Comedian Kevin Hart honored with Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Prize for humor

Kevin Hart reacts during the 25th Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, U.S., March 24, 2024. REUTERS/Nathan Howard

By Jeff Mason

The Kennedy Center honored comedian Kevin Hart with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on Sunday with an evening that featured routines from fellow comics Dave Chappelle, Chelsea Handler and Jerry Seinfeld in tribute to Hart’s career.

In a recorded show that will air on May 11 on Netflix, Hart’s peers celebrated him with a mix of humor, profanity and emotion.

“You remind me … why I love comedy so much,” Chappelle, a previous winner of the award, told Hart from the Kennedy Center stage, quipping that he had given up a trip to Jamaica to attend. “I am honored to know somebody like you. I really wish you had come when I won this award.”

Hart, 44, became the 25th recipient of the prize, which the Kennedy Center has previously bestowed on Adam Sandler, Whoopi Goldberg, Jon Stewart, and Carol Burnett. Hart called the award amazing and thanked his peers for “showing up.”

Known for films such as “Ride Along,” “Central Intelligence,” and “Fatherhood,” Hart has achieved success as a comic, a movie and television actor, and as a producer and businessman. He launched the media company HARTBEAT in 2022.

Handler ribbed Hart for telling her on the talk show she hosted in the early 2000s that he was headed for greatness.

“It was clear from the moment we met that he was destined for superstardom, especially when he told me he was destined for superstardom,” she deadpanned.

“I admired his pluck … as well as his drive and determination and the unrelenting hard work that brought him here tonight to a place where the talk show host he told he was destined for superstardom is now presenting him with a lifetime achievement award.”

Kevin Hart poses with his family during the 25th Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, U.S., March 24, 2024. REUTERS/Nathan Howard

Seinfeld called Hart the most likable human in history with an ideal last name. “If you look at Kevin Hart’s career, it doesn’t look like it was that hard to do,” he joked.

Comedian Keith Robinson, a stroke survivor, delivered a sendup of himself and the honoree, drawing roars from the crowd with a story about calling Hart after being put in a hospital’s COVID ward. Hart said he would handle the issue and then, according to Robinson, failed to deliver.

“My New Year’s resolution: no more strokes,” Robinson said.

Comedian Chris Rock said Hart had taken his advice to find his own voice and used it to surpass him as a star. He jokingly praised the wealthy entertainer’s performance in the movie “The Upside” with actor Bryan Cranston.

“The best acting Kevin Hart has ever done because … he had to act like he had less money than Bryan Cranston,” Rock said.

In 2018 Hart stepped down as the host of the following year’s Oscar ceremony and apologized for “insensitive” words he had posted on Twitter about gays. Deborah Rutter, president of the Kennedy Center, said that incident had not given her pause about presenting him with the award.

“The thing with … comedy is that, it makes everybody … a little bit uncomfortable,” she said.

Other recipients of the Mark Twain Prize include Julia Louis-Dreyfus, David Letterman, Tina Fey, Eddie Murphy and Ellen DeGeneres.

The prize is named after novelist and essayist Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain.

—Reuters

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