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Ellen DeGeneres to receive top humor prize in DC

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT

WASHINGTON (AP) – Jane Lynch and John Leguizamo are joining a lineup that includes Jimmy Kimmel and Kristin Chenoweth to honor Ellen DeGeneres with the nation’s top humor prize in Washington.

The Kennedy Center is awarding DeGeneres the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on Monday night. The show will be broadcast Oct. 30 on PBS stations.

Star entertainers will deliver tribute performances to salute DeGeneres, 54. The lineup includes Jason Mraz, John Krasinski and Sean Hayes.

When she first heard she was receiving the same honor that Bill Cosby, Tina Fey and Will Ferrell won in recent years, DeGeneres joked, “It really makes me wonder ... why didn’t I get this sooner?”

DeGeneres began her career as a comedy club emcee in her native New Orleans.

In 1986 after she performed on Johnny Carson’s show, he invited her over to his desk chat. She was the first female comedian to receive that invitation from Carson.

Turning to acting, DeGeneres landed sitcoms on Fox and ABC, eventually starring in “Ellen” from 1994 to 1998. She broke new ground and a taboo in 1997 when she came out publicly as a lesbian and her TV persona then became the first lead character on prime-time TV to reveal she was gay. A record 46 million viewers watched the episode.

The show began to tank, though, and was canceled a year later. The feeling of rejection was enough to send DeGeneres into a depression. Still, “Ellen” paved the way for future shows to feature gay characters, from “Will and Grace” to “Modern Family.”

DeGeneres came back with a CBS sitcom, movie roles and even a stint as an “American Idol” judge. Forbes magazine has ranked her as the 47th most powerful woman in the world and estimated her earnings at $53 million last year.

Her hit talk show that debuted in 2003 is now in its 10th season. Among other achievements, that’s where she eventually persuaded President Barack Obama to dance.

“She’s brilliantly shined a light on society, and that’s what Mark Twain did,” said Cappy McGarr, an executive producer for the Mark Twain Prize show, when the award was announced in May.

The prize honors comedians in Mark Twain’s tradition of satire and social commentary. Past winners include Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin and Whoopi Goldberg.

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Follow Brett Zongker on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DCArtBeat

 

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