Ellen DeGeneres joined the ranks of top comedians as she became the 15th humorist to win the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor last night at the Kennedy Center.
On the red carpet, she told reporters she felt honored and was “just trying to take it all in.”
The gala featured comedy clips from her performances such as her first on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1986, and tributes from stars like Lily Tomlin, Jimmy Kimmel and Kristin Chenoweth. PBS stations will broadcast the ceremony on October 30.
DeGeneres was praised for her personal kindness and for her observational humor which avoids mean-spirited joking.
Tomlin was clearly moved as she saluted DeGeneres’s courage, referring to her decision to come out as gay both in public and as a character on her 1990’s sitcom, Ellen. Former “Will & Grace” star Sean Hayes echoed that sentiment, as did “Glee” star Jane Lynch who looked up to the honoree’s box and thanked her for “taking one for the team.”
Following that season, the Ellen sitcom was canceled due to declining ratings. DeGeneres then returned to the stand-up comedy circuit, and later re-established herself as a successful talk show host and animal rights activist. Her hit daytime talk show, Ellen, debuted in 2003, and is now in its 10th season.
The 15th Annual Mark Twain Prize ceremony raised $1.5 million for The Kennedy Center and arts education programs. Check local PBS listings for broadcast times in your area.