Sitting behind the “Saturday Night Live” news desk, Michael Che shook his head and let out a short sigh. A graphic with a picture of fellow comedian Kevin Hart had just appeared next to the “Weekend Update” co-host, headlined: “Steps down from Oscars.”
“Well, that was short,” Che quipped, a not-so-subtle dig at Hart’s diminutive size that doubled as an accurate description of the comedian’s brief stint as the host of the 2019 Oscars ceremony.
On Wednesday, news broke that Hart would be hosting the famed awards show, and within 24 hours the actor found himself under fire for tweets from several years ago that contained homophobic language. Facing widespread backlash for both the tweets and for initially refusing to apologize, Hart announced early Friday morning on Twitter that he was stepping down as host.
But rather than tearing into Hart, Che defended him — and he wouldn’t be the only entertainer to do so.
“Didn’t the Academy nominate Mel Gibson for an award just last year?,” Che asked. Gibson has used anti-Semitic and misogynistic language, and in 2010, an audio tape was released that recorded him saying the n-word while threatening his then-girlfriend with rape and physical abuse.
Che continued: “If Kevin Hart isn’t clean enough to host the Oscars, then no black comic is. The only black comic I know that’s cleaner than Kevin Hart is booked for the next three to 10 years.” A picture of Bill Cosby flashed on the screen.
Many denounced Che’s comments, as one Twitter user wrote that the “Weekend Update” host should “Just be honest and tell us you think ‘f--’ jokes are funny and cool and you wanna say them.” (Che himself has been called out for making what critics called transphobic and misogynistic jokes, and for his history of handling that criticism poorly.)
Aside from Che, Hart has received support in recent days from actor Nick Cannon, Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Kline and comedians such as Michael Blackson, D.L. Hughley and Andrew Schulz.
On Friday, Cannon resurfaced old tweets posted by comedians Chelsea Handler, Sarah Silverman and Amy Schumer that also used anti-gay slurs.
“Interesting,” Cannon tweeted in reference to a 2010 tweet from Handler, “wonder if there was any backlash here?”
“I’m just saying...” Cannon wrote, including an emoji with a questioning face, “should we keep going???”
Cannon’s tweets caught the attention of many including Lenard McKelvey, known better as Charlamagne tha God, co-host of the popular radio show “The Breakfast Club,” and actor Billy Eichner.
“Everyone grows. Everyone Evolves,” Charlamagne tweeted Saturday. “So to me it’s not about old tweets, I just want to know why some people get publicly crucified for old tweets and some don’t. Any guesses to why??”
Eichner issued a lengthy statement Sunday, calling Cannon’s point “compelling.” When Hart’s old tweets first surfaced Thursday, Eichner excoriated the comedian on Twitter, writing that “there’s real truth, anger & fear behind" those past sentiments. In response to Hart’s first statement on the controversy, Eichner tweeted, “This is not good. A simple, authentic apology showing any bit of understanding or remorse would have been so simple.”
In his statement Sunday addressing the problematic tweets from Handler, Silverman and Schumer, Eichner said, “I think these are comedians who felt they can use that term because they have very large, dedicated gay male followings, myself included.”
“They feel like they’re ‘one of us,’" he wrote. "So I think in some of these cases it was being used with what is *intended* as some sort of endearing, if irreverent, affection. ... there is a sizable difference between using this one word in this type of context and saying with some amount of gravity and truth that you’re going to smash a dollhouse over your child’s head if they exhibit stereotypically gay behavior.”
But Eichner was quick to note that he was providing “an explanation, not an excuse,” adding, “the best thing to do is just not use the . . . word!”
A number of people praised Cannon’s tweets, one Twitter user writing that the actor was “Doing the Lord’s work.”
In separate interviews with TMZ, Kline and Blackson both said making inappropriate or offensive jokes is expected behavior from a comedian.
“People have been making jokes about gay people, about Jews, about Afro-Americans,” Kline said Thursday, before Hart stepped down. “Times are changing, but at certain times that was common fodder for stand-up comedians."
Kline, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the 1988 film “A Fish Called Wanda,” added that he thought Hart would be a good host for the award show.
“I think Kevin Hart’s very funny,” he said. “Lighten up.”
Blackson, a Ghanaian American comedian, blamed the Academy for not looking into Hart’s background before offering him the job and noted that black comedians are “especially” prone to making mistakes.
Black comedians, he told TMZ on Thursday, “all have said things in our lifetime, whether it was 10, 20 years ago, at that particular moment it was probably what was a hot topic to talk about.”
“Go back to the ’80s — Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor — they made every comment about everything,” Blackson said. “We all have made mistakes. There’s no perfect black comedian.”
The only “perfect” black comedian “that never did nothing wrong and never said nothing wrong” is in jail, said Blackson, who like Che, was referencing Cosby. Blackson added that he thought Hart admitting he had changed was an apology.
On social media, comedians Hughley and Schulz voiced similar defenses of Hart.
In an expletive-filled Friday video posted on Twitter, Hughley praised Hart for not apologizing and slammed critics for not being able to “take a joke.” As of early Monday, the video had been viewed more than 390,000 times.
Schulz also hit back at “activists groups that are always trying to get people to change and become more progressive,” sharing a video of his comments to Twitter on Friday.
“If you had to go back 10 years to find something this person did wrong, maybe, just maybe, they’ve changed,” he said. “But if you’re still punishing them, despite making the exact change that you want, maybe you never wanted change in the first place. Maybe you wanted revenge.”
GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis tweeted Friday that “Hart shouldn’t have stepped down; he should have stepped up,” adding, the actor “missed a real opportunity to use his platform and the Oscars stage to build unity and awareness.”
Though Hart may not be receiving much love from his U.S. audience at the moment, Blackson told TMZ he isn’t worried about the fellow comedian’s career.
“He’s going to bounce back,” Blackson said. “He’s . . . a super duper star.”
Shortly after announcing his resignation from the Oscars, Hart was welcomed by supportive fans in Australia, where he performed two stand-up shows Friday and Saturday as part of his 2018 globe-trotting comedy tour.
"Two sold-out shows in Sydney, Australia and I gotta tell you, I’m . . . blown away,” Hart said in a video shared to his Instagram page Saturday. In another Instagram post shared late Sunday, Hart reported that he is “officially the Highest Grossing Comedian of all time in Australia.”
“Making the world laugh forever is a priority,” Hart wrote on Instagram Saturday. “Blessed to be able to bring laughter on an international level & do what I love!!!!”