Mark Twain Prize for American Humor

  (Redirected from Mark Twain Prize)

The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor is an American award presented by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts annually since 1998, excepting the years 2020 and 2021. Named after the 19th-century humorist Mark Twain, it is presented to individuals who have "had an impact on American society in ways similar to" Twain.[1] The JFK Center chose Twain due to his status as a controversial social commentator and his "uncompromising perspective of social injustice and personal folly."[1] A copy of Karl Gerhardt's 1884 bust of Twain is presented in an autumn ceremony at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall in Washington, D.C., during which the honoree is celebrated by his or her peers. The event is a significant fundraiser to benefit the Kennedy Center, which sells tickets as well as access to dinners and after-parties featuring the celebrities.

Mark Twain Prize for American Humor
A bronze bust of Mark Twain on a pedestal
The award is modeled after this bust
Awarded forhaving "had an impact on American society in ways similar to" Mark Twain
CountryUnited States
Presented byJohn F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
First awarded1998
Currently held byJon Stewart (2022)
WebsiteOfficial website

As of 2022, 23 individuals have been awarded the honor annually: six women and 17 men. One award was rescinded by the Kennedy Center in 2018. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were no awards in 2020 or 2021.[2]


The inaugural recipient of the award was comedian Richard Pryor.[3] The first two years of The Mark Twain Prize (Richard Pryor and Jonathan Winters) were taped and broadcast on Comedy Central.[3] Since then, the award presentations have been taped for broadcast on PBS. The oldest recipient was actress and comedian Carol Burnett, at age 80 in 2013. The youngest recipient was actress and comedian Tina Fey, at age 40 in 2010.[4] The Kennedy Center's intent is to give the award to living persons, but one recipient, George Carlin, died in 2008 before receiving his award.

Bill Cosby accepted his award at the Kennedy Center in 2009. He had twice refused the honor, stating that he was disappointed with the profanity used in the inaugural ceremony honoring Richard Pryor.[5] After Cosby was convicted of sexual assault in 2018, the center stripped Cosby of his award and his 1998 Kennedy Center Honors.[6]

Selection processEdit

According to The Washington Post, little is known about the selection process to receive the award. A spokeswoman, Amanda Hunter stated, “A short list is compiled by the executive producers [of the ceremony] and presented to a group comprised of representatives from the Kennedy Center board of trustees, as well as the Kennedy Center senior management and programming staff".

However Cappy McGarr, Kennedy Center board member who is the co-founder and co-executive producer of the Twain Prize stated in 2013, “there’s really no committee...It’s really a consensus decision. There’s not any single person who decides.” He also added the award’s executive producers — McGarr, Mark Krantz and Peter and Bob Kaminsky — have always decided in consultation with the Kennedy Center’s chairman and president, David Rubenstein and Michael Kaiser. He also stated, that the primary criteria is that “We try to choose people who’ve had a full lifetime of making us laugh and who’ve had a great influence on the people who’ve followed them".[7]


