2011 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor

In case you weren\’t aware, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts starting giving out the \”Mark Twain Prize for American Humor\” in 1998. The intent of the prize is honor an individual who has made a significant contribution to American humor.

I think we all would agree that criteria is vague, but over the first 12 years you got a good idea of who should be considered for the prize based on the recipients.

The first winner was Richard Pryor. Hard to argue this one. He was the inspiration for so many comics. He might be the only comic that Bill Cosby respects who swore in every other sentence on stage.

Next was Jonathan Winters. Most people younger than 35 don\’t have any idea who Jonathan Winters is. Most people under 40 (like me) really only know him as Mork & Mindy\’s child, or the weird guy who was occasionally on Johnny Carson. Regardless, a long storied career, very deserving of an award.

Other recipients: Carl Reiner, Whoopi, Bob Newhart, Lily Tomlin, Lorne Michaels, Steve Martin, Neil Simon, Billy Crystal, George Carlin (who sadly died 4 days after the announcement), Bill Cosby…

Then in 2010 the winner was Tina Fey. Really, you go from Bill Cosby to Tina Fey? Now don\’t get me wrong, I like Tina Fey. I think she is funny and very talented. And I suppose she is an Emmy award winning writer and actor. She\’s also a very successful woman in what has always been a male dominated business. Ok, I\’ve talked myself into this.

However, this year\’s winner is Will Ferrell. Funny guy… nearly single handedly carried (saved?) SNL in the late 90s… some very funny and successful movies. But I could say the same thing about Adam Sandler. About the only difference between the two is that Ferrell started FunnyOrDie.com… and he did a one-man show on Broadway about GW Bush… but otherwise damn near the same career. He hasn\’t won any emmys or oscars or tonys… not even a Golden Globe.

Perhaps that point of the award is to honor current comedy stars. The Kennedy Center chairman was quoted as saying, \”Will Ferrell is clearly one of his generation\’s finest comedic performers.\” This is true. And I suppose if you start a comedy award in 1998 you need to honor the past a bit before catching up to the present (like Lily Tomlin in 2003? She hadn\’t done anything impactful for at least a decade).

Either way though… I can\’t help but feel that an award named after Mark Twain, which Pryor, Cosby, and Carlin have won shouldn\’t go to Will Ferrell. How does Will Ferrell win this award and Seinfeld is nowhere to be found?

Perhaps it\’s a sign of the times. Awards, and society in general, has a shorter and shorter attention span and things need to be \”more current\” and \”more relevant\”. Maybe next year’s winner will be Jonah Hill.







Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *