This week, Ellen DeGeneres released clips of her new interview with Kevin Hart, coming nearly a month after the comedian stepped down from hosting the Oscars after dozens of his old homophobic tweets resurfaced. At the time of his resignation, Hart revealed his decision to step away from the gig by tweeting out an apology. He wrote: “I sincerely apologize to the LGBTQ community for my insensitive words from my past,” following it up with a second tweet saying, “I’m sorry that I hurt people.”
“I believe in forgiveness. I believe in second chances. And I believe in @KevinHart4real,” DeGeneres said on Twitter, along with a clip from the interview, in which Hart tells her, “It’s ten years old. This is stuff I’ve addressed. I’ve talked about this; this isn’t new. I’ve addressed it. I’ve apologized for it.” Hart also claims in the clip that coverage of the controversy, which he later calls an “attack,” inaccurately left out his previous apologies. Here’s Hart’s quote in full, where he recounts his experience of watching the controversy unfold prior to his Twitter apology and choice to step down:
Now the headlines are starting to change. The headlines are “Kevin Hart Refuses to Apologize for Homophobic Tweets from the Past.” The word “Again” was left out. Everybody took those headlines and started to run with it, so now, the slander on my name is all homophobia. Now I’m a little upset. I’m a little upset because I know who I am. I know that I don’t have a homophobic bone in my body. I know that I’ve addressed it. I know that I’ve apologized. I know that, within my apologies, I’ve taken ten years to put my apology to work. I’ve yet to go back to that version of the immature comedian that I once was. I’ve moved on. I’m a grown man. I’m cultured. I’m manufactured. I’m a guy that understands now. I look at life through a different lens, and because of that, I live it in a different way.
So now I’m kind of upset because these ten years are just being ignored; they’re being brushed past. Nobody is saying, “Guys, this is ten years.” Headlines [aren’t] saying, “Ten Years Ago He Apologized.” Nobody’s finding the apologies. Nobody’s finding the footage from where I had to address it. I had to address it when I did Get Hard promo with Will Ferrell because of my joke that I had about my son. I had to address those tweets in 2012 in a very, very heavy junket where I was asked questions and asked questions about homophobia based on those tweets, and I had to address it and apologize and say I understand what those words do and how they hurt. I understand why people would be upset, which is why I made the choice to not use them anymore. I don’t joke like that anymore because that was wrong. That was a guy that was just looking for laughs and it was stupid — I don’t do that anymore.
Hart is making a pretty bold claim here that the press has chosen to ignore previous apologies for his homophobic tweets and not put any work into finding them. But before we start hunting for said apologies, let’s establish what an apology is and isn’t. An apology is acknowledging a mistake, offense, or failure. An apology has words like “I’m sorry” or “I regret,” and these words are used without shifting the blame or burden to another person, place, or thing. An apology is not “I’m sorry if I offended you” or “I’m sorry if my words hurt your feelings” or “I don’t do that anymore because people are too sensitive these days.” An apology is what Samantha Bee made, twice, for calling Ivanka Trump a “feckless cunt.” An apology is Seth Rogen, when confronted about using blackface film stand-ins, saying, “I should start by saying this shouldn’t have happened, and I’m terribly sorry it did. I won’t give excuses for why it happened.” An apology is when Dan Harmon told former Community writer Megan Ganz that he was “deeply sorry” for sexually harassing her, then followed it up with a long reflection where he owned up to the bigger damage it caused.
Hart says he’s already done this, ten years ago and multiple times. When asked what apology he was referring to in a new interview with Variety, he said, “[W]hen people say, ‘Yo, I can’t find it,’ well, go ask the individual who dug up the stuff from 2009 to go do the same. I can’t put that energy into something that’s in my past. I can’t put that energy into negativity.” (We also reached out to Hart’s reps to ask about what apology he was referring to and will update this post if we hear back.)