Mark Twain Prize for American Humor awardees
Year Image Recipient Notes
1998   Richard Pryor[8] Those there to honor Pryor included: Chris Rock, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Chevy Chase, Tim Allen, Danny Glover, Damon Wayans, Kris Kristofferson, and Dick Gregory; Gene Wilder appeared in a pre-taped video.
1999   Jonathan Winters[9] Those there to honor Winters included: Steve Allen, Sid Caesar, Robin Williams, Eugene Levy, Bonnie Hunt, Michael McKean, and Robert Wuhl.
2000   Carl Reiner[10] Those there to honor Reiner included: Mel Brooks, Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Steve Martin, Rob Reiner, Jerry Seinfeld, Ray Romano, Joy Behar, and George Wallace.
2001   Whoopi Goldberg[11] Those there to honor Goldberg included: Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Wanda Sykes, Cedric the Entertainer, Chris Tucker, Alan King, and Harry Belafonte
2002   Bob Newhart[12] Those there to honor Newhart included: Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, The Smothers Brothers, Don Rickles, Tim Conway, Bernie Mac, Jane Curtin, Fred Willard, and Steven Wright.[13]
2003   Lily Tomlin[14] Those there to honor Tomlin included: Jane Fonda, Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Dave Chappelle, Elaine Stritch, Doris Roberts, George Lopez, and Dolly Parton.
2004   Lorne Michaels[15] Michaels, a Canadian-American, is the only recipient as of 2019 born and raised outside of the United States. Those who honored Michaels included: Steve Martin, Dan Aykroyd, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Tim Meadows, David Spade, Paul Simon, Conan O'Brien, Christopher Walken, and Senator John McCain.
2005   Steve Martin[16] Those who honored Martin included: Tom Hanks, Carl Reiner, Martin Short, Larry David, Dave Barry, Eric Idle, Diane Keaton, Claire Danes, Queen Latifah, Randy Newman, Paul Simon, and Mike Nichols[17]
2006   Neil Simon[18] Those there to honor Simon included: Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Jason Alexander, Robert Klein, Paul Reiser, Christina Applegate, Richard Dreyfus, and Robert Redford.
2007   Billy Crystal[19] Those who honored Crystal included: Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Robert De Niro, Danny De Vito, John Goodman, Jimmy Fallon, Jon Lovitz, Martin Short, Rob Reiner, and Barbara Walters.
2008   George Carlin[20] The award is not intended to be given posthumously, but Carlin's death occurred between the announcement and the ceremony.[21] Those there to honor Carlin included: Joan Rivers, Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Lewis Black, Denis Leary, Margaret Cho, Garry Shandling, and Lily Tomlin.
2009   Bill Cosby[22] Those who honored Cosby included: Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Sinbad, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Steven Wright, Willie Nelson, Carl Reiner, Dick Gregory, Rita Moreno, and Phylicia Rashad. Cosby's award was rescinded in 2018 due to a sexual assault conviction.[23]
2010   Tina Fey[24] Those who honored Fey included: Alec Baldwin, Amy Poehler, Steve Martin, Steve Carell, Jimmy Fallon, Jon Hamm, Fred Armisen, Seth Meyers, Jennifer Hudson, Betty White, and Lorne Michaels.[4]
2011   Will Ferrell[25] Those who honored Ferrell included: Conan O'Brien, John C. Reilly, Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Paul Rudd, Adam McKay, Tim Meadows, Matthew Broderick, and Ed Asner.
2012   Ellen DeGeneres[26] Those there to honor DeGeneres included: Jane Lynch, Sean Hayes, Jimmy Kimmel, John Leguizamo, John Krasinski, Steve Harvey, Kristin Chenoweth, and Lily Tomlin.
2013   Carol Burnett[27] Those there to honor Burnett included: Julie Andrews, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Rashida Jones, Martin Short, Tony Bennett, Vicki Lawrence, and Tim Conway;[28] Carl Reiner and Ellen DeGeneres appeared in pre-taped videos.
2014   Jay Leno[29] Those there to honor Leno included: Jerry Seinfeld, Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers, Robert Klein, J.B. Smoove, Jamie Foxx, Wanda Sykes, Chelsea Handler, Kristin Chenoweth, and Garth Brooks.
