On Wednesday, the Academy Awards announced the comedian Kevin Hart as the host of this year’s broadcast. Apparently, he wasn’t the first person asked. The Hollywood Reporter had just run a piece headlined “Why Oscar Host Has Become the Least Wanted Job in Hollywood,” noting the A-list talents (Oprah Winfrey, Tina Fey) who had reportedly passed. Hart, in contrast, had indicated publicly that it was a dream gig. On Instagram, he said that he was “blown away simply because this has been a goal on my list for a long time.”
Within hours, the Internet unearthed a number of homophobic tweets from Hart’s past, including one, now deleted, from 2011: “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.’ ” Another tweet described a Twitter user’s photo as “a gay billboard for AIDS.” There were sprinklings of “gay by association,” “no homo,” and “fat faced fag” throughout his feed. The journalist Benjamin Lee, of the Guardian, shared a routine from Hart’s 2010 comedy special, “Seriously Funny,” in which he says, “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.” He goes on to describe his son Hendrix’s possible “homosexual tendencies,” to which his fatherly response is, “Stop, that’s gay!”
You know how these things work: rapid-fire outrage, hand-wringing over how culpable people should be for old jokes, and—last night, on cue—the dénouement. Taking to Instagram again, Hart came out with a non-apology (“I’m not going to let the craziness frustrate me”) and then, an hour or so later, tweeted out an actual apology (“I sincerely apologize to the LGBTQ community for my insensitive words from my past”) and withdrew as Oscars host.
Hart was reportedly given an “ultimatum” by the Academy to apologize, which didn’t exactly need another own goal after #OscarsSoWhite, the “Best Popular Film” debacle, and declining ratings. The viewers who still tune in include a fervent gay fan base (Hi!), who will want to watch Lady Gaga perform “Shallow” in peace. And, in retrospect, how could Hart have possibly presided over a cinematic year that includes such L.G.B.T.Q.-flavored films as “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” “The Favourite,” and “Boy Erased,” the latter about a gay teen whose parents send him to conversion therapy?
I can’t solve the problem of how accountable comedians should be for insensitive jokes from years ago (although 2010, which Hart described as “days of old,” wasn’t exactly pre-Stonewall). I can only tell you how my skin crawled and my heart sank as I read Hart’s “jokes.” There’s a specific brand of homophobia—fear of gayness in your own children—that is so hurtful, because its implication is that love is contingent upon fear. Anyone who spent his or her childhood trying to police “homosexual tendencies”—say, the urge to hoard cassette tapes of Oscar-winning songs—feels the sting of Hart’s words, delivered in the spirit of “I’m just saying what every father thinks.”
Not all “offensive” jokes are equally bad. Jerry Seinfeld’s crack about scrolling through his phone contacts “like a gay French king” is hacky and annoying, mostly because he uses it to rail against “political correctness.” But it doesn’t cut nearly as deep as Hart’s. As the gay comedian Billy Eichner tweeted, “Many of us have jokes/tweets we regret. I’m ok with tasteless jokes, depending on context. What bothers me about these is you can tell its not just a joke—there’s real truth, anger & fear behind these. I hope Kevin’s thinking has evolved since 2011.” Unwanted as it may be, Oscar host is an élite, front-and-center job, and now the Academy can choose someone without the taint of intolerance. They should see if Eichner has plans on Sunday, February 24th.
More Info: newyorker.com