Before getting into Hart’s claims of apologies, it’s important to know that Hart’s homophobia goes beyond tweeting homophobic insults at people using words like homo, fag, and tranny. He’s received a lot of criticism over the years, for example, for a bit in his special Seriously Funny, in which he says that while he doesn’t consider himself homophobic, one of his biggest fears is his son growing up to be gay. In the bit, Hart describes seeing another boy “grinding” against his son at a birthday party, after which he knocks both boys to the ground. (The following year, Hart tweeted a joke similar to the one in the special that has since been deleted, writing, “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.’”) Here’s the bit:
Also worth noting is that Seriously Funny premiered in 2010 — a year after the ten-year-old apology Hart told DeGeneres he made for his homophobic tweets. So let’s look for the other multiple apologies Hart says are being ignored.
The earliest interview where Hart addresses his homophobia appears to be a Men’s Health interview from 2013, three years after Seriously Funny, where he’s asked if there’s anything he won’t joke about and says “things have really changed” in comedy when it comes to jokes about gay people:
I’m not big on joking about politics or on jokes pointed at the gay community. That’s not my agenda. That’s not what I strive to do. I leave those things alone. Things have really changed between where comedy is now and where it used to be.
In a 2014 interview with Playboy, he goes on, saying that “it’s too dangerous” to joke about gay people:
I’m not a political guy. I don’t really deal with Democrats or Republicans. I don’t find that funny. And I don’t talk about the gay community, be it male or female. No thank you! It’s such a sensitive subject. I’ve seen comics get into serious trouble by joking about gay people. It’s too dangerous. Whatever you say, any joke you make about the gay community, it’s going to be misconstrued. It’s not worth it.
It’s just a sensitive topic and I respect people of all orientations. So, it’s just best left alone.
While promoting Get Hard with Will Ferrell in early 2015, Hart was asked by HitFix’s Louis Virtel if he thought some of the scenes in the movie were “a little bit dated” when it came to homophobic humor and countered by saying that “funny is funny”:
I said to myself, This is funny. And at the end of the day, funny is funny, regardless of what area it’s coming from. So, you know, when doing it, I felt that the scene called for the actions and reactions that we gave. And for the individuals that we’re portraying, the characters that we’re playing, it’s what fit them for those moments. So once again, I just look for the laugh, man, and the best way to get there.
Later in 2015, Hart addressed the gay-son joke in an interview with Rolling Stone, saying that people “love to make big deals out of things that aren’t necessarily big deals”:
I wouldn’t tell that joke today, because when I said it, the times weren’t as sensitive as they are now. I think we love to make big deals out of things that aren’t necessarily big deals, because we can. These things become public spectacles. So why set yourself up for failure?
It’s unclear what the “very, very heavy junket” from 2012 was that Hart refers to in his interview with DeGeneres (he promoted two films that year, Think Like a Man and The Five-Year Engagement). But given all the press his responses to homophobia accusations have received since his gay-son joke, you’d think it would be easier to find these clips of Hart apologizing for his tweets. It certainly couldn’t have happened ten years ago, as Hart claimed four times to DeGeneres, considering Seriously Funny debuted after that hypothetically happened.
However fuzzy Hart’s timeline may seem, not only do his claims go unchallenged by DeGeneres in the interview, but they’re backed up by her full support against his critics, with Hart referring to them as “trolls” and DeGeneres referring to them as “haters” who will “win” if he doesn’t host the Oscars. “I think it’s perfect that all this happened because there has to be a conversation about homophobia,” DeGeneres says, “and whoever’s trying to hurt you, it brought up you reminding people that you’re a bigger person — that you’ve already apologized. You’re apologizing again.”
To be clear, Hart has addressed, or at least acknowledged, the criticism about his homophobic material — or his thoughts on homophobic material in general — a handful of times over the past five years or so. Even taking into account his tweet from a month ago, it’s simply inaccurate to say that Hart has apologized for or sincerely reckoned with it in a meaningful way until his Ellen interview, when he acknowledged publicly that it was “wrong.” But for Hart to couch his statements with insistence that his apologies already happened long ago in some easily Googled article or clip — and more, for DeGeneres to perpetuate that claim — shows that Hart has no intention of truly owning up to, and evolving from, his past mistakes. Louis Virtel, the interviewer from the 2015 Get Hard junket, put it best: