This year, for the first time in the decade-long history of Forbes’ list of the highest-paid comedians, the top earner is not Jerry Seinfeld. It’s Kevin Hart.

No surprise, really. Despite taking time out to film two movies released in 2015, and another two live-action films in 2016, he spent the better part of the past year touring his one-man stand-up show. In all, he performed more than 150 times in stadiums and arenas between April 2015 and August of this year. In the midst of it was a sold-out show in front of 53,000 people at his hometown Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, and that show is the subject of Kevin Hart: What Now?

In contrast, Eddie Murphy’s seminal stand-up film Raw was filmed live at New York’s Felt Forum, in front of a crowd less than a tenth that size. That lack of intimacy is what ultimately makes What Now lose some of its steam. Many stand-up comedians’ effectiveness comes not only from feeding off the usually small audience a few feet in front of them but also from the audience’s ability to really connect with the performers. And while What Now does have plenty of hilarious material, punctuated by Hart’s manic, wide-eyed delivery, the film overall feels like it’s missing something.

The film actually begins with a scripted prologue, with Hart as a James Bond-like playboy in a high-roller poker game with Don Cheadle and others. Halle Berry is on his arm, and Ed Helms is tossing the drinks. While there are a few chuckles, it only feels like half-baked filler until the main event.

With aerial shots that echo the switch-to-color moment in U2’s Rattle and Hum concert film, much is made of the size of the crowd. Hart, though, never feels too small for the occasion; his charisma and vitality help him easily command the stage, whether he’s riffing on intruder raccoons, all-night ping-pong binges, or unwanted bathroom intruders. His set is often self-deprecating, which only adds to the hilarity, and his ability to garner laughs with only a look or a gesture helps keep the movie humming right along.

There are more than a few belly laughs, and even when a bit falls a little flat, there’s generally a good one right behind it. What Now may not necessarily have the staying power or quotability of Raw or Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip, but in the moment the comedy is solid.

If only someone had made the solid decision to film it in front of an audience of 5,000 instead of 50,000. That way it would feel less like an excuse for Kevin Hart to brag about breaking attendance records and instead be remembered among Hollywood’s best stand-up feature films.


3.5/5 stars