Great comedy is all about timing. It’s only fitting, then, that Ellen DeGeneres was named this year’s Mark Twain Prize recipient less than a week after our president publicly stated his support of marriage equality. Ellen, after all, played a major role in making it OK to love the gays.
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Fifteen years ago (yes, really), Ellen’s three little words, “Yep, I’m gay,” started a pop cultural revolution. Sure, it took awhile for middle America to get used to the fact that being a lesbian and being a beloved entertainer were not necessarily mutually exclusive. But Ellen, with her charm and wit and refusal to be unlovable, won them over. I say “them” because she had us at “Yep.”
Of course, the comedy world already knew Ellen as brilliant. After her first performance on The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson invited her to come sit and talk with him. That was his way of honoring the best and brightest comedians — and he did it rarely. She was the very first female comedian he called over.
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But she came into her own to the rest of the world with her daytime talk show that started in 2003. Her ability to find humor in things that we all experience makes us laugh every day. Her remarkable energy and knack for bringing out the best in her guests brings an incredible parade of famous people to her show, doing incredibly funny things. Who else in the world could give us a push-up contest with the first lady?
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Beyond that, Ellen’s generosity of spirit and resources has changed the lives of individuals and organizations throughout the world. And everything she’s done, she’s done by being exactly who she is.
The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, given by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, honors people who have had an impact on American society in the tradition of Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, as a social commentator and satirist. Ellen’s honored work includes her stand-up act, her show, her hosting gigs, and her books. She is the 15th recipient.
In response to the award, Ellen released a statement. “It’s such an honor to receive the Mark Twain Prize. To get the same award that has been given to people like Bill Cosby, Tina Fey and Will Ferrell, it really makes me wonder … why didn’t I get this sooner?”
It’s all about timing.
Join us in congratulating Ellen DeGeneres on this well-deserved honor.