Chris Rock and Kevin Hart, these names are always synonyms with laughter and humor, and of course, they are the doyens of standup comedy in the United States of America. When these two people come together no room can stay silent because most people are busy holding their stomachs and trying hard to control the laughter. For the first time, these two absolute giants who belong to two different generations of comedy come together to perform a standup special for a live audience.
There is genuine excitement for Chris Rock & Kevin Hart: Headliners Only, a Netflix original documentary that takes the audience through the behind-the-scenes footage of this standup special that spanned five shows. The documentary also covers the lives and times of the two struggling comics and their journeys to become among the most bankable comics of their respective generation. Directed by Rashidi Natara Harper, the Netflix Original documentary was released on December 12, 2023, and has a run time of eighty-two minutes.
The documentary began with a fun banter between Chris Rock and Kevin Hart, who are perceived to be two different people behind the scenes for those who know them personally. Kevin Hart is always the happy-go-lucky man on the stage as well as behind the curtains. Chris Rock is a quiet person behind the stage and prefers to remain like that until he is up on stage and sets it on fire with his amazing comedic routine. They decided to do this show out of pure respect for one another. There is a lot of chat about how the two met and how they seem to find common ground about their struggling days as standup comics. This documentary, as Kevin Hart states, is the story of two separate journeys and paths, but somehow there is an intersection where they meet and find a commonality.
Both are in awe of the veteran standup comic and prolific actor Eddie Murphy. Eddie was one of the most prominent black standup comedians rise to fame and is still considered one of the best out there. Chris and Kevin owe a lot of their success to him. Eddie paved the way for the boys and girls of his community and sparked a desire in a lot of them to pursue standup comedy as a full-time career, knowing there is not much money to earn from it. Many people join in to speak as a part of the documentary, and most of them happen to be from the field of comedy, while some of the others are owners of the bars and pubs who might have been instrumental in being the spots these two performed for the first time.
The documentary also covers the impact of New York as a city on their standup career. Both vehemently believe the city is indeed the mecca of the standup scene in the country. The vibe they absorb from the city has elevated their standup experience. They feel no other city gives them the right mood as much as New York does. There was a lot of discourse about the black comedians and how they were restricted to only a certain kind of crowd, a mold that was broken out of by these two and a few before them. Many comics that were as popular as Chris and Kevin at the time also made an appearance. Wanda Sykes, DL Hughley, Na’Im Lynn, Tina Farris, Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Burr, Keith Robinson, and the Kings of Comedy also made a brief appearance.
The standup scene at clubs and bars was far more inclusive than the work any of these black comics did in the popular shows. There is a discussion on why these talented men were not given even screen time or space to expand on their comic timing. This brings into question the reputations of the shows that are still running and considered a space that have given a chance to many comics who have gone on to become popular actors and comedy writers. This one-hour, twenty-two-minute documentary spends time discussing Chris Rock’s rags-to-riches story. A lot of input is given by his brother, Tony Rock. Tony discussed how Chris, being the oldest child in the family, had to take up the mantle of saving the household after their father died. There is a lot of talk about how he was encouraged by Eddie Murphy in his earlier days of standup, and slowly he moved to SNL as well. His stint with SNL and In Living Color did not last long, which led to Chris Rock going back to writing standup specials, only to win Emmys for it, and the man has not looked back ever since.
Kevin Hart hails from Philadelphia, unlike Chris Rock who is a local. Kevin was brought to the city by the revered comedian Keith Robinson, who saw a spark in the kind of sets Kevin did back in his hometown. Kevin Hart, on Keith’s behest, changed his stage name from Lil Kev the Bastard to his original name. Kevin seems to be the most excited of the two as the camera goes through the backstages of all the arenas they performed at, Chris Rock seems to be the most reclusive of them.
Kevin Hart is honest about the opportunities he received to work in films, and many worked in his favor. Kevin was also devastated to know his mother and brother chose to keep her cancer diagnosis hidden from him so that he would not lose his career momentum. Kevin was upset, but there was a part of him that understood that his mother wanted him to succeed. The documentary essentially ended with Dave Chapelle making an appearance in one of the shows after being requested by Kevin Hart. Dave Chapelle flew down in no time. The two-comic show suddenly became a stage where the audience were lucky to witness Dave Chapelle, Chris Rock, and Kevin Hart on the same night. Kevin Hart sealed the end of the tour by offering a goat as a gift to his partner proclaiming him to be the GOAT (greatest of all time).
The documentary has been released to speak in depth about the lives of the comedic geniuses Kevin Hart and Chris Rock, who have lived a roller coaster of a life and still stand tall in their respective fields. The documentary was said to be about the five shows the comedians planned and executed to give the audience a different experience from the usual shows they get to watch at arenas. The makers of the show hardly delved into the matters of the shows and spent a fair amount of the runtime on the lives of the comedians, not really focusing on the material they planned for the five shows. There were no clips from the shows included in this documentary. Adding some of the clips from the show would have made the documentary appealing and forged a connection between the story of their life and the life they lead now. There would have been an arc that could be completed.
The makers and the speakers on the documentary beat around the bush about New York being the only city where there was a scope for the comedy scene to expand, which would eventually spread to other cities in the country. The documentary drags on after a point, and one wonders what the point of producing a show where there is hardly any footage or talk about what the headliners are all about is. Chris Rock and Kevin Hart conversing with one another is inspiring, but only to an extent. The premise of the documentary was interesting until it reached a point where the context and the intent of the show got stuck and never moved forward. The editing was inconsistent, and the build-up to the headliners’ show was great, but it ended on a very weird note. The nostalgia factor is the only element that brings the documentary together because there is plenty of footage involving Chris and Kevin’s older shows. No element makes the documentary engaging until the end. The sentimental value improves the viewing experience while the documentary stays away from its actual topicality.