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Arts & Culture

Jay Leno: The Mark Twain Prize

Jay Leno and guests on stage at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Courtesy of Scott Suchman
Jay Leno and guests on stage at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Airs Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV

This October, The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize salutes Jay Leno. The program premieres Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014 on PBS stations nationwide.

Taped at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on October 19, the special features a star-studded cast of Leno’s friends and colleagues including top entertainers and comedians, Garth Brooks, Kristin Chenoweth, Kevin Eubanks, Jimmy Fallon, Chelsea Handler, Robert Klein, Al Madrigal, Seth Myers, Jerry Seinfeld, JB Smoove, Wanda Sykes and special appearances by Jamie Foxx and Betty White.

The evening pays tribute to the humor and accomplishments of the comedy icon.


Jay Leno Preview

Leno Quote

Upon learning he will receive the Mark Twain Prize, Jay Leno remarked, “What an honor! I’m a big fan of Mark Twain’s. In fact, 'A Tale of Two Cities' is one of my favorite books.”

It was in May of 1992 when Leno followed in the footsteps of legendary NBC late-night hosts Steve Allen, Jack Paar, and Johnny Carson as "Tonight Show" host.

Prior to becoming host, Leno had been the exclusive guest host on "The Tonight Show" starring Johnny Carson since September 1987.


He first appeared as a guest on the show March 2, 1977, and he made numerous additional appearances on the show, as well as NBC’s former program "Late Night with David Letterman."

An indefatigable performer, Leno loves to test his humor live on audiences across the nation, performing over 100 live appearances in nightclubs, theaters, and stadiums each year, including during "Tonight Show" hosting.

Leno has also gained an international following on the internet with his new creation,, winning an Emmy Award and two additional nominations for Outstanding Special Class–Short-Format Nonfiction Programs.

Leno, himself, is the recipient of the People’s Choice Award and other honors, including the Harris Poll selection as most popular star on television.

Other personal highlights include the Hasty Pudding Award at Harvard University and an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Emerson College.

Like Mr. Carson, Groucho Marx, and an elite group of entertainment figures, he has been invited to have his papers installed in the Library of Congress.

Leno’s children’s book, "If Roast Beef Could Fly" (from Simon & Schuster), was published in April 2004 and immediately became a New York Times Bestseller.

His follow-up kids book "How to be the Funniest Kid in Your Class" was similarly successful.

He has also published the book "Leading with My Chin" (from HarperCollins), as well as four versions of "Headlines," the compilation of books and desk calendars featuring his favorite funny newspaper headlines, and "Police Blotter," a book with more humorous newspaper clips involving police stories.

When he is not performing, writing, or doing charitable work, Leno keeps busy doing voice-over work in such movies as "Cars" and "Igor" and the hit-TV show "The Fairly Oddparents" (Nickelodeon), where the character The Crimson Chin – a superhero with a chin with superpowers – was inspired by Leno’s own noted jawline.

He is also a monthly columnist in Popular Mechanics and in his spare time, he enjoys working on his collection of classic cars and motorcycles, building a number of cars, including an eco-car in his eco-friendly garage.

Leno was born in New Rochelle, New York, and raised in Andover, Massachusetts. He and his wife, Mavis, live in Los Angeles.

Jay Leno is the 17th recipient of The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Past recipients of the prize have been Richard Pryor (1998), Jonathan Winters (1999), Carl Reiner (2000), Whoopi Goldberg (2001), Bob Newhart (2002), Lily Tomlin (2003), Lorne Michaels (2004), Steve Martin (2005), Neil Simon (2006), Billy Crystal (2007), George Carlin (2008), Bill Cosby (2009), Tina Fey (2010), Will Ferrell (2011), Ellen DeGeneres (2012) and Carol Burnett (2013).

Chelsea Handler Thanks Jay Leno

Jimmy Fallon Thanks Jay Leno


A production of WETA Washington, D.C.; CoMedia; Mark Krantz Productions; Cappy Productions and The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Executive producers are Bob Kaminsky, Peter Kaminsky, Mark Krantz, Cappy McGarr and Deborah F. Rutter. WETA executive producers are Dalton Delan and David S. Thompson.