Kevin Hart's new stand-up album, Seriously Funny, takes a while to get going. The album, recorded live in Cleveland, Ohio (Hart opens up with references to LeBron James, making it sound dated on the day it's released thanks to James' signing with Miami in July of 2010), is slow to start, with Hart's delivery going a long way towards compensating for some bumpy material. During the early stretches, Hart reminded me of early Eddie Murphy; even when the jokes aren't all working, Hart's unbelievably fast, energetic style is enough to make you laugh. He's funny even when he isn't.
About a third of the way through the album, though, Seriously Funny really takes off (right around Hart's routine on thug speeches during a fight) and Hart's material catches up with his delivery. Though he's riffing on topics we've heard dozens of times from dozens of comedians -- chiefly, things like parenthood and the differences between men and women -- Hart does it with enough style and technique that he makes it work even when it shouldn't. His delivery is part Eddie Murphy confidence and part Bernie Mac aggression, but what he adds (that both of those comics were missing) is a sense of self-deprecation that makes him relatable and lets the listener know that he never takes himself too seriously.
It's when Hart is relating to universal concerns and observations that he's at his strongest. He does a terrific routine on what it means for a man to babysit his kids; likewise with another routine about how easily he finds women can get angry. Even if it's not a feeling we can all relate to, Hart makes it feel like we can -- there's a sincerity to his confused frustration that carries it beyond just a standard "did you ever notice?" comedy bit. It's his greatest strength as a comedian; though I hate to keep comparing him to a young Eddie Murphy, both have a tremendous ability to sell a joke in a way that it might not even warrant. And, like young Murphy, Hart has a tendency to slip into a bit of posturing that alienates the listener from time to time (there's a streak of homophobia that runs through some of the material, though Hart is quick to announce that he carries no such prejudice). For the most part, though, Hart feels like one of us. Only a bit shorter.
I've mostly been aware of Kevin Hart as an actor prior to Seriously Funny, but I liked the record enough that I hope to continue following his stand-up career from here on out. There's no denying his talent -- it doesn't even much matter what he's saying, because chances are he's got me laughing at the way he says it. Hart's album may not be Seriously Funny, but it is regular funny. I'll take regular funny.
- Album Release Date: 7/20/10
- Label: Comedy Central Records