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Begun in 1998, the Mark Twain Prize began as an attempt to recognize American humorists by The John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Since then, each year, a 90-minute television show, the Mark Twain Prize, is produced by PBS each year, featuring a noted humorist. This past year, the talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres was featured, but the prize is given to a new person each year.

Founders of the PBS television show, Bob Kaminsky, Cappy McGarr, Peter Kaminsky, and Mark Krantz wished to recognize, especially, those who reflect most Twain's work, which often also has a strong message of social justice. The show aims to honor that aspect of Twain's work, the social impact of the humorist, who is featured. The website for the Mark Twain Prize emphasizes a well-known quote that sums up Twain's opinion regarding humor itself: "Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand."

In addition to hosting or being featured on the show, the recipient who is honored receives a portrait of Twain in bronze, which is a replica of a piece by Karl Gerhardt. (1853-1940). The Mark Twain House in Connecticut is the donor for the plaque. The website lists the past recipients of the prize: They are as follows: "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), Tina Fey (2010), and Will Ferrell (2011)." DeGeneres will join this group for her contribution in the year 2012.

As for the show itself, the featured guest is paid tribute to by other entertainers, artists, or humorists, and the guest makes an appearance as well, beyond the status of featured guest.

PBS
2018 Seasons, 11 Episodes
November 10, 2008
Awards Show
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The Mark Twain Prize Full Episode Guide

  • 21st annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor: Julia Louis-Dreyfus

  • David Letterman is honored with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at a gala featuring Sen. Al Franken, Jimmy Kimmel, Norm Macdonald, Steve Martin, John Mulaney, Bill Murray, Amy Schumer, Paul Shaffer, Martin Short, Eddie Vedder and Jimmie Walker. From the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

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