Past honorees include Pryor, Reiner, Goldberg

WASHINGTON — Comedian Lily Tomlin has been tapped by the Kennedy Center to receive its annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Kudos will be awarded here Oct. 26 in a celeb-filled presentation that will air on PBS.

Tomlin, who opens her one-woman show “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” tonight at the Ahmanson Theater, is the sixth recipient of the prize named after the legendary humorist.

Tomlin is a logical choice for the prize because, like Twain, her comedy mocks society in a way that makes people think as well as laugh. “It expresses truths we already recognize unconsciously, and she allows us to embrace our frailties without shame or embarrassment,” the Kennedy Center said. “Through her one-woman shows starring innumerable characters, she has become the trenchant and accurate observer of our collective consciousness.”

Her characters are familiar to a generation of TV, film and theater audiences, from the irascible telephone operator Ernestine and irrepressible Edith Ann to the streetwise Trudy and troubled teen Angus Angst.

Tomlin said she is “truly honored to be recognized in the name of Mark Twain, an American humorist who was beloved throughout his lifetime and beyond, even as he imparted a strong and vital social consciousness that still resonates today.”

Past recipients of the prize are Richard Pryor, Jonathan Winters, Carl Reiner, Whoopi Goldberg and Bob Newhart.

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