Recently the Kennedy Center bestowed the Mark Twain Prize upon Will Ferrell. I like Will Ferrell. I think he is pretty darn funny. Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Old School, Step Brothers, Buddy the Elf, all hilarious movies. His SNL skits were some of the funniest ever. That being said, I think his selection for the Mark Twain Prize was premature, if he deserves it at all. And while we’re at it I would like to sound the trumpet of my even greater disapproval over Tina Fey receiving the award last year. I mean Tina Fey is ok, she is kind of funny. I know you 30 Rock people aren’t going to like this but when I look at her I don’t think of comedic greatness that should be honored. At this point in her career she has had some success but not nearly enough to be honored by the Kennedy Center. It’s not that I don’t like these two; I think they are both very funny, I just don’t think they deserved an award like this, at least not yet.
Maybe I just don’t understand exactly what the point of the award is. Is it a lifetime achievement award to commemorate an entire career in the field of comedy? The title says, “Honoring someone who makes a substantial contribution to comedy”. It would seem to me that there are others in the world of comedy who could be more worthy of the award than Tina Fey and Will Ferrell. John Belushi, Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, Jon Stewart, Lenny Bruce, Rodney Dangerfield (to name few) all seem to have made substantial contributions to comedy and have been around longer than both Tina Fey and Will Ferrell and have not received this honor. Further, when you compare the two most recent recipients to some of the people who have already received this honor; George Carlin, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, Billy Crystal, and Steve Martin, do they really compare? I mean for crying out loud, George Carlin was in show business for fifty freakin years before he was given this prize.
Now with that being said, I am going to try to make my point here as concisely as possible without sounding like too much of a hater. If the “Prize” is a quasi-lifetime achievement award then I think we can certainly make better cases for other individuals besides Fey and Ferrell. True they both have had some success in the last ten years. Tina Fey was even head writer at SNL for a number of years prior to gaining the heavy acclaim with which she is now bestowed. And though Will Ferrell has probably had slightly more success than Tina Fey, he still in my opinion has fallen short of receiving a lifetime achievement award. I don’t know what the criteria are for the Kennedy Center when they choose a winner. But I have come to the conclusion that the selection process is flawed at best and at worst it has rendered this prize pointless. Just like the Grammys and many of the other industry awards that are given out, it becomes a popularity contest and loses its purity. Once it has lost its purity it loses its meaning. This is a sad thing to say about an award given out by the Kennedy Center.
Even sadder still is the fact that there are candidates out there that probably are qualified. Many of which I have already named but I will point to one whom I think is more than qualified, who has been in the business of comedy for quite some time, who has opened the doors for other comedians, and who is very popular. Naturally I speak of Jon Stewart. If the Kennedy Center wants to save some face and add some prestige back to their award they will give it to Jon Stewart next year. He has been around going on twenty years, his stuff is absolutely hilarious, and he has helped launch the careers of many others in the world of comedy including, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, and Ed Helms who have gone on to do big things; as well as the guys on his current staff like Wyatt Cenac, Aasif Mandvi, and John Oliver. I think most people would be hard pressed to find a better candidate than that.