Each year, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts awards the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, an acknowledgment of a storied career crafting comedy. In March 2024, stand-up comic and actor Kevin Hart will become the 25th recipient of the honor, which has been dispensed in Washington, D.C., since 1998.

Mark Twain was, of course, a venerable observer of the human condition, and his wit became celebrated for its insight. Prize winners receive a bronze portrait bust of the author and join some very good company. Here’s who else has received the award, which has been bestowed continuously with the exception of the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021.

  1. Richard Pryor (1998)
  2. Jonathan Winters (1999)
  3. Carl Reiner (2000)
  4. Whoopi Goldberg (2001)
  5. Bob Newhart (2002)
  6. Lily Tomlin (2003)
  7. Lorne Michaels (2004)
  8. Steve Martin (2005)
  9. Neil Simon (2006)
  10. Billy Crystal (2007)
  11. George Carlin (2008)
  12. Bill Cosby (2009; rescinded in 2018)
  13. Tina Fey (2010)
  14. Will Ferrell (2011)
  15. Ellen DeGeneres (2012)
  16. Carol Burnett (2013)
  17. Jay Leno (2014)
  18. Eddie Murphy (2015)
  19. Bill Murray (2016)
  20. David Letterman (2017)
  21. Julia Louis-Dreyfus (2018)
  22. Dave Chappelle (2019)
  23. Jon Stewart (2022)
  24. Adam Sandler (2023)
  25. Kevin Hart (2024)

Richard Pryor, who became the first-ever honoree in 1998, had a long and eclectic career as a stand-up and actor. “I feel great about accepting this prize,” he said at the ceremony that year. “It is nice to be regarded on par with a great white man—now that’s funny! Seriously, though, two things people throughout history have had in common are hatred and humor. I am proud that, like Mark Twain, I have been able to use humor to lessen people’s hatred.”

Seven of the 25 winners have been cast members on Saturday Night Live. Another, Lorne Michaels, created the series.

Not everyone chosen for acknowledgment has consented to it. Ceremony co-founder Cappy McGarr told WTOP in 2021 that Mel Brooks has turned down the award three times. He also mentioned potential inductees in the future: Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carrey, and Chris Rock.

Jake Rossen

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