Earlier this week, I went to the Kevin Hart “What Now” tour stop here in Knoxville, TN. I left the Thompson-Bowling Arena with sore throat and sides from laughing so hard. While the whole purpose of going was to be entertained, I left with three things that made a strong impression on me.
1. Kevin Hart is really funny. Ok, this is a bit of a cop out because everyone knows he is really funny. But I saw last night how much of a master he is of funny. He brilliantly combines words, voice control, and body movements to bring on uncontrollable laughter. My eyes were burning because I was crying so much from laughing! But he also leveraged technology to add to the laughs. My favorite part of the evening was Kevin sitting on a stool in front of a huge picture of a bathroom stall. From one angle it looked like he was actually sitting on a ginormous toilet! Making people laugh is a gift because it just feels good. There are plenty of medical studies on the benefits of laughter, especially the belly laughing like I did last night.
2. The art of storytelling is king. I think what makes Kevin Hart so good at his job is his ability to tell stories that suck the audience into whatever wild ride he has planned. The opening acts told jokes by picking on different aspects of life, often times socially charged issues that at times isolated pockets of the crowd. They definitely got laughs, but not to the level that Kevin did. He gave the audience a glimpse of his life, filling fact with exaggerated fiction that almost anyone can relate to. A few times he hit the same socially charged issues, but he did it in a way that wasn’t offensive because of his ability to approach to bring the listener alongside of him through story. He gained more than just the attention of the audience, but also their loyalty. One of the opening acts lost a majority of the audience because he focused too much on tense issues and vulgar topics and he did it in a way that was like a bull in a china shop. Kevin Hart demonstrated the importance of approaching topics that might sting in a way that was disarming and inviting. There were many lessons to be learned for anyone trying to communicate a message to an audience. Tell a story that engages and disarms people and you will win their loyalty and their attention.
3. Racial tension desperately needs reconciliation.The crowd was very diverse, from blacks and whites to Latino and Asians. It was actually really cool to see such a beautiful display. But the tension was thick a few times as some of the comics hit the divide between whites and blacks with a sledge hammer. I’m all for poking fun at the quirkiness that different groups characteristically have. I believe that an important role comedians can fill is to bring our attention to the silly things in our lives that need to be addressed. So on that point, last night made me realize we still have so far to go toward racial reconciliation. Reconciliation doesn’t mean that everyone sings kum-bah-yah and holds hands. But it does mean that we seek friendly relationships between people of different races. It means that we resolve conflict instead of running away from it or making it worse by fighting. I see positive signs in my kids’ generation as I watch each of my four kids have friends that Latino, black, and white. I’m encouraged that they do not judge someone based on the color of their skin or where they were born. However, as a Christ follower, I long to see deep reconciliation happen because I believe we are better working together than separate. It’s often said that Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week. I’ve often wondered how we can change that. There are churches that are managing to do that, but that isn’t common, especially in the south. Maybe the first step is having people brave enough to start meaningful dialogue about how we can move forward in reconciliation so that hearts are changed. After all, that is the essence of the gospel…that heart transformation would occur. I believe that is the only way true reconciliation will come so that the prejudices we harbor can be uprooted from our hearts.
I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Kevin Hart live. He was everything I thought he would be, but I definitely didn’t expect to walk away with the observations I that I did. The laughter makes me feel renewed. The storytelling makes me feel inspired. And the reminder of how tense racial relations remain both troubles me and drives me to want to be a part of the process to see reconciliation take hold in our society.