Ellen DeGeneres Receives Humor Prize at Kennedy Center

| October 23, 2012 | Homepage Latest The Latest

As the recipient of the 15th Annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, television show host and comedian Ellen DeGeneres stepped onto the red carpet at the The Kennedy Center to the sound of applause. Walking with her wife Portia de Rossi on the evening of October 22, she greeted attendees and chatted candidly about her career trajectory—from her early years to her ground-breaking 1997 announcement that she is gay. With her talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, entering its ninth season this September, and winning 35 Daytime Emmy Awards over its run, notable guests—including Sean Hayes, Jane Lynch, and Jimmy Kimmelpraised the entertainment legend.

“What I appreciate is what everybody appreciates, which is that kind of universal, all-around, observational, very relatable comedy voice,” said Hayes of his longtime friend. “And I think that’s why she’s so popular and so loved because nobody’s doing that. Everybody is sort of mean-spirited these days, and we look at her to kind of laugh at everyday life things.”

“Ellen has a way of making nothing into something,” added Kimmel. “It’s very difficult to do. She can take a letter from a viewer and do a 20-minute segment on it.”

Attendees called out her kind humor throughout the evening. “Her comedy is always so good-willed and fair-minded, said actor John Leguizamo, who admires DeGeneres personally and professionally. “She spreads so much love in her humor because most comedians are scary, dark human beings—like myself—and she’s not like that. There is nobody else, also, who is so much themselves like she is.”

And because she is herself, DeGeneres has affected others. “That one night in 1990-something when she came out of the closet personally and on her show…we all held our breath and thought: ‘Will Ellen have a career after this?’” recalled Lynch, standing tall on the crimson carpet. “And she was brave enough and had the stones to stand up and be counted, which a lot of people have been afraid to do. So for that bravery I am deeply indebted to her, [because] the path I walk today has been cleared by her. So I can kind of amble down it and be who I am, and walk around with my wife and talk about my family.”

DeGeneres, however, says that she didn’t realize how much of an impact she would make—as a comic or as a leader. “I was not a class clown. I was not somebody that thought I was funny,” she explained before the program began. “I didn’t think it was very important for me to tell everybody that I was funny. [I had] more of the subtle, dry humor.”

But would the prizewinner consider herself brave, like so many others do? “I think that courage is not doing something because you’re not scared of it [but] doing it in spite of the fact that you’re scared of it,” she said, serious for a moment. “And I was definitely scared of coming out and scared of what would happen. And I did it anyway because it was the right thing to do. So I guess that’s courageous. It gave me more courage by doing that.”

Read more from the 15th Annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor event, as Capitol File asks celebrities if they find Obama or Romney funnier>>

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