Mark Twain Prize Winners, What are the Criticisms of the Award

The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, established annually by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, is one of the highest honors in comedy. After being established in 1998 and named after iconic 19th-century humorist Mark Twain himself, this prize recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to American humor – often by making social commentary through humor such as Twain did himself – impacting society at large in ways similar to Twain himself. Since its introduction this award has honored some of comedy’s biggest names while celebrating American comedic genius alike!

What Is the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor?

Each autumn at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, an autumn ceremony is held to award this prestigious prize, featuring Karl Gerhardt’s 1884 bust of Mark Twain which stands as a reminder of Twain’s legacy of humor and social critique. Additionally, this event serves as both an acknowledgement as well as major fundraiser for its recipient organization while emphasizing its cultural importance.

Who Has Been Honored with the Prize?

Since its introduction, this prize has been bestowed upon an array of humorists–stand-up comedians, actors, writers and producers who have had an enormous effect on American comedy culture. Notable recipients have included Richard Pryor (inaugural recipient), Carol Burnett and most recently Kevin Hart–whose contributions are celebrated at an award ceremony attended by peers, featuring humorous tributes and roasts that celebrate each winner’s influence.

How Are Recipients Chosen for the Mark Twain Prize?

The Mark Twain Prize selection process involves executive producers creating a shortlist presented to representatives from the Kennedy Center Board of Trustees, Senior Management, and Programming Staff for review and decision. Although the process appears structured at first glance, Cappy McGarr, co-founder of this prize and member of its board of trustees describes decision-making as being more consensus driven; no single person makes final determination.

What Makes the Prize Valuable?

The Mark Twain Prize is significant both because it recognizes individual comedic talents as well as honoring American comedic tradition in general. Awardees of this prize are considered pioneers in their fields whose work has not only entertained millions but has had an enduring effect on generations of comedians who follow in their footsteps. Their influence extends well beyond mere entertainment into relevant commentary about social issues similar to how Mark Twain himself approached humor.

Recent Celebrations and Controversies
Awards ceremonies typically feature lighthearted roasts and humorous anecdotes about honorees such as Kevin Hart’s recent acceptance. But the prize hasn’t gone without controversy: Bill Cosby had his award revoked after his criminal convictions, underscoring its adherence to upholding ethical values.

What are the Criticisms of the Award?

Although esteemed, the Mark Twain Prize has come under scrutiny for perceived oversights and its selection criteria. Critics like Sean McCarthy of The Daily Beast have pointed out that iconic comedy figures such as Don Rickles and Joan Rivers never received it, suggesting a gap in acknowledging their influence across comedy history. Furthermore, recent years’ awarding of prizes to relatively younger comedians has caused debate as to whether its focus should lie more on lifetime achievements rather than short-lived achievements.


The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor stands as a testimony to comedy’s lasting presence in American culture. This prize honors those who have not only brought laughter to millions but have also transformed society with humor – much like Mark Twain did during his own lifetime. Over time, it continues to generate conversation regarding humor’s place within society while celebrating Twain and his modern counterparts for years to come.

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