Comedian Kevin Hart joins an elite group honored with the Mark Twain Prize for American humor

Comedian Kevin Hart joins an elite group honored with the Mark Twain Prize for American humor

Kevin Hart, who rose from the open mics and comedy clubs of his native Philadelphia to become one of his country’s most recognizable performers, is receiving the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in a gala performance at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Celebrities and prominent comedians filed into the Kennedy Center Sunday night to pay tribute to Hart, with several specifically citing the comic’s work ethic, positivity and relentless dedication to his art.

“He’s just inspirational, said comic Nikki Glazer on the red carpet. ”He’s one of the most naturally talented people I’ve met. But he also loves himself, which is not something you can say about every successful comic.”

Comedic actor J.B. Smoove (Leon on “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) recalls a young up-and-coming Hart as almost problematically eager.

“Honestly, when he was first starting out, he was a pest,” Smoove said. “But he was always picking up pieces from here or there, always learning from people and never afraid to learn.”

Hart, 44, has honed a signature style that combines his diminutive height, expressive face and motor-mouth delivery into a successful stand-up act.

In Hollywood, Hart made his movie debut in the 2002 film “Paper Soldiers” and came to mainstream fame through a string of scene-stealing cameos in hits such as 2005’s “The 40-Year-Old-Virgin.”

Hart’s films have grossed more than $4.23 billion globally.

Now in its 25th year, the Mark Twain Prize annually honors performers who have made a lasting impact on humor and culture. Honorees receive a bronze bust of Twain, the iconic American writer and satirist whose real name was Samuel Clemens.

Mark Twain recipients are honored with a night of testimonials and video tributes, often featuring previous award winners. Other comedians who have received the lifetime achievement award include inaugural recipient Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Newhart, Carol Burnett and Dave Chapelle. Bill Cosby, the 2009 recipient, had his Mark Twain Prize rescinded in 2019 after allegations of sexual assault.