Kennedy Center award inspires PBS ribbing

Comedian Will Ferrell accepted the Kennedy Center’s coveted Mark Twain Prize for Humor Sunday with all the sincerity the comic could muster. “I am deeply humbled,” he said of the miniature bust of Twain he pledged to store in a place of honor. “If my kids even look at it, I will beat them.”

The comments, and some noteworthy fumbling of the so-called “priceless bust” presented by Kennedy Center Chairman David Rubenstein, capped a series of tributes by a gaggle of famous colleagues. Taped by WETA-TV Washington, event will air on PBS stations Oct. 31.

Jack Black kicked off the evening with an energetic guitar number joined by musical director Crispin Cioe and the band, Cracked Ice. “Will is not just funny, he’s crazy funny,” said Black before introducing a clip from the film, “Blades of Glory.” It was the first of numerous video clips drawn from “Saturday Night Live,” Ferrell’s other films, website and Ferrell’s 2003 Harvard University commencement address.

Molly Shannon, Paul Rudd, Ed Asner, Tim Meadows, Andy Samberg, Conan O’Brien, Gwen Ifill, Adam McKay, John C. Reilly, Matthew Broderick, and Ben Stiller also were among those on hand for the occasion.

The comedians mixed praise with good-natured ribbing, but reserved their more caustic material for PBS. “That’s what public funding will get you,” quipped O’Brien following a snafu with the teleprompter. “The pressure is off tonight because we only have to be PBS funny — as funny as Jim Lehrer.” Later, Ferrell noted that the event would be viewed on PBS “by literally hundreds of people.”

O’Brien noted that Ferrell was his first and last guest during his brief and controversial stint hosting the “Tonight Show.” “It takes a good friend who is willing to stick with you for five and a half months,” he said.

As with other recipients of the 14-year-old prize, Ferrell endured the sometimes caustic acclaim with wife Viveca Paulin and family from a safe distance in a box at the center’s sold out Concert Hall.

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