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The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor has been awarded by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Artsmarker annually since 1998. It is named after the 19th century novelist, essayist and humorist Mark Twain. The Mark Twain Prize is America’s foremost award for humor, presented annually by The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to an individual who has made a significant contribution to American humor. The prize is presented and taped in The Kennedy Center Concert Hallmarker in Washington DCmarker, during which the honoree is celebrated by his or her peers.

Award history

The first annual Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor was held on October 20, 1998 and was presented to legendary comedian Richard Pryor. The first two years of The Mark Twain Prize (Richard Pryor and Jonathan Winters) were taped and broadcast on Comedy Central. Since then, the award presentations have been taped for broadcast on PBS.

In 2007, the Mark Twain Prize celebrated its 10th anniversary and presented the prize to Billy Crystal. For the first time in 10 years, the show was held in the Opera House of The Kennedy Center on October 11, 2007 and was broadcast on November 12, 2007 on PBS. The evening's presenters included Bob Costas, Robert De Niro, Danny DeVito, Jimmy Fallon, Whoopi Goldberg, John Goodman, David Letterman, Jon Lovitz, Rob Reiner, Paul Shaffer, Martin Short, Joe Torre, Barbara Walters and Robin Williams.

It was not known at first what kind of ceremony would occur for 2008 honoree George Carlin, who died on June 22, 2008, just four days after the Kennedy Center announced he would be that year's recipient of the honor. After consulting with both Carlin's family and PBS, the ceremony took place as scheduled, with no major changes in the presentation format.

Bill Cosby was the 2009 recipient and accepted his award at the Kennedy Center on October 26, 2009. Cosby had twice refused the award because he was disappointed with the profanity used in the inaugural ceremony honoring Richard Pryor.

Recipients of The Mark Twain Prize


  1. Bleep! Bleep! George Carlin To Receive Mark Twain Humor Prize -
  4. Itzkoff, Dave, "Bill Cosby receives Mark Twain Prize", New York Times (October 27,2009)
  5. Farhi, Paul, "Twelfth knight: It's Cosby's time to claim the Twain prize", Washington Post (October 27, 2009)

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