Mark Twain once said, "It is better to deserve honors and not have them than to have them and not to deserve them." He need not worry about the worthiness of the recipients of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. From the first winner, Richard Pryor, to the latest, Tina Fey, the Kennedy Center has chosen "people who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th century novelist and essayist."
At only 40, Fey is the youngest honoree in the 13-year history of the award. Last year's recipient was Bill Cosby. Fey is the third woman to win the award, after Whoopi Goldberg (2001) and Lily Tomlin (2003). The other previous prize winners were Jonathan Winters (1999), Carl Reiner (2000), Bob Newhart (2002), Lorne Michaels (2004), Steve Martin (2005), Neil Simon (2006), Billy Crystal (2007) and George Carlin (2008).
As Jacqueline Trescott of the Washington Post writes, "Before anyone asks, let's settle the question of honoring someone who's a mere 40 years old. 'It does change the paradigm a bit,' said Mark Krantz, co-executive producer of the Twain salute. A lot of people felt it was a lifetime achievement award for an old person. It never has been. It is a prize, really, about somebody's depth and talent.'"
As for Fey, she said in a statement: "I assume Betty White was disqualified for steroid use." The seven-time Emmy winner will be presented with the award on Nov. 9, with the star-studded tribute to be televised on PBS at a later date.
Photo: Mark Twain Prize logo. Credit: Kennedy Center