Bill Cosby Will Receive the Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize for American Humor

By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 2, 2009

Bill Cosby, the enduringly familiar funnyman, has been selected to receive this year's Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, the Kennedy Center announced yesterday.

Cosby, 71, has been in showbiz for 50 years, with hit stand-up recordings, sitcoms, Saturday-morning cartoons and best-selling books to his credit. His wide-ranging television work includes "The Electric Company" to "I Spy" to "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids" to "The Cosby Show."

In accepting the honor, Cosby, celebrated as a sharp storyteller, issued a remembrance:

"After bathing us, dressing us in fresh pajamas, and setting us into the crib together, Annie Pearl Cosby read to my brother James and me 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,' and later 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,' " said Cosby. "I would like to apologize to Mr. Twain for falling asleep hundreds of times, but he should understand that I was only four."

In his statement, Cosby also cited Twain works that inspired him: "The Mysterious Stranger," "The Story of Jim Blaine's Grandfather's Old Ram," "How to Cure a Cold" and "How to Tell a Story."

The prizewinner is selected ultimately by the Kennedy Center board, following recommendations by center committees and former Twain winners.

"What Bill offers us is the opportunity to look at so many different things -- his stand-up, his appearances on late-night television, his movies, his TV show. Our show in every way will be diverse," said Mark Krantz, a co-executive producer of the Twain salute, which will be taped in front of a live audience at the Kennedy Center on Oct. 26 for future broadcast.

The tribute runs two hours but the televised version is usually trimmed to 90 minutes. "With Bill it will be challenging to get the show into a real 90 minutes. In the case of Steve Martin, we did two hours," said Krantz.

Past winners include: Richard Pryor, Jonathan Winters, Carl Reiner, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Newhart, Lily Tomlin, Lorne Michaels, Martin, Neil Simon, Billy Crystal and last year's recipient, George Carlin.

Cosby was a Kennedy Center Honors recipient in 1998 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002.

"Over the course of his extensive career as a stand-up comedian, writer, actor, and social activist, Bill Cosby has earned countless accolades for his groundbreaking brand of humor. He is truly one of America's most beloved comedians, a favorite of television audiences around the world," said Kennedy Center Chairman Stephen A. Schwarzman.

Throughout his career, Cosby has used his life experiences as fodder for his monologues.

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