2015   Eddie Murphy[30] Those there to honor Murphy included: Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Arsenio Hall, Jay Pharoah, Tracy Morgan, Trevor Noah, George Lopez, Kevin Nealon, and Kathy Griffin.[31]
2016   Bill Murray[32] Those who honored Murray included: David Letterman, Emma Stone, Bill Hader, Aziz Ansari, Miley Cyrus, Jane Curtin, Jimmy Kimmel, Brian Doyle Murray, and Sigourney Weaver.
2017   David Letterman[33] Those there to honor Letterman included: Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Martin Short, John Mulaney, Norm Macdonald, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmie Walker, and Eddie Vedder; Michelle Obama appeared in a pre-taped video. Al Franken appeared but was cut from the broadcast due to sexual harassment allegations against him.[34]
2018   Julia Louis-Dreyfus[35] Those there to honor Louis-Dreyfus included: Jerry Seinfeld, Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Bryan Cranston, Tony Hale, Lisa Kudrow, Keegan-Michael Key, Kumail Nanjiani, Abbi Jacobson, Ilana Glazer, and Jack Johnson; Larry David appeared in a pre-taped video.
2019   Dave Chappelle[36] Those who honored Chappelle included Q-Tip, Jon Stewart, Bradley Cooper, Morgan Freeman, Aziz Ansari, Lorne Michaels, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Sarah Silverman, Neal Brennan, Kenan Thompson, Michael Che, Colin Jost, Chris Tucker, Tiffany Haddish, rapper Common, John Legend, and Chrissy Teigen.[37] Eddie Murphy appeared in a pre-taped video. The PBS broadcast of the ceremony was unique, because footage of the ceremony was interspersed with footage of Chappelle performing standup in a comedy club.
2022   Jon Stewart[38] Those who honored Stewart included Samantha Bee, Steve Carell, Dave Chappelle, Pete Davidson, Ed Helms, Jimmy Kimmel, Jon Meacham, Olivia Munn, Bassem Youssef, and Bruce Springsteen. Stephen Colbert appeared remotely via video chat and John Oliver appeared in a pre-taped video that satirized a eulogy.[39][40]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for Humor". The Kennedy Center. Retrieved March 29, 2020.
  2. ^ Bahr, Sarah (January 19, 2022). "Jon Stewart to Receive Mark Twain Prize for American Humor". The New York Times. Retrieved January 19, 2022.
  3. ^ a b de Morales, Lisa (December 1, 2015). "TV One to repeat PBS's Mark Twain Prize ceremony honoring Eddie Murphy". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved January 2, 2017.
  4. ^ a b McCarthy, Sean L. (November 15, 2010). "Watch the entire telecast from PBS of Tina Fey's ceremony honoring her with the Mark Twain Prize". The Comic's Comic.
  5. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (October 27, 2009). "Bill Cosby receives Mark Twain Prize". The New York Times. Retrieved September 22, 2013.
  6. ^ Holloway, Daniel (May 7, 2018). "Bill Cosby's Kennedy Center Honors, Mark Twain Prize Revoked". Variety. Retrieved March 29, 2020.
  7. ^ "How Kennedy Center chooses Twain Prize winners". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 23, 2022.
  8. ^ Johnson, Allan (January 20, 1999). "Kennedy Center Honors Pryor with Initial Mark Twain Award". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved March 29, 2020.
  9. ^ "Jonathan Winters Wins Twain Prize". The New York Times. April 30, 1999. p. E29. Retrieved November 26, 2018.
  10. ^ "Carl Reiner Honored With Mark Twain Prize for Humor". San Francisco Chronicle. October 26, 2000. Retrieved November 24, 2018.
  11. ^ Brennan, Patrick (November 18, 2001). "The Mark Twain Prize: Whoopi!". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 24, 2018.
  12. ^ Oldenburg, Don (April 4, 2002). "Bob Newhart Gets the Call For Twain Prize". The Washington Post.
  13. ^ "On Stage at the Kennedy Center: The Mark Twain Prize 2002 (Bob Newhart)". PBS. Archived from the original on November 24, 2018.
  14. ^ "On Stage at the Kennedy Center: The Mark Twain Prize salutes Lily Tomlin". PBS. Archived from the original on November 24, 2018. Retrieved November 24, 2018.
