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The 17th Annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor

A lineup of top entertainers, including Garth Brooks, Kristin Chenoweth, Kevin Eubanks, Jimmy Fallon, Chelsea Handler, Jerry Seinfeld, Wanda Sykes will salute Jay Leno at the 17th Annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on Sunday, October 19, 2014 in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. The evening will pay tribute to the humor and accomplishments of Jay Leno, and will be videotaped by WETA Washington, D.C. as Jay Leno: The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize. The program will air on PBS stations nationwide November 23, 2014 (check local listings). Artists are subject to change.

Upon learning he will receive the Mark Twain Prize, Jay Leno remarked, “What an honor! I’m a big fan of Mark Twain’s. In fact, A Tale of Two Cities is one of my favorite books!”

In addition to honoring this country’s greatest comedians, the Mark Twain Prize also serves as a major fundraising event—all contributions help support the Center’s year-round educational and artistic initiatives that reach millions of students, educators, and families throughout the nation. Sponsorship packages ranging from $5,000 to $100,000 feature an array of benefits, including an invitation to attend an exclusive Artist Rehearsal Brunch with Mr. Leno and other esteemed guests at the $25,000 level and above. All packages include the festive pre-show dinner in a pavilion on the South Plaza, the tribute performance and formal presentation of the Mark Twain Prize in the Concert Hall, and a post-show reception with the cast.

The Mark Twain Prize continues to grow in popularity, and this year’s event is expected to sell out quickly. In fact, single tickets are already sold out! Sponsorship packages are the best way to secure premium access to all of the evening’s festivities. To confirm your participation, please contact the Special Events office at (202) 416-8335 or

About Jay Leno

It was in May of 1992 when Leno followed in the footsteps of legendary NBC late-night hosts Steve Allen, Jack Paar and Johnny Carson as Tonight Show host. Prior to becoming host, Leno had been the exclusive guest host on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson since September 1987. He first appeared as a guest on the show March 2, 1977, and he made numerous additional appearances on the show, as well as NBC’s former program Late Night with David Letterman. An indefatigable performer, Leno loves to test his humor live on audiences across the nation, performing over 100 live appearances in nightclubs, theaters and stadiums each year, including during Tonight Show hosting.

Read Full Biography

About the Mark Twain Prize

Portrait of Mark Twain

The Mark Twain Prize recognizes people who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th century novelist and essayist best known as Mark Twain. As a social commentator, satirist and creator of characters, Samuel Clemens was a fearless observer of society, who startled many while delighting and informing many more with his uncompromising perspective of social injustice and personal folly. He revealed the great truth of humor when he said "against the assault of laughter nothing can stand."

The event is created by the Kennedy Center, and executive producers Mark Krantz, Bob Kaminsky, Peter Kaminsky, and Cappy McGarr. The Kennedy Center established The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in October 1998, and it has been televised annually. Recipients of the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize have been Richard Pryor (1998), Jonathan Winters (1999), Carl Reiner (2000), Whoopi Goldberg (2001), Bob Newhart (2002), Lily Tomlin (2003), Lorne Michaels (2004), Steve Martin (2005), Neil Simon (2006), Billy Crystal (2007), George Carlin (2008), Bill Cosby (2009), Tina Fey (2010), Will Ferrell (2011), Ellen DeGeneres (2012), and Carol Burnett (2013).

History of the Mark Twain Prize

Richard Pryor

The first annual Kennedy Center Celebration of American Humor took place at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday, October 18 through October 20, 1998. The celebration included lectures, symposia, and master classes, and culminated in the Concert Hall on Tuesday, October 20, 1998 when Richard Pryor was presented with the inaugural Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize, named after one of the world's greatest exponents of humor. The program featured a gathering of leading American artists including Chris Rock, Morgan Freeman, Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Damon Wayans, and Robin Williams.

As a social commentator, satirist and creator of memorable characters, Samuel Clemens – the distinguished 19th century novelist and essayist also known as Mark Twain – was a fearless observer of society, who outraged many while delighting and informing many more with his uncompromising perspective of social injustice and personal folly.

Past Winners

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Event Information:

Sunday, October 19, 2014
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

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