In taking home the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Prize for Humor Sunday night, Steve Martin quipped after receiving a miniature bust of the 19th century humorist: “This prize is special because it’s the most recent.”
His nonchalance was in the true spirit of the evening, a clip-a-thon of great Martin moments in film and TV presented by a contingent of comics, humorists and thesps who flew in to pay irreverent homage. They included Tom Hanks, Martin Short, Carl Reiner, Mike Nichols, Larry David, Eric Idle and Dave Barry.
With Martin looking on from a box seat, Hanks kicked off the evening with a reprise of a career he said began when the comedian “rode into town on a banjo and a non sequitur.” Hanks then introduced a clip of Martin’s pantomime perf of “The Great Flydini” on “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.”
Others on hand included past recipients Lily Tomlin and Lorne Michaels. Tomlin lauded Martin’s keen sense of “sublime silliness and divine absurdity,” and predicted that he would uphold the award’s high standards while performing his “duties and obligations” at rodeos and other events.
Reiner offered a clip from “The Jerk,” which he directed, while comedian Short discussed other Martin films, including “The Three Amigos.” Barry intro’ed Martin’s classic 1977 film short “The Absent-Minded Waiter.”
Diane Keaton (“Father of the Bride”) sang a breathy “The Way You Look Tonight” to piano accompaniment. Queen Latifah (“Bringing Down the House”) and Claire Danes (“Shopgirl”) also chimed in. Michaels introduced highlights of Martin’s “Saturday Night Live” appearances, while David offered his curmudgeonly perspective. Paul Simon and Randy Newman also performed.
The Mark Twain Prize, now in its eighth year, celebrates American humor while benefiting the center’s education programs. The event at the center’s Concert Hall will be broadcast Nov. 9 on PBS.