Kevin Hart on defending Ellen DeGeneres and Nick Cannon: ‘I know who they are’

In recent years, it’s become all too common to see celebrities getting caught up in the mire of cancel culture—and totally uncommon to see them open a window into that experience. Yet this is exactly what Kevin Hart did with “Kevin Hart: Don’t F**k This Up,” a Netflix reality series, which earned the entertainer his …

In recent years, it’s become all too common to see celebrities getting caught up in the mire of cancel culture—and totally uncommon to see them open a window into that experience. Yet this is exactly what Kevin Hart did with “Kevin Hart: Don’t F**k This Up,” a Netflix reality series, which earned the entertainer his first Emmy nomination.

In December of 2018, Hart was announced as the host of the 91st Academy Awards, seeing one of his longtime dreams coming to fruition. Subsequently, though, members of the public called for him to step down, after homophobic tweets from his past came to light, and he refused to apologize—as he had in the past—for his comments.

Depicting the comedian’s time in this whirlwind, the series examines Hart’s hasty, initial response to the furor, as well as the lessons he learned from it, offering the rare, in-depth perspective on today’s culture of outrage, from someone who’s experienced it firsthand.

“I don’t want to be in a world where we forget how to forgive, where we forget how to be people,” Hart says, of his takeaways from the incident. “I want to understand the place of feeling, and emotion and love, and that comes from a place of forgiveness.”

Below, Hart explains how his worldview was changed by his brush with scandal, and why in recent weeks he has come to the defense of Nick Cannon and Ellen DeGeneres—comedians who, like Hart, have come under fire.

DEADLINE: You’ve been transparent about your personal life, all throughout your career. But what you did with “Don’t F**k This Up” is quite unusual. What drove you to open a window into the controversies you’ve faced in recent years?

KEVIN HART: In being an open book, there’s always new levels and more versions of yourself that you can make available. So, at this time when I was going through all that I was going through, and it was some peaks, hills and valleys, with a lot of cobblestone along the way, I said, “I might as well document it. I might as well get it and have it.” And after having it, it was like, “Well, s**t. There’s an opportunity here to just be truthful and transparent.”

DEADLINE: You’re someone who’s built a career through direct engagement with fans. But as we’ve seen in recent years, doing so can be a double-edged sword. What has motivated you to continue reaching out directly on social media, despite the backlash it’s sometimes fostered?

HART: Social media gives you access to your fans, at the click of a button. Over the years, I’ve seen the good, and of course I’ve seen the bad from it. It’s a gift and a curse, but if you’re going to accept the good, then you’ve got to be able to accept the bad.

I think as I’ve grown, I’ve learned to maneuver accordingly within it, and I think that within “Don’t F**k This Up,” it was just another level, right? You’ve seen me from video, or tweeting, or posting pictures, and I think that for a while, people mistake that for [the] absolute truth of your life. In other words, “If we didn’t see it posted, then it couldn’t happen. There’s no way that anything else could happen, or be happening, because we didn’t see it posted.”

So within “Don’t F**k This Up,” it was, here’s a lot of s**t that you never saw, and that you never would have known, if I didn’t make the choice to make it available. This is as real, as raw, as truthful and authentic as it can get, but this is where I want people to realize that just because you didn’t see it, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, and you don’t know all the layers to individuals.

It’s easy to make assumptions. It’s easy to put people in a box based off of opinion, based off of feeling, but without the exact knowledge, and without the exact truth to tie it to, you don’t really have anything to stand on—and that’s what the whole basis of that was about it.

‘I don’t want to be in a world where we forget how to forgive.’

DEADLINE: Obviously, the series leads up to the 2018 Oscar scandal. Can you reflect for a moment on the feelings that hit you, when you made the decision to step away as host?

HART: At the time, there’s a lot of feelings that came into play. Not to say that they were correct, but there was a lot of emotion and misunderstanding on so many fronts. I can only take responsibility for my front, and for what I feel I did wrong, or could have did better. I think that my cockiness got in the way, and the assumption of, “How could people even tie me into such a thing? How do they not know?”—instead of realizing that there’s so many people that don’t know who I truly am, and what I really am, that could take this in, and really feel like there’s a side to truth to it, because I didn’t take the time to address it correctly.

It wasn’t until I talked to so many peers and friends that I got a different understanding and realized the ball that I dropped, and the moment that I skipped over, and that was one, just acknowledging the hurt and pain of people that are going through what they’re going through—people that are dealing with it on levels that I can only imagine, and that I never even knew was real. For me, in those same conversations, it was about making my peers and friends understand I truly was ignorant to all of this. I had no knowledge about it; I had no understanding about it. So, if it wasn’t for the conversations, I wouldn’t have been able to get to a point of understanding.

