WASHINGTON — Comedian Billy Crystal received the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Prize for American Humor Oct. 11 in a raucous celebration that featured clips of his classic film and TV moments and irreverent plaudits from a cadre of comics and other media 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. Except that 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 recalled.
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.” The Twain Award presentation, now in its 10th year, will be broadcast Nov. 12 on PBS stations.
A parade of admirers trooped on stage to honor Crystal, including Robin Williams, Martin Short, Rob Reiner, Jimmy Fallon, Danny DeVito, Jon Lovitz, Whoopi Goldberg, and Robert DeNiro. 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 a surprise appearance of Yankees manager Joe Torre, who suddenly had room on his October sked for the cameo perf. “Billy is the 26th man on our baseball club,” said Torre, who congratulated him on the award.
A marathon of vintage clips included moments from “Saturday Night Live,” “City Slickers,” “Throw Mama Off the Train,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “Analyze This” and numerous other sources.
Previous recipients of the Mark Twain Prize include Neil Simon, Steve Martin, Lorne Michaels, Lily Tomlin, Bob Newhart, Whoopi Goldberg, Carl Reiner, Jonathan Winters, and Richard Pryor.