Jay Leno, the indefatigable host of the Tonight Show for 20 years, was honored with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor Sunday by an all-star slate of comedians at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Jerry Seinfeld, Jimmy Fallon, Wanda Sykes and Garth Brooks were among the celebrities saluting Leno, who retired in February despite his show’s ratings as the top late night program in America.
In his acceptance speech, Leno called the event, “the most wonderful night of my life.”
The 17th Annual Mark Twain Prize, which also featured Robert Klein, Seth Meyers, Kristin Chenoweth, Al Madrigal and Chelsea Handler, will be broadcast on PBS stations throughout the US on November 23, 2014.
Starting in 1987, Leno was a regular substitute host for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. In 1992, he replaced Carson as host. He continued to perform more than 100 nights as a stand-up comedian every year throughout his tenure on The Tonight Show.
His free charitable performances have entertained US military troops overseas and thousands of unemployed people in Detroit during the recent recession. He has often donated his time to fundraising shows like the ones for victims of the Gulf oil spill in 2010 and Hurricane Katrina.
(WATCH a video below or READ about the red carpet at Washington Post – NOTE* Please click pause at the end of the video)
Previous recipients of the Twain Prize included 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).