In its 15-year history, the Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize for American Humor has been awarded to such comedy giants as Richard Pryor (1998), Lorne Michaels (2004), Steve Martin (2005), Bill Cosby (2009), Tina Fey (2010), and Will Ferrell (2011). In a press release sent out today, the KenCen announced that this year's recipient would be daytime TV talk show host and former American Idol judge Ellen DeGeneres.
In a statement, DeGeneres responded to the news in typical understated style. "It's such an honor to receive the Mark Twain Prize. To get the same award that has been given to people like Bill Cosby, Tina Fey, and Will Ferrell, it really makes me wonder . . . why I didn't get this sooner?"
DeGeneres is only the fourth woman to receive the award (following Fey, Whoopi Goldberg, and Lily Tomlin), and the second openly gay recipient. Best known these days for The Ellen DeGeneres Show on NBC, DeGeneres was first launched into the public eye by her sitcom, Ellen. The show ran from 1994 to '98 on ABC, and peaked in 1997 when DeGeneres publicly revealed that she was gay to Oprah Winfrey. Since the launch of her talk show in 2003, DeGeneres has hosted the 2006 Academy Awards, written two books, and provided the voice of Dory in Disney/Pixar's Finding Nemo.
"The Kennedy Center is happy to recognize Ellen DeGeneres's unique contributions to the world of comedy," said KenCen chairman David Rubenstein in a statement. "Through her television programs, standup appearances, movies, and even commercials, her special brand of humor has allowed us to find hilarity in the mundane, and has kept us laughing for years."
DeGeneres will receive the award in a ceremony at the Kennedy Center October 22; PBS will broadcast the show at a later date. For more information, visit the Kennedy Center's website.