  15. ^ "'SNL' creator Michaels honored". Today. October 26, 2004. Archived from the original on November 24, 2018. Retrieved November 24, 2018.
  16. ^ Gans, Andrew. "Steve Martin to Receive Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize". Playbill. Retrieved March 29, 2020.
  17. ^ "Steve Martin Celebrated in PBS' "The Kennedy Center Presents: The 2005 Mark Twain Prize"". WETA. 2005. Archived from the original on November 24, 2018.
  18. ^ Gans, Andrew (October 15, 2006). "Neil Simon Receives Mark Twain Prize for American Humor Oct. 15". Playbill. Retrieved November 24, 2018.
  19. ^ Harris, Paul (October 14, 2007). "Crystal nabs Twain prize for humor". Variety. Retrieved March 29, 2020.
  20. ^ Trescott, Jacqueline (June 12, 2008). "Bleep! Bleep! George Carlin To Receive Mark Twain Humor Prize". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 22, 2013.
  21. ^ "George Carlin becomes first posthumous Mark Twain honoree". Yahoo! News. June 23, 2008. Archived from the original on June 28, 2008. Retrieved June 25, 2014.
  22. ^ Farhi, Paul (October 27, 2009). "Bill Cosby is awarded the Twain Prize for humor at the Kennedy Center". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 22, 2013.
  23. ^ "Kennedy Center rescinds Bill Cosby's Honors and Twain awards". The Washington Post. May 7, 2018.
  24. ^ Fallon, Kevin (November 15, 2010). "Watch Tina Fey Receive Mark Twain Prize (and Thank Sarah Palin)". The Atlantic. Retrieved March 29, 2020.
  25. ^ Powers, Lindsay (December 5, 2011). "Will Ferrell to Receive Mark Twain Comedy Prize". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved September 22, 2013.
  26. ^ Trescott, Jacqueline (May 16, 2012). "Ellen DeGeneres selected to receive Mark Twain Prize for American Humor". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 22, 2013.
  27. ^ Daily, Mary (October 22, 2013). "Carol Burnett: UCLA's class clown takes national honors". UCLA Today. Archived from the original on October 24, 2013.
  28. ^ Garrett, Rena. "Carol Burnett: The Mark Twain Prize can be seen on Sunday, November 24th at 8 pm". KENW-TV.
  29. ^ Clark, Cindy (October 20, 2014). "Jay Leno honored with Mark Twain Prize". USA Today. Retrieved November 24, 2018.
  30. ^ Falcone, Dana Rose (April 10, 2015). "Eddie Murphy to receive the Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize for American Humor". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved November 5, 2015.
  31. ^ "Eddie Murphy: The Mark Twain Prize". Mark Twain Prize. Episode 1. November 23, 2015. PBS.
  32. ^ McGlone, Peggy (October 23, 2016). "Bill Murray accepts Mark Twain Prize: 'As much as I dreaded this ... there's love'". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 24, 2018.
  33. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (May 16, 2017). "David Letterman Wins Mark Twain Prize for American Humor". The New York Times. Retrieved November 24, 2018.
  34. ^ Nordyke, Kimberly (November 19, 2017). "Al Franken Cut From PBS' David Letterman Tribute Amid Groping Claim". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 29, 2020.
  35. ^ Rao, Sonia (May 23, 2018). "Julia Louis-Dreyfus to receive the 2018 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 24, 2018.
  36. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (May 7, 2019). "Dave Chappelle to Receive Mark Twain Prize for Humor". The New York Times. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  37. ^ Petski, Denise (August 1, 2019). "Dave Chappelle To Receive Mark Twain Prize; Bradley Cooper, Tiffany Haddish, Kevin Hart & Jon Stewart Among Guests – Update". Deadline Hollywood.
  38. ^ Bahr, Sarah (January 19, 2022). "Jon Stewart to Receive Mark Twain Prize for American Humor". The New York Times. Retrieved January 19, 2022.
  39. ^ Mason, Jeff (April 25, 2022). "Comedian Jon Stewart feted for humor, advocacy with Mark Twain Prize". Reuters. Retrieved April 25, 2022.
  40. ^ John Oliver on Jon Stewart | 2022 Mark Twain Prize, retrieved June 22, 2022

External linksEdit