The prize, which "recognizes people who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to Mark Twain," will be handed out at a gala on Oct. 19 and to be broadcast nationally on
"Like Mark Twain, Jay Leno has offered us a lifetime's worth of humorous commentary on American daily life," said Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein, in the announcement. "For both men, no one was too high or too low to escape their wit, and we are all the better for it."
It's the first major post-retirement accolade for Leno, who signed off as host of "The Tonight Show" for the second time in February. Despite dominating the ratings for most of his two-decade run on
Previous recipients include Tina Fey, Steve Martin, Bill Cosby, Lorne Michaels and Carol Burnett.