Ellen DeGeneres, known for humor that beseeches love and acceptance and her trailblazing gay character on the 90s sitcom Ellen, will receive the nation’s top humor prize this year. The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced that the comedian, actress and host of her self-titled afternoon talk show, will receive the 15th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. She will officially be honored Oct. 22 in a star-studded tribute show that will be broadcast at a later date.
DeGeneres made history in 1997 when her character on the ABC sitcom revealed she was gay, likely the unfortunate cause of the show’s demise that quickly followed. The actress simultaneously came out on a Time cover. Ellen paved the way for future shows to portray gay characters, including the taboo-breaking characters in Will and Grace, Glee and Modern Family.
Despite the risks she’s taken, the comedian makes people laugh across political lines, says Cappy McGarr, an executive producer for the Mark Twain Prize show and a board member of the Kennedy Center. He admires DeGeneres’ “special style of observational humor,” which is “in the tradition of Twain.”
DeGeneres joins past honorees like Bill Cosby, Tina Fey, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin and Will Ferrell, in receiving the prestigious award. The Mark Twain prize honors people who have an impact on society in the tradition of writer Samuel Clemens (published under the famous pseudonym “Mark Twain”), whose work offered social commentary through satire.
“She’s not just a comedian,” McGarr said. “She’s really a miracle worker. She got the president to dance, the first lady to do pushups and Tom Delay to laugh.”