Last year, all eyes were on Chris Rock’s tour following “The Slap” at the Oscars, which culminated in his and Netflix’s first-ever live stand-up comedy special, Selective Outrage. Meanwhile, Kevin Hart was on his own solo headlining tour, which filmed Reality Check for Peacock this year. What if their tours joined forces for four stops in the New York City metro area?
The Gist: That’s the backbone of Kevin Hart & Chris Rock: Headliners Only, which follows the two stand-up superstars as they co-headline shows outside at Jones Beach on Long Island, the Prudential Center in Newark, Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and Madison Square Garden in midtown Manhattan. But we’re not going to see much of their stand-up (see: Selective Outrage; Reality Check). Instead, there’s plenty of comedy chat between Hart and Rock, as well as mini-docs on each of them with clips and perspective from the likes of Dave Chappelle, Wanda Sykes, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Burr, and the younger brothers of both Hart and Rock.
What Comedy Specials Will It Remind You Of?: It’s supposed to remind you of the 2000 concert film, The Original Kings of Comedy, which presented Steve Harvey, Cedric The Entertainer, D.L. Hughley and the late Bernie Mac performing for an arena-sized crowd in North Carolina and directed by Spike Lee.
Memorable Jokes: Sykes, in an offstage interview comparing Rock and Hart: “Chris is, he’s pretty quiet, you know. He’s in his thoughts, and, Kevin? No.”
There’s also a funny sequence while Rock and Hart enjoy a private dinner together at a restaurant, where Rock demonstrates why he advises comedians or anyone really not to go to a meeting hungry, even if it’s a lunch meeting, because you might say irresponsible things when you’re starving.
Our Take: You might be tempted to ask, as I did, why this documentary even exists? Because we’re not getting a lot of fresh comedy or information, and dividing the 82-minute running time even further into mini-docs on Hart and Rock barely has time to get through more than the basic historical markers of each of the comedian’s lives and careers. Not that they don’t get props for trying to dig a little bit deeper on some of the obstacles the comedians overcame before each of them broke big, a decade apart (Rock with 1999’s Emmy-winning HBO special, Bigger & Blacker; Hart with his 2009 Comedy Central special, I’m A Grown Little Man, as well as Shaq’s All-Star Comedy Jam for Showtime). Because before they began reaching such great heights, they faced huge setbacks. For Rock, it was bombing in his stand-up TV debut on the 1987 finale episode of The Late Show hosted by Joan Rivers, in which he panicked and told his closing joke too early, and then his manager and agents dropping him when he fled to the end of In Living Color after Saturday Night Live didn’t know what to do with him. For Hart, it was his 2004 ABC sitcom (The Big House) that got cancelled at upfronts, then picked up and cancelled again after only six episodes.
There’s also some fascinating insights from Keith Robinson (who’s filming his first Netflix special next week) about mentoring Hart, talking him out of keeping his original stage name Lil’ Kev the Bastard, and from Tony Rock about how he stopped asking for favors from his more famous brother 20 years ago, until this 2022 tour came through Brooklyn down the block from where the Rocks grew up.
Then there’s the idea of older comedians mentoring younger ones (comparisons are made here of Rock being Michael Jordan to Hart’s Kobe Bryant), and Rock wonders if the kids in stand-up these days are humble enough to respectfully ask their elders for help, or if they just want to assume everyone already cares about their Instagrams and TikToks.
And within the black entertainment community, “we have this idea that there can only be one” star at a time, Hart says. It’s a myth, and a harmful one at that. “When people get caught up on the idea that there can only be one, well, shit gets weird, because this competitive thing happens.” Showing Hart and Rock together onstage (with or without Chappelle, and let’s not even get into debates about GOATs or actual goats) helps dispel this myth.
But even more importantly for Hart, this documentary documents for posterity that this generation has its own Kings of Comedy, and he, Rock and Chappelle are going to get their crowns.
Our Call: If you’re a casual comedy fan, STREAM IT to see these comedy greats talk candidly about how they made their way to greatness. If you’re a fan of Hart or Rock or Chappelle, it doesn’t probably matter how much you already know about their backstories. You’ll just enjoy having this added access to them. If only for a handful of minutes.
Sean L. McCarthy works the comedy beat. He also podcasts half-hour episodes with comedians revealing origin stories: The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First.