Kevin Hart strutted across the Sleep Train Arena stage on Friday night with a gold microphone in hand, reeling off jokes while the capacity crowd nearly blew their beverages out their noses. The punchlines were delivered with the force of a full-court press on Friday night as Hart, the hottest name in comedy and box office star, was treated more like a rock royalty than a mere jokester.
Hart ventured into Garth Brooks territory by performing two sold-out shows in a single night at Sleep Train Arena. Though Brooks’ recent stint in Sacramento stretched to six nights, Hart’s double-header at the arena was rare for a performer of any kind. By the time the house lights went up at nearly 1 a.m. Saturday morning, a combined crowd of more than 30,000 had laughed along to Hart’s high energy riffs on family life, animal attacks, fame and more.
Sacramento was the latest stop in a 45-city outing that’s expected to set a record for the highest grossing comedy tour of all time. According to Billboard Boxscore, Hart’s “What Now?” tour had grossed $35 million in advance ticket sales in March – a good month before Hart had delivered a single joke on this outing. The tour wraps up in Hart’s hometown of Philadelphia with a stadium show at Lincoln Financial Field, the NFL home of the Philadelphia Eagles.
But on a business end, not much is funny when that much money is at stake. Hart’s tour has among the strictest policies against cell phones that you’ll find in live entertainment. It’s a strategy to prevent Hart’s latest material from leaking on social media and taking the surprise out punchlines as the tour winds around the country.
Warnings that using a cell phone during the show could cause you to get booted were passed along from just about the moment that the crowds lined up to enter Sleep Train Arena. Once inside, a fleet of stone-faced security stalked the aisles to enforce the no cell phones rule (though patrons were allowed to make any emergency calls from the arena’s concourse). Before the second show on Friday night, an usher said that more than 100 people were kicked out during Hart’s first performance of the evening – a number that was later repeated from the stage.
As one Sacramento fan (@rita_janea) posted via Twitter on Friday night: “If our cops and judges were as strict as the security at Kevin Hart, our world would be a much better place.”
In that sense, social media is something of a double edged sword for Hart. The comedian and co-star of “Ride Along,” which grossed more than $100 million at the box office, has solidified his personal brand by tweeting regularly to his 20 million followers on Twitter, and posting selfies to more than 18 million Instagram followers. Yet, these are the same folks who could potentially take the wind out of Hart’s punchlines, like the rant against Starbucks on Friday, if these bits reached YouTube.
This strict anti-social media policy suggests that each of Hart’s shows is essentially the same, that he’s performing the same material nightly instead of allowing much space for extended improvisation or riffing off the events of a given day. There’s certainly an element of tight scripting in the show, including visuals that are coordinated with some of Hart’s routines. Veering too far from the game plan would throw this production for a whammy.
Hart’s material, while LOL funny many times, also plays it somewhat safe in terms of subject matter. The current state of divisive politics and current affairs are a potential goldmine for comedians, including Donald Trump, Confederate Flag controversies, Mexican drug lords on the run and so much more. But Hart doesn’t go there, leaving the more topical issues for other comedians, in favor of material that focuses on the absurdities of everyday life.
But it’s clear to see why Hart has the power to fill arenas. Hart hits the stage with A-list swagger and presence, a thick gold chain draped around his neck and a high energy delivery that’s designed to reach the funny bones of those in the nosebleed seats. While some stand-up comedians don’t do much but slump behind a microphone stand, Hart works all areas of the stage more like the lead singer of a rock band.
Hart’s hour-long show also comes with a level of Hollywood star power that’s not often seen on the stand-up comedy circuit, given his roles in “Ride Along,” “Get Hard” and “Think Like a Man.” But for all of his box office receipts, Hart doesn’t come across as too cool for the room. There’s a touch of self-deprecation to his material which makes him relatable, whether Hart’s poking fun at his height, a fear of the dark and other knee-slapper situations not fit for a family newspaper.
And once the house lights went up in the wee hours of Saturday morning, Hart encouraged the crowd to finally take out their cell phones and take some pics. The audience obliged enthusiastically, and the current king of comedy was off to his next sports arena stop.