By Jacqueline Trescott
Wednesday, May 26, 2010; C01
Tina Fey can dust off another place on her trophy shelf. The Kennedy Center announced Tuesday that the comedian will receive this year's Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
And before anyone asks, let's settle the question of honoring someone who's a mere 40 years old. "It does change the paradigm a bit," said Mark Krantz, co-executive producer of the Twain salute. Fey is the youngest recipient in the award's 13 years. "A lot of people felt it was a lifetime achievement award for an old person. It never has been. It is a prize, really, about somebody's depth and talent."
Fey's response to being chosen illustrates why audiences love this groundbreaking writer and actress. She said: "I assume Betty White was disqualified for steroid use."
"Like Mark Twain, Tina Fey offers her brilliance unconditionally," said David M. Rubenstein, the center's chairman. "Throughout her career, she's earned legions of fans for her quick, unapologetic wit and social commentary."
Fey, a 1992 graduate of the University of Virginia, honed her skills with the Second City improv troupe in Chicago, following the likes of John Belushi, Gilda Radner and Mike Myers. For nine years, Fey was part of the "Saturday Night Live" skit laboratory, becoming the first female head writer for the show.
Since 2006, Fey has been the executive producer and cast member of "30 Rock," NBC's showbiz comedy. Her work on the show has brought her two Emmys, two Golden Globes and four Screen Actors Guild Awards. The show itself has won three Emmys. Fey joked about its mediocre ratings, however, at the Emmys ceremony in 2007, when the show won for Outstanding Comedy Series. She thanked its "dozens and dozens of viewers."
Her portrayal of Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential campaign pulled Fey back into the "SNL" fold and earned her an Emmy. Although the former Alaska governor has had harsh words for Fey and other entertainers who have been critical of her, she also tried to win points as a good sport by appearing on "SNL" during the height of the Fey-as-Palin craze.
Fey's film credits include "Mean Girls," "Baby Mama" and "Date Night," a current release co-starring Steve Carell.
Krantz says Fey is not the relative newcomer she might seem. "It feels to the world that she has just broken out, but she hasn't. There is a whole generation of what I consider to be almost classic, groundbreaking entertainers under 40. It is not the oldest that count, but who makes us laugh," Krantz said.
"I told Carl Reiner about Tina's selection, and he thought she was a terrific choice, and he is 90," Krantz said. (Actually, Reiner is 88.)
Besides Reiner, previous winners, chosen by the Kennedy Center board in consultation with the producers of the ceremony's telecast, are Whoopi Goldberg, Richard Pryor, Neil Simon, Lily Tomlin, Bill Cosby, Billy Crystal, Jonathan Winters, Bob Newhart, Lorne Michaels, Steve Martin and George Carlin.
The award will be presented Nov. 9 and the show televised at a later date. Krantz said he is expecting an all-star lineup of guests.
"She is at her apex," Krantz said, "and that's interesting."