In today’s time, we’re skipping over that. We’re skipping over the moment of resolution and solution, right? In order to change, there has to be a resolution. There has to be a moment of understanding, and then the opportunity to move on and grow, and get better and be better.

So, I was very thankful to have the relationships that I had, that opened up my eyes to these things, that painted the pictures that allowed me to see what I now see. But if it wasn’t for them, I would still be in a blind spot of just not knowing. From that experience, it made me better, it made me wiser, but more importantly, it made me aware.

DEADLINE: If you could go back, knowing what you know now, would you handle the scandal differently?

HART: If I could go back, I don’t think the hosting of the Oscars would’ve happened, because I still think that moment was tainted. I think that my apology for my past remarks would’ve come sooner, instead of me thinking that people still had the wrong idea. I would have said, “Look, I want to say to that I’m sorry, once again, and I want people to understand that I don’t feel that way. These are old remarks, and even then, I didn’t feel that way. I was looking for a laugh, and I thought this was a way to it, not realizing the pain and hurt that it could cause. Moving forward in the last 10 years, I haven’t done anything remotely close, and in the future, I never will. I’m not an advocate of any type of violence, in any type of way.”

I would’ve said that, and I would have said that sooner, but I thought that people were automatically saying that I was something that I’m not, and that’s where the confusion and misconception came from.

DEADLINE: How has going through this affected the way you see the world? What lessons have you taken away from it?

HART: The biggest thing that I’m glad I’m able to know about is within the LGBTQ+ community, there’s so much that people just aren’t aware of. Now, after being in what I was in, I do have a high level of understanding for it, to the point where I can say in a conversation, “I see why feelings and emotions are attached to certain things, because I understand the hurt, and I understand the pain.” I’ve now had the conversations that have allowed me to understand, and because of those conversations, I’m able to have more on my side—whether it’s with my kids, my friends, or whomever—to speak in a way of positivity, based on the things that I’ve been educated on.

But what I do now know, and what I can now say, is that it takes time for some people to get it. It takes time. This isn’t [information] that’s just available in the back of a book. I can’t just pick up a newspaper and see and download myself on it, and if that paper was available, why am I going to go get it? You see what I’m saying? The information isn’t given that way, and there’s an education that, of course, has to be had, but an understanding of distribution with any information, as well.

DEADLINE: How would you describe the path you took to come out of this?

HART: It’s not being afraid to step in your own s–t, right? I took responsibility, and in taking responsibility, I wanted to basically take a second, acknowledge and look at myself, and then go, “Okay, man, there’s two steps back, so it means that we’ve got to figure out a way to take six steps forward. How are we going to do that? We’re going to do it by being better. We’re going to do it by being genuine, by being yourself, and not running away from the conversation,” because most people do. Most people run away from their problems, from mishaps and mistakes. I believe in facing them head-on, regardless of the magnitude of it.

I’ve been an open book thus far in my career, it got me to where I am, and you can’t be an open book when it’s convenient for you. You can’t do that. I’ve made myself available. I’ve exposed myself on all levels, so that’s not something that I’m ever not going to do. I made that bed, and I’m going to lay in it. My growth and progression, after mishap and mistake, is one that’s on display as well, but I think here, what helped me was just being vulnerable and real.

‘We’re letting people control and dictate the start and finish of peoples’ lives.’

DEADLINE: Obviously, cancel culture is serving a need for justice and accountability in our society that’s historically been ignored. But you’ve been outspoken about the negative side of it.

HART: When you talk about our state of today, we’re becoming comfortable with giving this ‘cancel’ idea in culture the level of attention that we are. We’re letting people control and dictate the start and finish of peoples’ lives, and if we are in a time of finding any type of solution to the fight of equality and change, which seems to be a global fight now—a global fight of people being treated fairly, change, understanding and accepting the past, but preparing for a better future—that means that we can’t be in a position where we’re contradicting ourselves.

If people [have done something] wrong, the idea of canceling those people, and ending whatever career or thing they have…If it’s just over, then what’s the teachable moment for them? What, it’s over, and then you can’t do nothing else for the rest of your life, because you made a mistake?

What happened to the days of making a mistake, learning from the mistake, not doing that, and educating others on what not to do because of your mistakes? Isn’t that parenting? Isn’t that the world of raising a kid? How do you know what to tell your kid to do or not to do? You have to be in a position of experience to say, “Don’t touch that stove because it’s hot,” because you touched it when it was hot. I can’t give you that lesson if I don’t have the experience. “Hey, in the corporate world, this is how you move and maneuver, and you make sure you do it accordingly. You make sure that you treat every woman with respect. You make sure that you do not act a certain way in this and that,” and it’s based off of what? Knowledge, experience. It’s based off of growth. It’s based off understanding.

