The clip seemed designed to go viral: singer-rapper Lil Nas X earnestly responding to a question about his decision to come out just as he found fame with his country-trap hit, “Old Town Road,” which topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for a record-breaking 19 weeks.
The exchange unfolded on an episode of “The Shop,” which aired on HBO Tuesday night, and is produced by LeBron James’s digital brand, Uninterrupted. And it did go viral — but perhaps not in the way the show’s creators had hoped.
“The Shop” features a rotating roster of sports figures, entertainers and business executives having frank discussions in a barbershop-like setting. Tuesday’s episode also featured retired NFL star Rob Gronkowski, Cleveland Cavaliers player Kevin Love, Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard C.J. McCollum, Power 105.1 shock jock Charlamagne tha God and comedian Kevin Hart. The freewheeling conversation included such topics as mental health and why some athletes are more successful than others.
When the discussion turned to Lil Nas X’s industry-disrupting hit, the room filled with praise (“You won,” Charlamagne told him) and questions — about why the song wasn’t embraced as country music and whether the newcomer feels pressure to top the success of his debut single. Then Paul Rivera, an entertainment marketing exec and co-creator of the series, noted that on the heels of that success, Lil Nas X “felt it was important to make an announcement recently.”
“He said he was gay! So what?” Hart piped to echoes from the show’s other guests.
“It’s not about who cares. That’s actually my question,” Rivera continued. “Why did he feel it was necessary to come out and say that?"
“It’s not that it’s, like, being forced,” Lil Nas X began. “It’s just that knowing, like growing up, I’m growing up to hate this sh--.”
The camera flashed to Hart, who appeared puzzled. “Hate what?”
“Homosexuality, gay people. Come on now, if you’re really from the hood, you know,” Lil Nas X said. “For me, the ‘cool dude with the song’ — on top of everything — to say this any other time, I’m doing this for attention in my eyes. But if you’re doing this while you’re at the top, you know it’s for real, and it’s showing it doesn’t really matter, I guess."
Though the conversation did not appear contentious, the one-minute exchange prompted a strong reaction on Twitter, where some users slammed Hart for appearing to question whether homophobia was an issue. (Some accused him of “gaslighting.”) Lil Nas X, meanwhile, was praised for his measured response to the comedian, who notably stepped down from hosting this year’s Oscars ceremony amid outcry over his past use of homophobic language — in a number of old tweets and a 2010 stand-up routine.
Although several of the guests shared the clip, it did not appear on the timelines of the social media-savvy artist or Hart, who — as the Associated Press reported — was seriously injured in a car accident over the weekend.
Rivera moved on to ask whether professional athletes have the freedom to publicly address their sexuality. “Absolutely not. Because you would see it more in the NFL and the NBA,” Charlamagne said. “You’ve seen it more in music, you’ve seen it more in entertainment. You don’t see it really in the sports world.”
McCollum and Love agreed. “I think it’s the stigma, or idea, around a sport’s locker room,” Love added.
But Hart wanted to return to the subject of Lil Nas X. He raised his hand, joking that he knew the show’s editor would cut to him.
“What I want to say is Lil Nas X, in no way should you ever have to defend ‘but guys, this is what I am.’ That’s not it. It’s ‘guy’s, this is what I’m going to do. My reason for doing this is because I know I do this well.’ When you have a voice, and you simply say this, there is no back and forth about what this is. Nothing else needs to be said.”
“So when all of that sh — gets started about, ‘but he’s not,’ ‘but they said,’ you now don’t give a f--- because your sentence is already written,” Hart added.
It’s unclear if the exchange was at all edited for the episode. HBO directed questions to Uninterrupted — a representative for the platform did not immediately respond to an inquiry from The Washington Post.
Hart did not directly address his Oscars fallout on Tuesday’s episode but seemed to allude to the controversy when Uninterrupted CEO Maverick Carter asked him about comedians being increasingly criticized for their material. “You’re asking me?” the comedian quipped before taking a large swig of his wine.
“Here’s what I’ve learned as a guy that’s experienced it firsthand: you can’t ignore people. For the first time in our world and our generation, we get to listen to people,” Hart said. “Today’s times gives everybody the opportunity to go ' I feel,' ‘I think,’ ‘I this.’ You can’t ignore it because then you’re not of the people. It doesn’t mean that you have to change — you’ve got to understand and you’ve got to acknowledge.”
“So as a comedian, some choose to say ‘I hear you’ and some choose to say … ‘I’m going to be me,’ ” Hart continued. “The choice that overall, I think, eventually, we’re coming to, is understanding. As a man, as a person of the people, I don’t want to separate white, black, gays, non-gays, fat, skinny, global. How do I make all these people laugh?”
“You’ve got to get to [a] space … where you go ‘if my job is to make people happy how am I doing it?’ And if I’m not doing it the way people think I should, how do I let people know that my gesture overall is to do that,” he concluded.
Hart was then asked if his comedy had changed as a result of the increased feedback he referenced.
“Absolutely not. Because I’ve grown as a comic,” he said, noting that he is not “a malicious comedian” and that much of his material has focused on himself and his family. “So it hasn’t altered me, but I’m more conscious.”