Tomlin -- who has won six Emmys, two Tonys, a Grammy and two Peabody Awards -- will be honored at a gala on Oct. 26 at the Kennedy Center, to be taped for a later telecast over PBS.
She will join a list of Mark Twain Prize recipients that includes Richard Pryor, Jonathan Winters, Carl Reiner, Whoopi Goldberg and last year's winner, Bob Newhart. Tomlin is being recognized for a career in which she has created such enduring comic characters as Ernestine, the sassy telephone operator; Edith Ann, the precocious 6-year-old; and Trudy, the street-wise street person.
"Her comedy is meaningful because, like Twain's, it expresses truths we already recognize unconsciously, and she allows us to embrace our frailties without shame or embarrassment," said the Kennedy Center in a news release announcing Tomlin's selection.
"I am truly honored to be recognized in the name of Mark Twain, an American humorist who was beloved throughout his lifetime and beyond, even as he imparted a strong and vital social consciousness that still resonates today," said Tomlin in a prepared statement. "And I am truly humbled to be mentioned in the same breath as the great American humorists of our culture, the past winners of the Mark Twain Award."
Tomlin, a native of Detroit, became a star in 1969 when she joined the ensemble of NBC's classic sketch comedy series "Laugh-In." She has been nominated for 19 Emmys -- including three straight nominations from 1971-73 for "Laugh-In."
Her 1974 special "Lily" won Emmys for Outstanding Comedy-Variety Special and Best Writing in a Comedy-Variety Special. Tomlin won the Emmy in 1976 for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy-Variety or Music Special for "Lily Tomlin." She won another writing Emmy for "The Paul Simon Special" (1978).
Tomlin's 1981 special "Lily: Sold Out" won the Emmy for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Program. Her sixth Emmy came for her voiceover work as science teacher Ms. Frizzle on the animated series "The Magic School Bus."
Tomlin was also recognized for her dramatic acting, with nominations for her work in the HBO miniseries "And the Band Played On" (1994) and the NBC drama series "Homicide: Life on the Street" (1996). Tomlin recently joined the cast of NBC's Emmy-winning White House drama "The West Wing," playing President Bartlett's assistant, Debbie Fiderer. Her performance earned her a Screen Actors Guild nomination for Best Actress in a Drama Series.
She won her first Tony for her 1977 one woman Broadway show "Appearing Nitely." She won a Best Actress Tony, as well as a Drama Desk Award and Outer Critics' Circle Award, for her 1985 one woman performance in "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe" -- written by her writing partner Jane Wagner.
Tomlin won a Grammy for the comedy album "This is a Recording." She was nominated for Grammys for "Modern Scream," "And That's the Truth" and "On Stage."
She won Peabody Awards for the ABC TV special "Edith Ann's Christmas: Just Say Noel" and for narrating and executive producing the HBO movie "The Celluloid Closet."
Tomlin was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her film debut as Linnea, a gospel singer and mother of two deaf children in Robert Altman's "Nashville" (1975). She earned a Golden Globe nomination for her second feature, "The Late Show" (1977), in which she co-starred with Art Carney as an aspiring actress trying to crack into Hollywood.
Her 1991 film adaptation of "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe" earned her an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Actress. She received a Spirit Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in write-director David O. Russell's 1996 comedy "Flirting with Disaster."