Last month, the 39-year-old comedian announced he would not be hosting the upcoming Academy Awards after facing controversy over resurfaced tweets from nearly a decade ago, containing homophobic remarks and offensive slurs.
On Friday’s episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Hart gives his first televised interview since the controversy, discussing for the first time what it was like to go from the high of getting the gig to the low of having his name and reputation tarnished.
"My first thought is, 'I’m going to ignore it. I’m going to ignore it because it’s 10 years old.' This is stuff I’ve addressed. I’ve talked about this. This isn’t new,” he explains. "I’m not going to pay it any mind because if you feed into that stuff, you only feed into the fire."
He adds that he doesn’t “have a homophobic bone in my body,” and notes that after the tweets, he’s taken the last 10 years to change who he is as a person.
"I’ve yet to go back to that version of the immature comedian that once was. I moved on. I’m a grown man, I’m cultured,” he says. "I understand what those words do and how they hurt. I understand why people would be upset, which is why I made the choice to not use them anymore. I don’t joke like that anymore, because that was wrong."
Hart says that when the Academy gave him an ultimatum to apologize or step down, he felt that the hosting role had gone from “the brightest star and the brightest light ever” to becoming “a cloud.”
"I don’t want to step on that stage and make that night about me and my past when you’ve got people who have worked hard to step on that stage for the first time and receive an award,” he says. "I’m now taking away from all of those moments because the night is focused on something else now.”
DeGeneres notes that she spoke with the Academy ahead of Hart’s appearance on her daytime talk show to ask if they’d take him back.
"They were like, ‘Oh my god, we want him to host. We feel like maybe he misunderstood or it was handled wrong or maybe he said the wrong thing, but we want him to host. Whatever we can do, we would be thrilled,’” she says.
Despite Hart’s clear hesitation over what he calls “an attack to end me," DeGeneres goes on to press, noting that him resuming the role could make an important statement.
“[The trolls are] going to win if you don’t host the Oscars,” she says. "You can’t let them destroy you and they can’t destroy you because you have too much talent. No one can do that. For them to stop you from your dream, from what you wanted to do and what you have a right to do, what you should be doing. It’s why they haven’t found another host. I think they were secretly hoping that you would come back.”
DeGeneres adds that as a member of the LGBT community, she’s very sensitive to the homophobic words that Hart used more than a decade ago, but she feels that his subsequent apologies and the way he conducts himself today make up for that.
Though Hart does not make a final decision in Fridays episode, it’s clear DeGeneres’ words stick with him.
"You have said a lot of amazing things. You have put a lot of things on my mind. I know where our relationship stands. So leaving here, I promise you I’m evaluating this conversation. This is a conversation I needed to have,” he says. “Let me assess, just to sit in the space and really think and you and I will talk before anything else.”
The 91st Academy Awards ceremony will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, on Feb. 24, and will air on ABC.
For more on the Oscars controversy, watch the clip below: