Like Mark Twain, David Letterman distinguished himself as a cockeyed, deadpan observer of American behavior and, later in life, for his prodigious and distinctive facial hair.
Now the two satirists share a further connection: On Tuesday, Letterman was named the next recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, the award granted annually by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Letterman, the former host of NBC’s “Late Night” and CBS’ “Late Show,” stepped aside from his innovative after-hours comedy programs in 2015 to pursue other passions and cultivate a topiary-like beard. He will officially receive the prize in a ceremony that will be held Oct. 22 and broadcast at a later date.
Deborah Rutter, the president of the Kennedy Center, said in a statement: “For decades, David Letterman delivered comedy to America that was smart, authentic and, frankly, what many of us came to rely upon to elevate our spirits after a long day. Raise your hand if, like me, you shifted your bedtime because you didn’t want to miss a moment of Dave on television lest you not be part of the conversation with friends and co-workers the next day.”
Letterman said: “This is an exciting honor. For 33 years, there was no better guest, no greater friend of the show, than Mark Twain. The guy could really tell a story.”
Previous winners of the Mark Twain Prize include Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Jay Leno, Carol Burnett and Ellen DeGeneres.