Dave Chappelle to receive Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Prize this fall


Byah! The Kennedy Center just selected its first D.C.-born recipient of the Mark Twain Prize.

Stand-up and sketch comedy icon Dave Chappelle will receive the 22nd annual prize on Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019 in a star-studded program to be broadcast on PBS on Jan. 6, 2020.

“Dave is the embodiment of Mark Twain’s observation that ‘against the assault of humor, nothing can stand,'” Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter said in a statement. “For three decades, Dave has challenged us to see hot-button issues from his entirely original yet relatable perspective. Dave is a hometown hero here in Washington, D.C., where he grew up. We’re so looking forward to welcoming him back home.”

As a 14-year-old student at D.C.’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Chappelle crafted his stand-up comedy act out of the realities of his life growing up black in the nation’s capital.

He later became the mastermind behind the 2003 sketch comedy hit, “The Chappelle Show,” one of the highest-rated programs on Comedy Central. The show earned three Emmy nominations and became the best-selling TV show in DVD history.

Feature film credits include Bradley Cooper’s award-winning remake of “A Star is Born,” Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq,” as well as “Undercover Brother,” “Screwed,” “Blue Streak,” “200 Cigarettes,” “You’ve Got Mail,” “Woo,” “Half Baked,” “The Real Blonde,” “Con Air,” “Joe’s Apartment,” “The Nutty Professor,” “Getting In,” “Undercover Blues” and “Robin Hood: Men in Tights.”

In 2000, Chappelle recorded his first hourlong comedy special in D.C. for HBO, “Dave Chappelle: Killin’ Them Softly.” Chappelle’s second comedy special, “Dave Chappelle: For What It’s Worth,” was filmed in San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium and aired on Showtime in 2004.

Arguably the most-touring comic on the circuit, Chappelle has performed more than 1,600 concerts
worldwide in the past four years, selling out shows within minutes of their announcements.

The past few years have been banner for Chappelle. In 2017, he received his first Emmy Award for his debut episode on “Saturday Night Live.” His memorable, panoramic monologue was the comic relief the country needed following the divisive 2016 presidential election.

Chappelle celebrated his 30th year in comedy by releasing not one, but four highly anticipated stand-up specials on Netflix. The first two specials, “The Age of Spin” and “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” were released in March 2017. That summer, Chappelle took up residency at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, selling more than 90,000 tickets and performing 16 shows that included 58 guests representing the biggest names in comedy and music.

He capped off the year by releasing the remaining two specials, “Equanimity” and “The Bird Revelations” on New Year’s Eve. All four specials were delivered on vinyl as double-feature albums and received Grammy Awards for Best Comedy Album in 2018 and 2019.

Pollstar awarded Chappelle with Comedy Tour of The Year in 2014 and 2018, and he captured his second Emmy for Outstanding Variety Special with “Equanimity” in 2018.

As recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, Chappelle will receive a copy of an 1884 bronze portrait bust of Mark Twain sculpted by Karl Gerhardt.

Previous recipients include Richard Pryor (1998), Jonathan Winters (1999), Carl Reiner (2000), Whoopi Goldberg (2001), Bob Newhart (2002), Lily Tomlin (2003), Lorne Michaels (2004), Steve Martin (2005), Neil Simon (2006), Billy Crystal (2007), George Carlin (2008), Bill Cosby (2009; rescinded in 2018), Tina Fey (2010), Will Ferrell (2011), Ellen DeGeneres (2012), Carol Burnett (2013), Jay Leno (2014), Eddie Murphy (2015), Bill Murray (2016), David Letterman (2017) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (2018).

The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor recognizes individuals who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th-century novelist and essayist Samuel Clemens, best known as Mark Twain. As a social commentator, satirist and creator of characters, Clemens was a fearless observer of society, who startled many while delighting and informing many more with his uncompromising perspective on social injustice and personal folly.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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