18 October 2018, Kennedy Center, Washington DC, USA
Thank you. Thank you very much, thank you very much. Thank you so much. Stop, okay sit. Thank you. Thank you very much.
When Mark Twain first emailed me about the Mark Twain prize, I have to admit I totally misunderstood. I assumed that I was being asked to honour somebody else who was receiving the Mark Twain prize and I thought, oh my God what a hassle. I mean seriously, who would put me through this to have to go all the way to Washington D.C. which no offence, is a nightmare and make up flattering things to say about how funny someone else is. No fucking way.
And then I reread the email and I realised oh, it's me. They're giving it to me. I get the prize and my attitude about the whole thing changed. It really did. I don't know, honestly. I really don't know what I was thinking, this is a great night and a great honour and in beautiful Washington D.C. no less. Anybody would be lucky to be a part of a night like this honouring somebody like me, right?
As a great fan of the work of Mark Twain I was so sorry when I recently learned he was dead. My thoughts and prayers go out to the whole Twain family, especially the wonderful Shania. Unfortunately the President of the United States couldn't make it tonight either, even though he lives in the neighbourhood Mondays through Wednesdays.
I am so lucky to have been on television doing comedy for more than 35 years, isn't that ridiculous? The really ridiculous thing is that I am just as good at drama. Yeah, I'm going to tell you a little story, it's a little trivia. The very same week that I got cast in Seinfeld I was being considered for the juicy little part of Portia in director Sir Peter Hall's Broadway production of The Merchant of Venice. Apparently I didn't get the part since someone else eventually played the role on this stage and of course I'm happy that I didn't get that part because if I had I would have never have played Elaine on Seinfeld and without Seinfeld I would not be here today. So it worked out great, totally fabulous no regrets here, none at all. None whatsoever.
Anyway I think it's time for me to get into some serious thank yous. Abbi and Ilana thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule. Just to be completely clear, I gave an excellent audition for Merchant of Venice, okay? I mean just objectively speaking now. I nailed it, okay? So I'm just a little confused as to why Peter Hall didn't cast me. That's all, that's all. I'm not upset obviously because I love comedy and I love my career. So, where was I? Oh, yes, yes, yes. Keegan oh, my god Keegan-Micheal Key thank you so much for being here on my special night …
Look Sir Peter Hall might have made a mistake, okay. My audition was Portia's speech about mercy. You all probably know the scene. I mean obviously I am not gonna perform it right now because that would be a pretty weird tangent to hear Shakespeare intelligently and energetically performed in a middle of a comedy tribute to me, so.
Camille thank you for being here. It is so inspiring that you were able to co-opt your wife's harrowing medical ordeal for an Oscar nomination. Bryan Cranston you are a truly incomparable talent and a pleasure to work with. When I think of us on Seinfeld …
Look I'm just gonna do it. You want to hear it, right? I can do Shakespeare, okay.
The quality of mercy is not strained, it dropeth as a gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed, it blessed of him that gives and him that takes.
Thank you. Thank you. And Stephen Colbert, my fellow Northwestern alum, thank you so much for being here. You are my every night hero when at 11:35 a nation turns its lonely eyes to you, woo, woo, woo.
Stephen used to play a manic conservative and now he plays a depressed liberal - that is range ladies and gentlemen. It is so great to see Lisa Kudrow here, setting me up just like in the old days when Friends would set up Seinfeld and just like in the old days Jerry's got all the money. And my darling dear, sweet Tony Hale. If I weren't already married and Bryan and Keegan weren't already married and if you weren't already married then I'd definitely get your opinion about any guy I was dating before marrying him.
And Tina Fey you are a comedy genius whom I admire above all humans. Tina was honoured with the Mark Twain prize too before they got real serious about who they give these things to. And thanks to my wonderful neighbour Jack Johnson. I was going to make a joke about Jack Johnson but for the love of god can't something remain sacred this evening?
And finally to my wonderful friend Jerry Seinfeld. I learned a lot from Jer over the years, principally the importance of hard work. Jerry killed himself to make Seinfeld good. He and Larry David worked so hard it is actually it is impossible to describe and they didn't just do it to make the show successful because once it was successful they worked even harder. And I hope a little of that rubbed off on me.
I grew up here in Washington D.C. back during the quaint old fashioned rule of law period. Being funny was a big part of my growing up. My great grandmother Bessy was the first person I remember telling jokes. She was in her 90s and I was really little and she would do these extremely repulsive impressions of her first grade teacher having life-threatening seizures. At least I think it was an impression. Anyway, either way I realised now that it was offensive and she was way, way out of line. But when I was five years old, hilarious stuff.
My mom and dad got divorced when I was three, also hilarious. My mom is actually here tonight with 80 of her closest friends. Last year I was lucky enough to get an Emmy Award for my performance on Veep which was an incredible thrill and it set some kind of a record for the most Emmys by somebody for doing something or other and then about twelve hours later I was diagnosed with cancer, another hilarious turn of events. I'm only half kidding, of course cancer isn't at all funny, but a big part of dealing with it has been finding the funny moment. The old cliché about laughter being the best medicine turns out to be true which is good because that's what the current administration is trying to replace Obamacare with.
When I was getting my hideous chemotherapy I'd cram a bunch of family and friends into this tiny treatment room with me and we really did have some great laughs. Of course I was heavily medicated and slipping in and out of consciousness so I was probably a pretty easy audience. But my point is, is that laughter is a basic human need along with love and food and an HBO subscription. There's no situation, none that isn't improved with a couple of laughs. Everybody needs laughs so the fact that I've had the opportunity to make people laugh for a living is one of the many blessings that I have received in my life. Okay.
According to Wikipedia I have two sons Charlie and Henry. When you're a working mother, oh, you really worry about the time spent away from your kids. You try your best to be there as much as possible, but the truth is, is that you miss stuff and you worry that they're gonna get all screwed up and suffer all kinds of angst and neurosis when they grow up and then you get the Mark Twain prize. I got to say it's worth it.
I'd also like to acknowledge my cherished husband Brad Hall who I didn't just marry because his name sounds like Peter Hall and it kind of felt like I was getting the part, no. Brad never fails to show up at events like this, this very one he puts on a suit, he puts on a smile and is the most supportive and present spouse in the world. No, nope, no. Yes thank you.
Thank you so, so much dear Brad. Thank you. And finally thanks to Mark and Mrs. Twain and to everyone who has participated in this exhausting evening. Thank you so much and good evening and thank you.
Related content: Tina Fey, Mark Twain Award Acceptance, 2010
“I never dreamed that I would receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humour. Mostly because my style is so typically Austrian.”