David Letterman honored with the 2017 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor

Celebrate beloved broadcaster David Letterman, the 20th recipient of The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. From the stage of The John F. Kennedy Center, a star-studded lineup of Letterman’s friends and colleagues, including Senator Al Franken, Jimmy Kimmel, Steve Martin, Bill Murray, Amy Schumer, Martin Short and many others offer a salute to his achievements. Watch online.

Then, for a double-header of late night stars, stay tuned for an encore of the 2014 Mark Twain Prize honoring Jay Leno. Watch online.

“This is an exciting honor,” said David Letterman upon learning he is to receive the nation’s top prize for comedy and humor. “For 33 years, there was no better guest, no greater friend of the show, than Mark Twain. The guy could really tell a story.”

David Letterman has been hailed as one of the most innovative and influential broadcasters in the history of television. In 33 years on late-night television, Letterman hosted 6,028 episodes of “Late Night” (NBC) and “The Late Show” (CBS), surpassing his mentor, Johnny Carson, as the longest-running late-night broadcaster in American history. As a writer, producer and performer, Letterman is one of the most-nominated people in Emmy Award history, with 52 nominations, resulting in 10 wins. Letterman is also a Peabody-Award winner and a Kennedy Center Honoree.

Born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana, Letterman’s first network break came as a writer, in 1978 on the CBS variety series “Mary,” starring Mary Tyler Moore. In November of that year, he made the first of his 22 appearances on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” He also guest-hosted “Tonight” numerous times. In 1980, Letterman began hosting a morning comedy-variety program, “The David Letterman Show,” which ran for three months on NBC. His ground-breaking show “Late Night with David Letterman” premiered in February 1982. Throughout its 11 years, “Late Night” changed the complexion of late night television, earning five Emmys and 35 Emmy nominations. On Aug. 30, 1993, “The Late Show with David Letterman” made its debut on CBS, establishing itself as the first successful comedy/variety show in late night, outside of NBC. In its 22 years at CBS, “The Late Show” became known as one of the most inventive and imaginative comedy programs in television, and launched the careers of countless comedians and musical acts.

From his roots in comedy, Letterman also became renowned as a masterful interviewer, sharing the stage with the U.S. Presidents, Cabinet officials, Medal of Honor recipients, and virtually every Presidential candidate for more than 20 years. Through his guest interviews, Letterman also brought to light important global issues such as world hunger and climate change.

Letterman announced his departure from “The Late Show” in 2014, and aired his final episode on May 20th, 2015 to an audience of 13.76 million people. David Letterman is 70, and resides in New York with his wife Regina, and twelve-year-old son Harry.

David Letterman is the 20th 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), Carol Burnett (2013), Jay Leno (2014), Eddie Murphy (2015) and Bill Murray (2016).

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024
airs April 18

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates as part of ‘AZ Votes 2024’

Earth Day Challenge graphic with the Arizona PBS logo and an illustration of the earth

Help us meet the Earth Day Challenge!

Graphic for the AZPBS kids LEARN! Writing Contest with a child sitting in a chair writing on a table and text reading: The Ultimate Field Trip
May 12

Submit your entry for the 2024 Writing Contest

The Capital building with text reading: Circle on Circle: Robert Lowell's D.C.
May 2

An evening with ‘Poetry in America’

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch
with azpbs.org!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: