Adam Sandler gets Mark Twain Prize salute from loyal friends, co-stars

A man wearing a suit onstage points his right index finger in the air
Mark Twain Prize recipient Adam Sandler is introduced at the start of the 24th Mark Twain Prize for American Humor gala at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
(Kevin Wolf / Associated Press)
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Billy Madison is all grown up, winning big prizes like the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor — an award previously bestowed on comedians and actors such as Richard Pryor, Bob Newhart and Carol Burnett.

Comedy legend Adam Sandler, whose popular movies include “Billy Madison,” “Happy Gilmore” and “The Wedding Singer,” was celebrated Sunday by several of his friends and loyal co-stars at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall in Washington, D.C., for a body of work that ranged from light sketch comedy to formidable drama.

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“As I look at this goofy award I’m holding, I can’t help but think that one day it might be the weapon used to bludgeon me in my sleep by a disgruntled intruder or possibly Mr. Rob Schneider,” the 56-year-old star said referring to his longtime co-star, according to the Hollywood Reporter.


The “Saturday Night Live” alum, who was fired from the NBC sketch comedy after a five-year stint, took on the big screen by making more than 30 movies that have grossed more than $3 billion worldwide. Those figures come in part to his later-career, family-friendly fare, including the top-grossing “Hotel Transylvania” franchise, his 2015 video-game themed comedy “Pixels,” star-studded “Grown Ups” and his 2011 comedy “Just Go With It.” Sandler has more than 80 movies and seven albums and his catchy “Chanukah Song” went viral before the term was even coined. He became a humor icon with his slapstick wit and portrayal of unfiltered and overgrown characters. After a landmark deal with Netflix in 2014, he has also regularly put out more projects on the streaming service.

Two women onstage clapping
Jennifer Aniston, left, and Drew Barrymore applaud as Mark Twain Prize recipient Adam Sandler is introduced at the start of the 24th Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday.
(Kevin Wolf / Associated Press)

Though best known for his irreverent humor and being a slime-ready fixture at the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, the comedian has taken dramatic turns with his work on “Punch Drunk Love” and “Uncut Gems.” In 2020, he was the awarded the male lead prize at the Film Independent Spirit Awards for his portrayal of Howard Ratner in “Uncut Gems.” Last November, he roasted himself while accepting the the performer tribute award during the Gotham Awards — that’s when he presented another viral speech — sans slime — written by his teen daughters.

However, his career has been peppered with cutting reviews — even his longtime writing and producing partner Tim Herlihy quipped Sunday that together they were responsible for “31 motion pictures with a combined Rotten Tomatoes score of 59,” according to the Associated Press.

But the bad ratings and biting criticism don’t matter to him, Sandler revealed onstage.

“The reason they don’t hurt me is because so many in this room have made me feel good about what we did together,” he said. “Everything we do together makes me feel like the critics don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Two men in suits face each other and grip hands in a lobby
Ben Stiller, left, and Mark Twain Prize recipient Adam Sandler talk before walking the red carpet during the 24th Mark Twain Prize for American Humor ceremony at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday.
(Kevin Wolf / Associated Press)

Indeed, Sandler was saluted by a constellation of stars, friends and colleagues on Sunday, including former “SNL” writer Conan O’Brien; Ben Stiller (“The Meyerowitz Stories”); co-stars Drew Barrymore (“The Wedding Singer”) and Jennifer Aniston (“Murder Mystery”); his “Grown Ups” co-stars David Spade and Chris Rock; director and former roommate Judd Apatow (“Funny People”); loyal troupers Steve Buscemi and Schneider; Luis Guzmán (“Punch Drunk Love”); and Pete Davidson (who said he auditioned for Sandler’s 1999 comedy “Big Daddy”).

According to THR, O’Brien kicked off the tributes and quipped about how many of Sandler’s friends were available to attend the gala: “Because if Adam isn’t working, they aren’t working,” he said, pointing out that Sandler has never put him in any of his films so he “doesn’t owe him a damn thing.”

Sandler’s mom, Judy, and his wife, Jackie, also joined in on the good-natured ribbing. And the “Hustle” star recognized his parents and siblings for arming him with “that weird irrational confidence thing that I guess I still have,” AP reported.

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The Mark Twain prize recognizes “individuals who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th century novelist and essayist Samuel Clemens, best known as Mark Twain.” Two dozen people have been awarded the prize and Sandler is the seventh “SNL” vet to receive it. Past recipients include Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Will Ferrell, Billy Crystal, Eddie Murphy, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and “SNL” creator and producer Lorne Michaels, who won it in 2004.

The ceremony honoring Sandler will be broadcast on CNN on March 26.