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Kevin Hart will receive the Mark Twain Prize — humor's highest honor

Kevin Hart has been named winner of the 25th Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Hart will be celebrated/roasted by fellow jokesters at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in March.
Kevin Kwan
/
The Kennedy Center
Kevin Hart has been named winner of the 25th Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Hart will be celebrated/roasted by fellow jokesters at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in March.

Comedian, actor, writer and entrepreneur Kevin Hart is the winner of the 25th Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Considered the highest honor in funny business, previous recipients have included Tina Fey, Bob Newhart, David Letterman and Jon Stewart.

Hart got his start telling jokes during amateur night at a local comedy club in his native Philadelphia. Today, his standup fills stadiums, cracking up audiences with stories about dating, marital strife, his daughter's first curse word, trying to play tough while standing just over 5', his fear of rollercoasters, his drug-addicted dad who was in and out of jail ... No interaction or event seems too small for Hart's often sidesplitting treatment. Those performances have been turned into specials.

The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor honors individuals who've made an impact on American society in ways similar to the award's namesake, the satirist and social commentator who was born Samuel Clemens. The very first recipient was Richard Pryor in 1998.

"I've been doing comedy since the inception of this award 25 years ago. To be honored in this commemorative year feels surreal," says Hart in a statement. "Comedy is my outlet for social commentary and observations on life... I can't wait to celebrate!"

Hart is a box office draw. His credits include the Jumanji, Ride Along and Secret Life of Pet movies. While not always critical favorites, his 11 films have grossed more than $4.23 billion worldwide, according to the Kennedy Center.

"For over three decades, Kevin Hart has been a source of laughter across America and throughout the world with his iconic characters, inimitable physical comedy, and relatable narratives," says Kennedy Center President, Deborah F. Rutter.

Hart faced criticism when old, homophobic Tweets of his surfaced and for homophobic material from his early standup. There was an outcry when he was invited to host the 2019 Oscars. He said he was thrilled with the offer but made the decision to decline because, he Tweeted, he did not "want to be a distraction on a night that should be celebrated by so many amazing talented artists." He also apologized to the LGBTQ community.

"I'm sorry that I hurt people," he added. "I am evolving and want to continue to do so. My goal is to bring people together not tear us apart."

Hart will receive the Mark Twain Prize at a gala at the Kennedy Center on March 24, 2024. The event will be broadcast at a later date.

This story was edited for audio and digital by Rose Friedman.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.