The Kennedy Center will bestow the 25th Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on its youngest recipient in more than a decade: Kevin Hart, the 44-year-old actor and comedian celebrated for his arena-packing stand-up shows and riotous screen presence.
Kevin Hart to receive Mark Twain Prize in March at Kennedy Center
The Mark Twain Prize is given to humorists who affect American society in ways similar to Samuel Clemens, the esteemed 19th-century novelist and essayist also known as Mark Twain. Created in 1998 and first awarded to Richard Pryor, the prize has in recent years been given to such seasoned comedians as Bill Murray, David Letterman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jon Stewart and Adam Sandler.
“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. “An accomplished writer, producer, actor and comedian, he has made lasting contributions to the comedic landscape and represents our celebration of American humor at the Kennedy Center. We express our gratitude to Kevin for enriching American culture and look forward to celebrating his exceptional career.”
Hart will be the youngest recipient aside from Tina Fey, who was 40 when she accepted the award in 2010, and Will Ferrell, who was 44 when he was honored the following year. Hart will be the sixth Black honoree, following Pryor, Whoopi Goldberg, Eddie Murphy, Dave Chappelle and Bill Cosby (whose award was rescinded in 2018 following his sexual assault convictions).
“I’ve been doing comedy since the inception of this award 25 years ago,” Hart said in the Kennedy Center news release. “To be honored in this commemorative year feels surreal. 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.”
Raised in Philadelphia by a single mother, as his father struggled with addiction and legal problems, Hart broke into show business with a recurring role on Judd Apatow’s early-2000s Fox sitcom “Undeclared.” He subsequently appeared in such comedies as 2004’s “Soul Plane,” 2005’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and 2010’s “Death at a Funeral,” as well as several installments of the Scary Movie franchise and its offshoots.
Hart established his box office bona fides with 2014’s “Ride Along,” a buddy cop comedy co-starring Ice Cube that surpassed $150 million at the global box office and spawned a 2016 sequel. He then starred with Dwayne Johnson in 2016’s “Central Intelligence,” a $217 million hit that established an unlikely rapport between the 5-foot-2 Hart and the hulking Johnson. The actors reunited on 2017’s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” — a reboot that grossed nearly $1 billion — 2019’s “Jumanji: The Next Level” and last year’s animated romp “DC League of Super-Pets.” All told, Hart’s movies have grossed more than $4.23 billion, according to the Kennedy Center news release.
The comic also has recorded eight stand-up specials, including 2016’s “What Now?,” which was filmed before a crowd of more than 53,000 people at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field. That show’s world tour helped make Hart the world’s highest-paid comedian at the time, according to Forbes, as he generated $87.5 million in income from June 2015 to June 2016. His latest special, “Reality Check,” was released in July on Peacock.
Since 2020, Hart has played a fictionalized version of himself in the action-comedy streaming series “Die Hart.” In 2022, he merged his two entertainment businesses — Laugh Out Loud and Hartbeat — into a single comedy-centric company branded as Hartbeat. He also showcased his entrepreneurial side as a guest last year on two episodes of the ABC reality series “Shark Tank.”
Hart suffered major back injuries in September 2019 when he was a passenger in a vehicle that went off Mulholland Highway in California and rolled into an embankment. He required surgery and spent 10 days in the hospital after the crash, which he later said gave him newfound appreciation for day-to-day life.
“It’s not until you get close to that light that you truly respect, that I respect that there are no bad days,” Hart told podcaster Joe Rogan in May 2020. “ … I’m smiling because I have no reason to be angry, because I don’t have to be here.”
Hart has occasionally courted controversy. He withdrew from hosting the 2019 Academy Awards amid backlash over homophobic tweets he’d posted nearly a decade earlier. In 2013, he was sentenced to three years’ probation after pleading no contest to one count of driving under the influence in Southern California.
Traditionally held in the fall, the Mark Twain Prize ceremony will be staged in the spring for the third straight year following a two-year hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic. Stewart was the first recipient following that break, and Sandler accepted his prize this past March in a ceremony that featured appearances by Jennifer Aniston, Chris Rock, Ben Stiller, Drew Barrymore and Conan O’Brien. CNN, under the leadership of since-departed CEO Chris Licht, broadcast the ceremony for the first time after it had aired on PBS for the previous two decades.