If the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor symbolizes its namesake’s wit, it also represents his humanity … and this year’s recipient has large reserves of both.
Ellen DeGeneres joins the exclusive club that includes Tina Fey, Will Ferrell, Bob Newhart, Whoopi Goldberg, Steve Martin and Billy Crystal as she becomes the 15th comedy star to get the annual honor from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Taped there the previous week, “Ellen DeGeneres:?The Mark Twain Prize” airs on PBS Tuesday, Oct. 30 (check local listings).
Since she remains one of daytime television’s most popular hosts — with her syndicated, Emmy-honored weekday show now in its 10th season — it’s no surprise other familiar faces help salute DeGeneres. Among them: Lily Tomlin, also a past Twain Prize honoree; Kristin Chenoweth; Jimmy Kimmel; “Will & Grace” alum Sean Hayes; and music’s Jason Mraz.
As well-known as DeGeneres is for furnishing laughs, she also is renowned for frequent displays of heart on her talk show. She has surprised numerous guests with her displays of generosity, presenting them with goods, services or funds in moments that are uniquely moving … and entirely in keeping with who DeGeneres is.
In being that person, she has given television other landmark moments, very notably in an Emmy-winning 1997 episode of ABC’s “Ellen.” Her character came out at the same time DeGeneres herself did, and she has supported a variety of other social matters since. To that end, she now serves as a Special Envoy for Global AIDS Awareness, appointed to the position last year by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Also, her star is one of the most recent additions to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, having been unveiled last month.
As an entertainment professional as well as a citizen, Ellen DeGeneres’ contributions have been plentiful and visible. It’s not a major leap to assume that with his own social awareness, Samuel Clemens — alias Mark Twain — would be quite pleased with this year’s selection for the award bearing his name.