WASHINGTON — Comedian Kevin Hart has been chosen to receive the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Prize for lifetime achievement in American humor, capping a three-decade career that has seen him rise from the open mics of Philadelphia to become one of his generation’s most successful performers.
Hart, 44, launched his career as a teenager performing at venues such as The Laff House in his native Philadelphia under the name of Lil Kev. He recalled his early stand-up performances as a string of brutal failures that included being booed off the stage multiple times and at one point, he claimed, having a piece of chicken thrown at him on stage.
Gradually, Hart honed a signature style that combined his diminutive stature, expressive face and motormouth delivery and made him a wildly successful touring act. He made his movie debut in the 2002 film “Paper Soldiers” and came to mainstream fame through a string of scene-stealing cameos in mega-hits such as 2005’s “The 40-Year-Old-Virgin.”
Hart has gone on to become one of the country’s most bankable and ubiquitous performers, with 11 of his films opening at No. 1 at the box office. All told, his films have grossed more than $4.23 billion in global revenue.
“For over three decades, Kevin Hart has been a source of laughter across America and throughout the world with his iconic characters, inimitable physical comedy, and relatable narratives,” Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter said in a statement Wednesday. “We express our gratitude to Kevin for enriching American culture and look forward to celebrating his exceptional career.”
Now in its 25th year, the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor annually honors performers who have made a lasting impact on humor and culture. Honorees receive a bronze bust of Twain, the iconic American writer and satirist whose real name was Samuel Clemens.
Hart, in a statement, noted that the launch of the Mark Twain Prize in 1998, with inaugural recipient Richard Pryor, basically coincided with the start of his comedic career.
“To be honored in this commemorative year feels surreal,” Hart said. “Comedy is my outlet for social commentary and observations on life. I am grateful to the Kennedy Center for recognizing my voice and impact on culture.”
Hart will receive his prize at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts on March 24. The ceremony will be broadcast later on a dated to be determined.
Mark Twain recipients are honored with a night of testimonials and video tributes, often featuring previous award winners. Other comedians receiving the lifetime achievement award include George Carlin, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Newhart, Carol Burnett and Dave Chapelle. Bill Cosby, the 2009 recipient, had his Mark Twain Prize rescinded in 2019 amid multiple allegations of sexual assault.