The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor was awarded to Carol Burnett on Sunday night. The ceremony in Washington included appearances by Julie Andrews, Tina Fey, Vicki Lawrence, Tony Bennett and Burnett herself.
Although the prize officially “recognizes people who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th century novelist and essayist best known as Mark Twain,” it is rarely given to humorists best known for their writing. That’s probably because it’s presented by the Kennedy Center, which is focused on performance.
The Mark Twain Prize was first awarded in 1998. Its recipients have been Richard Pryor (1998), Jonathan Winters (1999), Carl Reiner (2000), Whoopi Goldberg (2001), Bob Newhart (2002), Lily Tomlin (2003), Lorne Michaels (2004), Steve Martin (2005), Neil Simon (2006), Billy Crystal (2007), George Carlin (2008), Bill Cosby (2009), Fey (2010), Will Ferrell (2011) and Ellen DeGeneres (2012).
Though Twain never had a talk show or appeared on “Saturday Night Live,” it’s true that the author was quite a performer, with sold-out lecture tours to which he wore his famous white suits.
Burnett is best known as for her variety show, which ran on CBS from 1967 through 1978. It won 25 Emmy awards and showcased Burnett’s skills as a comedian and fearless performer.
During Sunday night’s tributes, Fey joked, “I love you in a way that is just short of creepy.”
Andrews said she and Burnett are “going on our 55th year of friendship. My squeaky clean image goes right out of the window when I’m with her.”
Burnett, who is also an award-winning actress and stage performer, is the author of the memoirs “This Time Together” and “Carrie and Me: A Mother-Daughter Love Story.”
The Mark Twain Prize ceremony is to be broadcast on PBS on Nov. 24.