his silk pajamas, Hart starts in on his family, which leads to him calling his daughter a “ho” and his son “dumb.” Some critics may drag Hart for this, even though insulting your kids with a harshness you never would in reality is practically its own comedy genre by now, and even though Hart made an entire Netflix series documentary showing how well he gets along with his kids. Personally, I prefer Kevin Hart both more intimate and more trashy.
Hart moves on to the coronavirus, and his initial pandemic panic: “I didn’t know what we were supposed to do. I ran around and put gas in all the cars,” he humblebrags. “I spent $20k on N95’s.” Hart reveals for the first time ever that he in fact caught “the vid” early on, but didn’t mention it publicly because Tom Hanks also had corona at the time, “and Tom Hanks is much more famous than I am.”
Most of the special is about Hart’s fame, and his money. Which is honest; That is his real, special, interesting life. But like Ellen Degeneres’s 2018 Netflix special ‘Relatable’ proved, joking about the ridiculousness of your own fame and wealth doesn’t make everyone laugh. Like when Hart details taking his kids to Disney World and being walked to the front of every line: “Don’t make eye contact with none of these people in these fucking lines,” he tells his kids. “They are gonna say a lot of mean things… But you know where they are gonna be when we’re driving home from the park? They’re gonna be in that fuckin line still…”
He later talks about showing his kids the other side of life, by letting them visit Disney World with his ex-wife, where they wait in one line the entire day. “That joke is going to cost me some money,” Hart ends the bit. “It’ll come with a price tag, but it’s a good joke. I’m gonna have to buy her like a Tesla truck or something.”
Hart almost loses me when he inevitably critiques cancel culture: “You guys have fucked up the best job in the world,” he says to the audience. “ Being famous used to be the best job in the world… This generation fucked me good. You switched it up on me.”
I don’t even know how to laugh at that.
Hart almost makes his own celebrity persecution funny when relating the time a mean fan snapped a photo of him sloppily eating a Big Mac in his car, just after he’d publicly announced his commitment to a plant-based diet. “I had to do a photo op with cows. It was embarrassing.” While discussing the absurdity of his kids’ private school asking him to work as a “greeter” at their annual fair (because of course Hart is way too famous for that; he recommends the school ask Terry Crews instead), Hart adds, “I have nothing against greeters… I don’t wanna walk outside my house and there’s a bunch of you with signs talmbout, ‘Cancel Kevin Hart, he doesn’t respect greeters.’”
He lands those two jokes well, but otherwise, no one should ever again get paid millions of dollars to complain about being censored. No more, please.
Elsewhere, in one of the special’s funnier trashy bits, Hart admits his wife told him, “Your sex is no longer good.” Hart retaliates: “I don’t believe you can be successful and have good dick. ‘You want this life, or good dick?’ When I had good dick I was broke! When I had good dick I was fuckin for transportation…for bus tokens.”
He follows this with a five-and-a-half-minute bit about brick oven pizza.
Hart closes out his house show by discussing the 2019 car crash that almost left him paralyzed. Instead of going deep about his near-death experience, Hart imitates the attentive Hispanic nurse named Jose who wiped his butt. “I can’t believe I’m wiping Kevin Hart ass, man,” Jose supposedly said. “This is my first famous ass, man.”
Kevin Hart may not be my favorite comedian, but ‘Zero Fucks Given’ shows, close up, that he’s a comedian’s comedian, a craftsman, both a natural and a studied talent. He definitely puts himself into his standup. You can feel his real life driving his work. No matter how big he gets, Hart’s best quality seems to be that he always does gives a fuck.