2004 Mark Twain Prize Celebrated LORNE MICHAELS
Taped at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on October 25, 2004, the 90-minute special features tributes and comic performances by an all-star cast including Dan Aykroyd, Candice Bergen, Senator Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut), Darrell Hammond, Tina Fey, Steve Martin, Tim Meadows, Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), Tracy Morgan, Conan O'Brien, Paul Simon, David Spade and Christopher Walken. The show's live band was led by former "SNL" musical director G.E. Smith.
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2003 Mark Twain Prize Celebrated LILY TOMLIN
Lily Tomlin is a creator of characters common people recognizable to all. As Twain before her, and Jane Austen before him, Lily Tomlin's accurate and hilarious characters serve to caricature the life of any community. Their inconsistencies are ones we all share. And underneath the silliness, the pettiness, and sometimes down-right dumbness, of which we all are guilty at one time or another, she finds an underlying an admirable common humanity. Many great humorists have let their characters do all the talking, but, through her one-woman shows, she steps out of character and becomes the witty, trenchant, and deadly accurate observer of our collective inanities.
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2002 Mark Twain Prize Celebrated BOB NEWHART
Like Twain, Bob Newhart came of age in an era of complacency. Again, like Twain, Newhart looked at the great and the small of American life and found the befuddling lunacy that lurks beneath a surface of deceptive calm. His understanding of America was first revealed in his groundbreaking stand-up work. His observations are acute, humanistic, and funny. From the travails of Abner Doubleday in marketing his new game of baseball to the hucksterish political advice of Abe Lincoln's imaginary spin doctors, his trenchant commentary signaled the end of the complacent fifties. Subsequently, his characters in two of television's most intelligent and humorous series captured the common thread of neuroses in modern life, tempered by the warmth of human relations, whether in big city or idealized small town. As with Twain, and to paraphrase Lincoln, that common thread is "everybody is a little nuts at least some of the time and some of us almost all of the time."
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2001 Mark Twain Prize Celebrated WHOOPI GOLDBERG
Award-winning actress, comedienne, producer, author and humanitarian, Whoopi Goldberg's humor is rooted in the human comedy generous, broad, intelligent and earthy. Her dazzling array of characters and emotions is varied and unrestrained and she always projects the wisdom and understanding that all great humorists have recognized in the common man. Whoopi Goldberg was feted on October 15, 2001 by Harry Belafonte, Cedric "The Entertainer", Celia Cruz, Billy Crystal, Tommy Davidson, Alan King, Caroline Rhea, Wanda Sykes, Three Mo' Tenors, Chris Tucker, Bruce Vilanch and Robin Williams in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. The show was broadcast on PBS in November 2001.
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2000 Mark Twain Prize Celebrated CARL REINERCarl Reiner author, actor, writer, director, and one of the nation's greatest comic minds has touched or created much of what was great in American comedy during the last half of the 20th century. His brilliant writing and characterizations on the television series "Your Show of Shows" is still the hallmark against which all comedy is measured. In his casting of Mary Tyler Moore in "The Dick Van Dyke Show", Reiner charted the path for women's roles in television which led to shows such as "Kate and Allie," "Murphy Brown," and "Ally McBeal." On October 24, 2000 Carl Reiner was presented with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in a star-studded tribute, which included Joy Behar, Richard Belzer, Steve Martin, Mary Tyler Moore, Rob Reiner, Jerry Seinfeld, Dick Van Dyke, and George Wallace. The event was aired on PBS in March 2001.
1999 Mark Twain Prize Celebrated JONATHAN WINTERS
Jonathan Winters, a Midwestern boy, enlisted in the Marines at the end of World War II, eventually graduated from art school, and went on to pioneer a new form of comedy that would open doors for Robin Williams, Gilda Radner, Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin, Martin Short, and others. His life experiences catapulted him from the group of wild characters to the next-characters that art student Winters observed and reinterpreted for the wonderfully weird world of on-the-fly comedy he created. A star-studded cast saluted Winters' work in a performance October 20, 1999 in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. The comedy event of the season, the show was aired on Comedy Central in January 2000. The show featured Steve Allen, Richard Belzer, Sid Caesar, Bonnie Hunt, Lyle Lovett, Eugene Levy, Robin Williams, and Robert Wuhl.
1998 Mark Twain Prize Celebrated RICHARD PRYOR
The first annual Kennedy Center Celebration of American Humor took place at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Sunday, October 18 through October 20, 1998. The celebration included lectures, symposia, and master classes, and culminated in the Concert Hall on Tuesday, October 20, 1998 when Richard Pryor was presented with the inaugural Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize, named after one of the world's greatest exponents of humor. The program featured a gathering of leading American artists including Morgan Freeman, Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Rock, Damon Wayans, and Robin Williams. It was taped by Comedy Central and broadcast in January 1999.