David Letterman Receives Mark Twain Award For American Comedy

Oct 23, 2017
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Anytime you get a chance to quote Mark Twain, just do that. Mark Twain once wrote, against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand. It was an assault of laughter last night when David Letterman received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: When David Letterman left late-night TV, he grew a bushy, white beard. Martin Short and Steve Martin couldn't resist.

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STEVE MARTIN: Dave has always had spot-on comedic instincts.

MARTIN SHORT: Absolutely.

MARTIN: What better time than right now to insist on looking like a Confederate war general?

(LAUGHTER)

BLAIR: When Amy Schumer walked onstage, she took a look at the audience.

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AMY SCHUMER: Thank you. Thank all four of you black people.

BLAIR: It's still mostly white men sitting behind the late-night TV desk. Jimmy Kimmel said all of them learned from watching Letterman.

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JIMMY KIMMEL: We know he's funny - probably the funniest and inventive, too. He threw melons from a building. He crushed toasters with steamrollers. He did so many ridiculous things in the middle of the night.

BLAIR: The monkey cam, the Top 10 list - here's a clip from the time he did a shift at Taco Bell.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

DAVID LETTERMAN: Can you order a little more food?

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED CUSTOMER: What?

LETTERMAN: I am one taco supreme away from being employee of the month.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

BLAIR: Letterman hosted Late night for 33 years. His every-man style, his curiosity, his deadpan delivery made even his quintuple bypass surgery funny.

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LETTERMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, after what I have been through, I am just happy to be wearing clothing that opens in the front.

(LAUGHTER)

BLAIR: When it was time for Letterman to make closing remarks at the ceremony last night, he thanked the hundreds and hundreds of people who helped him along the way. He ended the night quoting Mark Twain.

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LETTERMAN: And it has to do with patriotism - and Mark Twain's definition of patriotism is this, patriotism is supporting your country all the time and your government when it deserves it.

(APPLAUSE)

BLAIR: David Letterman receiving the 20th Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center - the show will be broadcast on PBS next month. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.