Seeing how quickly tickets sold for what became a six-show Pabst Theater occupation by Dave Chappelle last September, the theater group decided to go ahead and immediately book six shows—at the even higher capacity Riverside Theater—for beloved comic commodity Kevin Hart. Within an hour of being put on sale January 30, all six shows (approximately 15,000 total seats) sold out. In the subsequent months, Hart’s popularity loomed even larger, as Get Hard—a film in which he co-starred opposite Will Ferrell—was released last month, and the crossover comic hosted Justin Bieber’s Comedy Central Roast, which aired Monday. With Hart’s notoriety at an all-time high on the cusp of a 70-show tour Billboard expects to be the highest-grossing comedy tour ever [per Piet Levy], two questions came to mind before the modern legend started his six-show Riverside Theater residency Thursday night: 1. Could Hart’s material come anywhere near matching the hype that surrounded him? 2. Would Milwaukee behave itself?
Following Thursday night’s early show, it appears the answer to both questions is an emphatic “absolutely,” as the funnyman delighted a well-behaved and attentive audience with a tight and generally hilarious new hour of material in the first show of his historic Riverside run.
Not unlike Chappelle’s shows, staff issued (what should be obvious and standard) written and verbal requests to turn off phones and to avoid tweeting, texting, talking, recording, or photographing at any point. A similar warning appeared on a massive screen suspended above the stage, and guards patrolled aisles with regularity to ensure attendees were following the rules or face immediate ejection without reimbursement. As the lights dimmed, an ominous voice issued the warning thrice more over the house speakers. Theater appropriately briefed, the first of three Plastic Cup Boyz (who opened the show) came out…and stressed the rules again. Annoying as it had become, the protectiveness was understandable. Not only would this run of “warm up” shows be among the first times Hart performed his new hour live, it’s also going to be part of the comedian’s 5th Hour tour documentary. Following three openers (and three more reminders regarding phone usage), the lights lowered, music kicked in, Hart’s “What Now?” banner unfurled and the pint-sized comedic force finally took the stage to a massive ovation.
As the applause subsided, Hart wasted no time referencing the question posited by the tapestry hanging behind him. After reaching an unthinkable level of success, “What now?” is apparently an inquiry the mainstream humorist must field quite often. Using the question as a springboard, Hart delved into a series of anecdotes regarding domestic life, such as a tale of being confronted by a “dick-grabbing racoon” outside his home, making his seven-year-old son take out the garbage at night because he’s afraid to, and honestly answering his fianceé‘s hypothetical questions about whether he’d stay with her if she was disfigured in an animal attack—the last of which ushered in a series of gut-busting impersonations of someone with one shoulder and another sans knee caps.
With such wide appeal, Hart’s turnout was immensely diverse, looking more like a focus group for a new cereal than a comedy audience. Perhaps noting his broad reach that transcended age, race, and annual income, the headliner kept the glut of his material loosely affixed to the widely-identifiable tent poles of family, relationships, and sex. Without blowing too many punchlines for the four remaining Milwaukee audiences, Hart maneuvered from stories about getting shitty gifts from his children, ways he fears his spoiled kids don’t have the “edge” he did growing up, and about his crazy father asking his “Cyrus” phone feature (better known as Siri) for pizza recommendations. During the latter, Hart paused to call off a couple security guards making their way to a kick out a woman for having her phone out (the only such incident we saw all night). “She’s good. She got here late. She didn’t know,” he said, earning applause and a few extra points from a crowd that was already more than won over.
From there, Hart eased into racier material, like his internal struggle—and eventual failure—to avoid having sex with a pocket pussy his fianceé gave him while he was away shooting a movie. “Day four was the saddest day of my life,” he started, referring to his breaking point. During a story about accidentally numbing his fianceé’s lips and tongue with penis-numbing cream (you can figure out how), Hart even cracked himself up. He needed to stop to collect himself before impersonating her. As the hour neared its conclusion, Hart chased the risque with a story about a fan asking him to “cut a shit in half” at the airport so the fan could get a photo with him. He concluded with an astonishingly original take on a well-tread bit the staggering amount of options given during the “test” of ordering at Starbucks.
Over the course of one physical, uniquely-identifiable hour, Hart showed why he’s so popular and made good on the tremendous amount of hype accompanying his biggest tour yet. “Six shows in unreal, Milwaukee,” Hart said, as he prepared to depart. “There’s a reason I come back.”