The red carpet lining the Kennedy Center’s Hall of Nations looked like a Hollywood red carpet, paparazzi and all, on Sunday night. Photographers angled for a view, and autograph-seekers squirmed through the crowd as limo after limo arrived, each bearing a new celebrity – perhaps Tom Hanks, Larry David or Queen Latifah – to be blinded by flashbulbs.
The occasion was in honor of Steve Martin, who received the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. To celebrate the comedian, actor and writer, many of Martin’s A-list friends flew out from tinseltown to strut the red carpet and give him somewhat of a roast.
Hanks, sporting Bono-esque slicked back hair, jump-started the program, which was taped for television broadcast, with a suitable homage to Martin.
“Poems will be written about him; operas will be performed here in his name,” he said, ” . and they will all be lousy. So we might as well celebrate him now.”
The theme of ripping on Martin continued throughout the night.
“What is it like to be Steve’s friend?” asked actor Martin Short. “Well, it’s intimidating – and not just because of the guns.”
He continued, “I think that genius rubs off on us. Steve was a philosophy major in college, and there’s not a single one of us not wondering, ‘Why are we here?'”
In between speakers, clips of Martin’s films, such as “The Jerk,” “Father of the Bride” and “Bringing Down The House,” were shown, along with clips from appearances on Johnny Carson’s show and “Saturday Night Live.” The audience was also able to see a quick clip of Martin’s newest film, “Shopgirl,” which opens Friday (See “Shopgirl,” page 8).
Claire Danes, dressed elegantly in a black, off-the-shoulder number, was the only serious speaker of the evening, sharing her experience working with Martin on “Shopgirl.” Then, Diane Keaton, Martin’s co-star in the “Father of the Bride” movies, sang “The Way You Look Tonight” – but cracked up partially through the song when she looked at Martin, seated in a box above.
Larry David of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” made an appearance, along with Monty Python’s Eric Idle, singer Paul Simon, comedian Lily Tomlin, humor columnist Dave Barry, comedian Carl Reiner and Lorne Michaels of “Saturday Night Live.”
Queen Latifah discussed a particularly sexual scene in their film “Bringing Down the House,” in which she teaches Martin’s character to be less uptight.
“I’ve worked with a lot of white guys,” she said, “But Steve Martin – he’s white.”
At the end of the evening, to the tune of ragtime music, Martin emerged from his box to come onstage and accept his award.
“I am so proud to be in D.C. – which I have recently learned is the nation’s capital,” he said. “This is the only significant award for American comedy, except for money.”
“When I look at the list of people given this award, I feel very satisfied,” he said, “but when I look at the list of people who haven’t received it, I am even more satisfied.”
“The Kennedy Center Presents: The Mark Twain Prize 2005” will air on PBS Nov. 9 at 9 p.m.