WASHINGTON — Lorne Michaels, the gag writer who changed the face of television comedy when he created NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” almost 30 years ago, has been selected by the Kennedy Center to receive its annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. The honor will be presented Oct. 25.
Michaels is the seventh recipient of the prize and the first to have spent most of his career behind the camera. He joins Richard Pryor, Jonathan Winters, Carl Reiner, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Newhart and Lily Tomlin.
The Mark Twain show will be broadcast, although Kennedy Center brass have not yet inked a deal.
Michaels said he was flattered to receive the award, especially as “SNL” heads into its 30th season next fall. “But it has more to do with the show than me personally,” said the producer who helped turn two generations of improvisational comics into household names.
“The Kennedy Center is pleased to give Michaels the Mark Twain Prize for an extraordinary career,” said center president Michael M. Kaiser. “His creation of ‘Saturday Night Live,’ along with his work in film and on Broadway, has provided this nation with some of its greatest comedians.”
While Michaels is best known as the often-ridiculed exec producer of “SNL,” he also honchos NBC’s “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.” He has produced numerous films, including the recent “Mean Girls,” as well as “Three Amigos” (produced and co-written with Steve Martin and Randy Newman), “Wayne’s World,” “A Night at the Roxbury,” “Superstar,” and WWII drama “Enigma,” which he produced with Mick Jagger.
On Broadway, he produced and directed “Gilda Radner Live From New York” and produced the subsequent film “Gilda Live.”
Canadian-born Michaels began as a writer and producer for the CBC, starring in a comedy series called “The Hart & Lorne Terrific Hour.” He moved to Los Angeles in 1968, working as a writer for NBC’s “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” and other shows until he left in 1975 to begin “SNL” in New York.
Michaels said he long ago mastered the rhythms of creating a weekly live comedy show. “When we started in the ’70s, I was worried all the time. Now I know when to worry.”
As for “SNL’s” place in the U.S. political process with its constant parodies of politicos, Michaels said the show enjoys its special niche. “The fact that we’re nonpartisan is key (to our success).”