Comedian Billy Crystal received the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on Thursday in a raucous celebration that featured clips of his classic film and TV moments and irreverent plaudits from a cadre of comics and other celebs.
Not surprisingly, Crystal stole the show with an inspired acceptance speech that would have done Twain proud. He offered a homespun Twain-like tale about growing up in America, delivered from a rocking chair on the Opera House stage — but his tale featured a Jewish family in Brooklyn and a kid whose role model was Bill Cosby.
“He played football at Temple. I belonged to a temple,” Crystal quipped.
Crystal was presented the award by Kennedy Center chairman Steven Schwarzman, who lauded the comedian’s extensive career and called him “a one-man melting pot.”
A parade of admirers trooped onstage to honor Crystal, including Robin Williams, Martin Short, Rob Reiner, Jimmy Fallon, Danny DeVito, Jon Lovitz, Whoopi Goldberg and Robert De Niro. Sportscaster Bob Costas and broadcaster Barbara Walters also paid their respects by sharing personal moments with the comedian.
A diehard New York Yankees fan, Crystal was clearly impressed by the appearance of Yankees manager Joe Torre, who suddenly had room on his October sked for the cameo.
“Billy is the 26th man on our baseball club,” Torre said.
A marathon of clips included moments from “Saturday Night Live,” “City Slickers,” “Throw Mama From the Train,” “When Harry Met Sally” and “Analyze This.”
Previous recipients of the Mark Twain Prize are Neil Simon, Steve Martin, Lorne Michaels, Lily Tomlin, Bob Newhart, Whoopi Goldberg, Carl Reiner, Jonathan Winters and Richard Pryor.
The 10th edition of the Twain Award presentation will be broadcast Nov. 12 on PBS.