WASHINGTON – The last time the Kennedy Center presented its Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, Donald Trump was president, and the only masks in demand were for Halloween. On Wednesday, the arts center announced that its first Twain award since Oct. 27, 2019, will go to Jon Stewart in a ceremony on April 24.
Honored for his political humor and activism, Stewart will be the 23rd recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. The arts center promised a star-studded lineup for the show, which will be presented in the 2,400-seat Concert Hall. The event will be nationally televised. “I am truly honored to receive this award. I have long admired and been influenced by the work of Mark Twain, or, as he was known by his given name, Samuel Leibowitz,” Stewart said in a statement released by the arts center.
Created in 1998, the national prize is named for novelist and essayist Samuel Clemens, known by his pen name Mark Twain. The prize honors humorists who have made a lasting impact on American society. Richard Pryor was the first recipient. Other honorees include Lily Tomlin, Neil Simon, Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
The last recipient, Dave Chappelle, was celebrated in a show featuring tributes from Bradley Cooper, Tiffany Haddish and Stewart, among others. Stewart also participated in the 2008 ceremony honoring George Carlin. The Kennedy Center explored dates for a modified production at various times during the past 22 months, spokeswoman Eileen Andrews said, but decided not to proceed.
“We either couldn’t make the dates work with our many partners, or the COVID environment made it unfeasible at the time,” Andrews wrote in an email. The arts center produced two Kennedy Center Honors in that time period, including a hybrid version in the spring of 2021 that included taped and in-person performances.
Kennedy Center programmers took advantage of the hiatus to move the event from the busy fall season, when it was sandwiched between the National Symphony Orchestra gala in September and the Kennedy Center Honors in December, to spring, Andrews said. A spring date had been considered for years, she said, adding that the move will be permanent.
Stewart, 59, spent 16 years as host and executive producer of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” where his political satire and commentary attracted young audiences and won 20 Emmys and two Peabody Awards. The comedian now hosts the Apple TV+ series “The Problem With Jon Stewart.” He wrote and directed the movies “Irresistible” and “Rosewater,” is the author of “America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction” and is an executive producer of “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.”
Stewart and Colbert drew thousands to the National Mall in 2010 for the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Stewart has advocated for wounded veterans and 9/11 first responders and their families and has visited Washington numerous times to push Congress to provide benefits for them.
“For more than three decades, Jon Stewart has brightened our lives and challenged our minds as he delivers current events and social satire with his trademark wit and wisdom. For me, tuning into his television programs over the years has always been equal parts entertainment and truth,” Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter said in a statement.
“In these often divisive and challenging times, someone like Jon, through his undaunted advocacy for first responders and veterans, also demonstrates that we all can make a difference in this world through humor, humanity and patriotism.”
Those attending the show will be required to show proof of vaccination and a photo ID and must wear masks. The center’s safety protocols can be found at kennedy-center.org/visit/covid-safety. “We do not currently require a booster for our audiences,” Andrews said. “Our protocols evolve as we monitor trends and seek guidance from our outside medical advisers, so, as always, our health and safety precautions are subject to change.”
Tickets to the performance will be sold to Kennedy Center members starting Feb. 9 at noon. The public can purchase tickets beginning Feb. 11 at noon.