The Kennedy Center announced today that former Tonight Show host Jay Leno will receive its 17th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, comedy’s highest honor. (Past recipients include Carol Burnett, Bill Cosby, George Carlin, Lily Tomlin, and Bob Newhart.) The award will be presented at a ceremony to be held Sunday, Oct. 19 in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall; it will air nationwide on PBS stations Nov. 23.
“Like Mark Twain, Jay Leno has offered us a lifetime’s worth of humorous commentary on American daily life,” Kennedy Center chairman David Rubenstein said while announcing the award. “For both men, no one was too high or too low to escape their wit, and we are all the better for it.”
“What an honor!” Leno quipped in a statement. “I’m a big fan of Mark Twain’s. In fact, A Tale of Two Cities is one of my favorite books!”
The comedian got his start in standup and went on to host NBC’s Tonight Show in 1992, taking over for the retired Johnny Carson. He stuck with late night’s longest-lived franchise (on and off) until February of this year, when he formally retired from Tonight. Throughout his TV career, Leno has kept up a relentless touring schedule, making over 100 live appearances at venues across the country each year.
When asked for comment about Leno’s award, the comedy community… had a few things to say.