If everything is done in the way of, “Nope. No more. You f**ked up. Get out of here, and don’t do anything else for the rest of your life, but suffer,” what part of the conversation are we on? Like, does everybody deserve the same level of treatment? I don’t think so. If that’s the case, then everybody would be in the same type of jail cell. You will put everyone in there, regardless of what the f**k they did. You’re telling me they all deserve to be in the same thing? Are you going to put the guy with a parking ticket in there with the guy that’s f**king guilty of rape or murder?

Does he belong in that same cell? He doesn’t. So, at some point, there has to be a middle ground, and right now, there isn’t one. It doesn’t exist, and it worries me that we’re getting comfortable with that. And by all means, what I’m saying doesn’t mean that if something is wrong, and someone has done wrong at the highest level, they shouldn’t be dealt with accordingly. By all means, I stand behind that. But I also can stand behind saying everything is not at that level. Everything isn’t that.

DEADLINE: What do you think should be happening?

HART: I think it’s about picking and choosing what you’re giving that attention to. Like, what are the things that we’re giving a significant amount of importance to? What are the stories that we are grabbing onto that we know should just be left in the wind? What are the things that we can bypass, and not create an internet frenzy with?

You know, it’s a high level of clickbait that’s available on the internet daily. How much of it’s positive? Not much. I can’t tell you the last positive story I’ve seen on the internet. It’s a pool of negative s–t; that’s all it is. Everything is about what someone did, or what they’re doing, or what they didn’t do, and the consequences that come behind it. It’s all based off of gossip. It’s all based off of guilt, of greed. It’s really just a bad environment now, and people love it. People love the energy that comes with negativity.

So, how do we start to celebrate and promote positivity? Are you telling me that there’s none left? Are you telling me that there’s nothing left? That’s the part that I just want other people to think about.

For me, when I look at the time that we’re in, we’re seeing the worst of the worst, and maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe we were supposed to get here. Maybe we needed this pandemic; maybe we needed this COVID-19 scare, because we were in a place of just s–t. Maybe we needed to take these steps back, and get as bad as we possibly could, so now we can get some real growth, and some real, visible change.

Maybe we needed it—we, as a whole. By “as a whole,” I mean, nobody’s standing above anyone. Maybe we had to go through the craziest time to really see from the lens of so many. Maybe we needed to get to this crazy place of hate and negativity to get to the place of love that we can all agree that we need to be at.

So, when you talk about change, that’s the change. The change is realization. The change is understanding, and the willingness to find a resolve and solution. And you can’t find that if there’s going to be a crazy amount of hate attached to it, we are not willing to understand. You have to understand the hurt of others. You have to understand the position and voice that they speak with. You have to. Black Lives Matter, it can’t be overlooked. You have to understand it. Even if you don’t get it fully, you try your best to understand it.

It’s the same thing with me and what I went through. I had to step back and put myself in a position to understand. It’s that simple.

Ellen DeGeneresFOX Image Collection via Getty Images

DEADLINE: In recent weeks, you’ve spoken up for friends including Nick Cannon and Ellen DeGeneres, who have found themselves under fire. Why has it been important to defend them, even at the risk of putting the spotlight back on you?

HART: Well, I don’t lose sight of the definition of friendship, and in our business, it’s one thing that people don’t really hold on to. There’s a lot of relationships that are fake, and there’s some that are real. In my case, the ones that are real are the ones that I’m always going to be adamant about speaking on behalf of. I know the people that both of them are, and knowing the people, all I can say is my experiences with those people. That’s not to take away from what other people are saying that they have had, and that they have done. It’s just to highlight what I’m saying I know, and what I can speak on behalf of.

In times like this, I know also how dark it gets. I know how lonely it gets, because I know that these are times when people just turn their back on you. So for the ones that you love, that are close to your heart, you just want them to have some support, when it seems that there is none out there, and that’s just who I am as a person.

That goes for anybody, across the board, that I consider a friend, and that’s not a big group of people. Everybody doesn’t get that conversation and that feeling from me, but the ones that do, I’m serious about it. I’m true to it, and it doesn’t mean that you have to speak on behalf of the problem. It doesn’t mean that you have to disregard the things that others are saying. It means that I can just speak on my relationship with my friends. When it comes to Nick, and it comes Ellen, I know who they are, and I know who they’ve been for the years that I’ve been around them, and I can only speak to that. Those are two of the most amazing people that I know.

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