Reports of comedy’s death have been greatly exaggerated. And with it being 100 years since the death of the man nearly responsible for that phrase, the latest winner of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor couldn’t have gone to a more deserving recipient.
Tina Fey, the pocket-sized comedic dynamo who has put her distinct touch on the likes of Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, Mean Girls, Baby Mama and Date Night (well, let’s not dwell for too long on that last one) became the 13th recipient of the award. She’s the third female winner (in addition to Whoopi Goldberg and Lily Tomlin) but, at 40, the youngest.
Her acceptance speech Tuesday night ran the gamut of various references. From Sarah Palin (“I guess what I’m saying is, this whole thing might be my fault.”) to comparing the event (the Kennedy Center will soon be known as “the tea party bowling alley and rifle range”) to her wedding (“only the ceilings weren’t this high”). And there was a self-deprecating passage as Fey admitted she never dreamed of winning the Twain Prize but rather “the Judy Blume Prize for awkward puberty or the Harper Lee Prize for small bodies of work.”
Famous faces showed up to shower Fey with praise. Alec Baldwin arguably stole the show by harnessing the spirit of Mark Twain (wearing a mustache, Baldwin/Twain noted, “Tina, well that’s a funny name for a man,” so shocked was he to learn a woman had won because “their brains aren’t shaped right.”) Amy Poehler, Tracy Morgan, Jimmy Fallon, Lorne Michaels and Betty White also paid their respects.
The prize has tended to go to comedians in, shall we kindly state, the twilight of their careers (last year’s winner was Bill Cosby) whereas Fey is still riding high. But she’s nothing if not pioneering, as proven by her being the first female head writer on SNL. And how that show could still do with her on a weekly basis.
Naturally, we should give the last word to this year’s recipient. You might choose various adjectives to describe her style of comedy but, for Fey, it’s “so typically Austrian.”