The Mark Twain Prize goes to Dave Chappelle

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts presents the 22nd annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor

  • Fred Vigeant

Comedian, actor, writer and producer Dave Chappelle is recipient of the 22nd annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The star-studded special was taped in October in Washington, D.C., the Kennedy Center Concert Hall and the DC Improv. The special broadcasts Tuesday January 7 at 9:00 PM on WITF.

The special features a lineup of friends, admirers and entertainment industry colleagues paying tribute to the comedian’s humor and accomplishments. In a twist on the beloved annual event, this year’s broadcast shares raw, behind-the-scenes looks and insights with Chappelle and his friends. Participants include Neal Brennan, Michael Che, Common, Bradley Cooper, Morgan Freeman, Tiffany Haddish, Colin Jost, John Legend, Lorne Michaels, Q-Tip, Trevor Noah, Sarah Silverman, Jon Stewart, Keenan Thompson and others.

In his acceptance speech Chappelle said, “Standup comedy is an incredibly American genre. I don’t think any other country could produce this many comedians. And I don’t think there’s an opinion that exists in this country that is not represented in a comedy club by somebody…The First Amendment is first for a reason. Second Amendment is just in case the first one doesn’t work out.”

Chappelle is an internationally recognized stand-up comedian and actor whose trademark wit and sharp, irreverent social commentary explores race, popular culture, sex, drugs, politics and fame. Arguably the most-touring comic on the circuit, Chappelle has performed more than 1,600 concerts worldwide in the past four years.

In 2017, Chappelle received his first Emmy Award® for his debut episode on Saturday Night Live. His memorable, panoramic monologue offered comic relief following the 2016 Presidential election. Chappelle celebrated his 30th year in comedy by releasing four highly anticipated stand-up specials on Netflix. Released on vinyl, they received Grammy Awards® for Best Comedy Album in 2018 and 2019, and one earned an Emmy for Outstanding Variety Special. In summer 2017, he took up residency at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, selling more than 90,000 tickets and performing 16 shows. Pollstar awarded Chappelle with Comedy Tour of The Year in 2014 and 2018.

The Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Prize for American Humor 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. As a social commentator, satirist, and creator of characters, Clemens was a fearless observer of society, who startled many while delighting and informing many more with his uncompromising perspective on social injustice and personal folly. He revealed the great truth of humor when he said, “against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.”

Dave Chappelle is the 22nd recipient of The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Past recipients of the prize 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; rescinded in 2018), Tina Fey (2010), Will Ferrell (2011), Ellen DeGeneres (2012), Carol Burnett (2013), Jay Leno (2014), Eddie Murphy (2015), Bill Murray (2016), David Letterman (2017) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (2018). As a recipient of the Mark Twain Prize, Chappelle received a copy of the 1884 bronze portrait bust of Mark Twain sculpted by Karl Gerhardt (1853-1940). The bust and its images are courtesy of the Mark Twain House, Hartford, Connecticut.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is America’s living memorial to President Kennedy. It is the nation’s busiest performing arts facility and annually hosts more than 2,000 performances for audiences totaling nearly 2 million; Center-related touring productions, television, and radio broadcasts welcome 40 million more. Now in its 47th season, the Center presents performances of music, dance, and theater, supports artists in the creation of new work, and serves the nation as a leader in arts education.

Watch the Mark Twain Prize Tuesday January 7 at 9:00 PM on WITF.  This program is rated TV-MA.

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