Lorne Michaels will receive Twain prize

June 17, 2004 at 5:58 PM
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WASHINGTON, June 17 (UPI) -- The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has announced that "Saturday Night Live" creator Lorne Michaels will receive the seventh annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

"The Kennedy Center is pleased to give Lorne Michaels the Mark Twain Prize for an extraordinary career," said the center's president, Michael M. Kaiser. "His creation of 'Saturday Night Live,' which has become an American icon, along with his work in film and on Broadway has provided this nation with some of its greatest comedians."

The Mark Twain Prize is awarded each year to recognize people "who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th-century novelist and essayist best known as Mark Twain," whose real name was Samuel Clemens.

"As a social commentator, satirist and creator of characters," said the Kennedy Center in a statement announcing Michaels' selection, "Samuel Clemens was a fearless observer of society who startled many while delighting and informing many more with his uncompromising perspective of social injustice and personal folly. He revealed the great truth of humor when he said, 'Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.'"

Michaels will receive a copy of an 1884 bronze portrait bust of Twain sculpted by Karl Gerhardt.

In a career that began more than 35 years ago, Michaels has won 10 Emmys as a writer and producer. "SNL" is a multiple Emmy winner and also has a George Foster Peabody Award to its credit. Most recently, Michaels and "SNL" won the 2002 Emmy for Best Writing in a Variety-Comedy Series.

Michaels won his first Emmy as a member of the writing staff for the 1973 TV special "Lily," starring Lily Tomlin. The staff also included Richard Pryor, who was the first recipient of the Twain Prize in 1998, and Herb Sargent, one of the original writers on "SNL."

Michaels won an Emmy in 1976 for "Saturday Night Live," which took the prize for Outstanding Comedy-Variety or Music Series.

The original cast of "SNL" -- the "Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Players" -- included Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin and Gilda Radner. All went on to major stardom following their turns on the weekly comedy-sketch show.

Over the years the "SNL" cast has introduced American audiences to dozens of performers who went on to become A-list stars, including Will Ferrell, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray, Mike Myers, Chris Rock and Adam Sandler.

Several members of the cast -- including Al Franken, Janeane Garofalo and Dennis Miller -- have emerged as leading voices in politically themed entertainment.

The show has also featured such stars as James Belushi, Chris Farley, Christopher Guest, Phil Hartman, Randy Quaid, Harry Shearer, Martin Short and Damon Wayans.

Michaels is also executive producer of NBC's "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" and has produced such movie hits as "Wayne's World" and "Mean Girls" -- a comedy starring Lindsay Lohan and "SNL" writer Tina Fey, who also wrote the screenplay.

Michaels' other film credits include "¡Three Amigos!" which he produced and co-wrote with Steve Martin and Randy Newman. He also produced "Tommy Boy," "A Night at the Roxbury," "Superstar" and the World War II drama "Enigma," which he produced with Mick Jagger.

He is currently producing "The Closet," directed by Gurinder Chadha ("Bend It Like Beckham"). It is the story of a man who tries to save his job by pretending to be gay -- hoping his employer will keep him on as a way to avoid a potential discrimination suit.

Michaels' past television credits include the comedy-sketch series "The Kids in the Hall," as well as specials with Tomlin, Martin, Newman, Paul Simon, The Rutles, Flip Wilson, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, Neil Young, and Simon and Garfunkel in New York City's Central Park.

On Broadway he produced and directed "Gilda Radner Live from New York" and the movie based on that show, "Gilda Live."

Michaels began his career in Toronto, where he attended the University of Toronto and worked as a writer and producer for the Canadian Broadcasting Company and starred in the comedy series "The Hart & Lorne Terrific Hour." In 1968 he moved to Los Angeles and worked as a writer for NBC's "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" and other television series until he left in 1975 to begin "SNL" in New York.

Kennedy Center officials said the award ceremony -- an all-star tribute to Michaels on Oct. 25 in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall -- will be taped for broadcast nationwide at a later date.

Tickets for the event will go on sale to the general public on Wednesday, Aug. 11 at 10 a.m. The proceeds will be used for the Kennedy Center Education Department's programs.

Michaels joins a list of Mark Twain Prize recipients that includes Pryor, Jonathan Winters, Carl Reiner, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Newhart and last year's winner, Lily Tomlin.


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