Here’s something worth dancing about: Ellen DeGeneres is being honored with this year’s Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. The 54-year-old comedian, talk show host and activist is the 15th recipient of the annual award, which recognizes individuals who make a difference through satire and social commentary.
Long before she did push-ups on national television with the First Lady, DeGeneres made headlines as one of the entertainment world’s first openly gay women. DeGeneres revealed her sexuality to the public in Time Magazine in 1997. Her fictionalized persona, the eponymous lead character on ABC’s “Ellen,” came out of the closet soon after.
The special episode drew a record 46 million viewers — and sparked a storm of controversy. Numerous ABC affiliates refused to air the episode and DeGeneres became a hotly debated figure in the 90s culture wars. Amid criticism that DeGeneres was “too gay” and pushing an “agenda,” the sitcom was cancelled a year later.
But the mainstream hardly rejected DeGeneres. Her career quickly bounced back and flourished in films, stand-up, activism and an Emmy Award-winning daytime talk show. Receiving the Mark Twain Prize secures DeGeneres’ place as a beloved pop culture icon.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which grants the Mark Twain Prize, praised DeGeneres’ comic voice and broad appeal.
“Through her television programs, stand-up appearances, movies, and even commercials, her special brand of humor has allowed us to find hilarity in the mundane and has kept us laughing for years,” Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein said in a press release.
“It’s such an honor to receive the Mark Twain Prize,” DeGeneres responded in a statement. “To get the same award that has been given to people like Bill Cosby, Tina Fey and Will Ferrell, it really makes me wonder… why didn’t I get this sooner?”
The awards ceremony honoring DeGeneres will be held October 22, 2012 and taped for future broadcast.
Photo credit: ronpaulrevolt2008 (Creative Commons)