‘SNL’s’ Michaels takes Twain

Event taped for airing on PBS in February

WASHINGTON — It’s a good thing Lorne Michaels can take a joke. The creator of “Saturday Night Live” had to bask in some mighty irreverent praise Monday night as the latest recipient of the Kennedy Center’s annual Mark Twain Prize for American humor.

Current and former “SNL” cast members, two frequent guest hosts and even a few D.C. politicos were on hand to toast the former “Laugh-In” scribe who changed the face of American TV comedy when NBC asked him to create a network show for Saturday night.

Some of “SNL’s” most famous sketches were shown during the two-hour clipfest at the center’s Concert Hall, which was taped for airing on PBS in February.

” ‘Saturday Night Live’ is the only for-real reality show in the business,” said leadoff roastmaster Dan Aykroyd, who reminisced about the groundbreaking show’s early days. Other speakers included Darrell Hammond, Tina Fey, Tim Meadows, Tracy Morgan, David Spade and Steve Martin.

Former “SNL” hosts Candice Bergen and Christopher Walken talked about their experiences, while U.S. Sens. John McCain and Christopher Dodd offered the D.C. perspective on the program’s trademark political satire.

Singer Paul Simon also entertained while former “SNL” bandleader G.E. Smith, the Twain Prize’s musical director, played for his former boss.

Vid clips included “Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger” and Blues Brothers perfs featuring John Belushi; several bits with Gilda Radner and other early cast members; Meadows’ the Ladies’ Man; and a parade of hard-hitting political impersonations from Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman and others. Clips from several Michaels-produced films also were shown.

The award itself, a small bust of humorist Twain, was presented by Kennedy Center chairman Stephen A. Schwarzman to a nonplussed Michaels, who noted he had ample time to read all of the works of Twain — but didn’t bother. And he didn’t write his acceptance speech until the last minute, either. Why should he? After all, the guy thrives on pressure.

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