Poll: After Dave Chappelle, who should receive next Mark Twain Prize?

October 29, 2019

Jerry Seinfeld, left, and Chris Rock attend the premiere of "Top Five" at the Ziegfeld Theatre on Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

April 2, 2023 | (Jason Fraley)

Another year is in the books for the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, as the Kennedy Center honored this year’s recipient Dave Chappelle Sunday night.

So that begs the question: Who should be next year’s worthy recipient?

So far, the prize has gone to 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Michaels (2004), Steve Martin (2005), Neil Simon (2006), Billy Crystal (2007), George Carlin (2008), Bill Cosby (2009; rescinded in 2018), Tina Fey (2010), Will Ferrell (2011), Ellen DeGeneres (2012), Carol Burnett (2013), Jay Leno (2014), Eddie Murphy (2015), Bill Murray (2016), David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), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (2018) and Dave Chappelle (2019).

The Kennedy Center tends to honor living comedians, so a posthumous prize probably isn’t going to happen. It’s a tragedy we’ll likely never see it go to Robin Williams, Lucille Ball, Rodney Dangerfield, Joan Rivers, Groucho Marx, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, The Three Stooges, Abbott & Costello, Lenny Bruce, Mary Tyler Moore, Johnny Carson, Garry Shandling, Dick Gregory, George Burns, John Belushi, Redd Foxx, Harold Ramis, John Hughes, Gilda Radner, Leslie Nielsen, Jerry Lewis, Andy Kaufman, Madeline Kahn, Bernie Mac, Don Rickles, Chris Farley or Mitch Hedberg.

Instead, we must focus our attention on living legends. A few years ago on the Kennedy Center red carpet, Jerry Seinfeld shrugged and told WTOP, “I don’t know what I have to achieve in comedy to win that thing.”

But he’s not the only overdue recipient.

Here’s my best case for the Top 10 (living) comedians who deserve the prize:

10. Melissa McCarthy – Since defiling a bathroom sink over food poisoning in “Bridesmaids,” McCarthy has become a one-woman wrecking crew of comedy and the unexpected heir apparent to Chris Farley’s pratfall brand of humor.

9. Mike Myers – If the Twain Prize already made an exception for Canadian-American Lorne Michaels, the same should be done for the dual citizenship of Mike Myers. His body of work is undeniable from memorable characters like Stuart and Simon on “Saturday Night Live” to his blockbuster franchises with “Wayne’s World,” “Austin Powers” and “Shrek.” I mean, Dr. Evil!

8. Adam Sandler – He might seem too lowbrow for a Kennedy Center ceremony, but his recent “SNL” return reminded us of his plethora of iconic bits including Opera Man, Cajun Man, “Lunch Lady Land” and “The Hanukah Song.” Not to mention, his box office reign of “Billy Madison,” “Happy Gilmore,” “The Wedding Singer,” “The Waterboy,” “Big Daddy,” “Punch-Drunk Love” and “50 First Dates.”

7. Amy Poehler – If Tina Fey received the Mark Twain Prize in 2010, her hilarious Golden Globe co-host is just as deserving. Poehler gave us countless sketches on “Saturday Night Live,” one of the most successful sitcoms in “Parks and Recreation,” and even voiced the main character in Pixar’s “Inside Out.”

6. Jon Stewart – Every night from 1999 to 2015, Jon Stewart hosted “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central, creating an institution of political satire that held politicians accountable and launched countless careers with correspondents like Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver and Samantha Bee.

5. Jim Carrey – After Fire Marshall Bill on “In Living Color,” Jim Carrey rattled off countless blockbusters in “Ace Ventura,” “The Mask,” “Dumb and Dumber,” “Liar Liar,” “The Truman Show,” “Man on the Moon,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Bruce Almighty,” not to mention an over-the-top Grinch and Riddler. If you saw his doc “Jim & Andy,” you’d believe him possessed by Andy Kaufman.

4. Steve Carell – After show-stealing support in “Anchorman,” “Bruce Almighty” and “The Daily Show,” Steve Carell advanced to leading man status with “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (“Ahhh, Kelly Clarkson!”) as well as memorable parts in “Little Miss Sunshine” and “The Way Way Back.” Still, his lasting legacy will be “The Office,” turning Michael Scott into a household name with genius deadpan at Dunder Mufflin.

3. Chris Rock – Now that Dave Chappelle finally got one, Chris Rock has to be on the short list. After his stint on “Saturday Night Live” in the early ’90s, Rock soon rivaled Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy for the funniest stand-up specials ever created in HBO’s “Bring the Pain,” “Bigger and Blacker” and “Never Scared,” spoofing society with fiery, imitable delivery: “Do you want a cookie?”

2. Jerry Seinfeld – What’s the deal with the creator of the No. 1 sitcom of all time not having a Mark Twain Prize? Working with co-creator Larry David (who should also receive one soon), “Seinfeld” gave us the legendary antics of Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer, while inventing an entirely new style of comedy in a “show about nothing.” To this day, he routinely documents the genre’s greatest minds in “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”

1. Mel Brooks – Easily the biggest snub remains spoof master Mel Brooks, the writer and director of the funniest films of all time. After iconic sketches like “The 2,000 Year Old Man” and TV series like “Get Smart,” Brooks broke onto the big screen with his Oscar-winning “The Producers” (1968), followed by “Blazing Saddles” (1974), “Young Frankenstein” (1974), “History of the World: Part 1” (1981), “Spaceballs” (1988) and “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” (1993), which coincidentally featured a young Chapelle. At age 93, Brooks better be next!


Other Contenders

Larry David, Kristen Wiig, Conan O’Brien, Ali Wong, Ivan Reitman, Cloris Leachman, Dana Carvey, Martin Lawrence, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Dan Aykroyd, Jeff Foxworthy, Albert Brooks, Amy Schumer, Kate McKinnon, Larry the Cable Guy, Key and Peele, Alec Baldwin, Lisa Kudrow, Wayans Brothers, Sacha Baron Cohen, Judd Apatow, Aziz Ansari, Kevin Hart, Paula Poundstone, Ted Danson, Steve Harvey, Jamie Foxx, Molly Ringwald, Sinbad, Tim Allen, Tiffany Haddish, Chevy Chase, David Spade, Martin Short, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Jason Bateman, Wanda Sykes, Zach Galifianakis

Who should receive it next? Vote in our poll below until noon Wednesday:

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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