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Comedian, talk show host and political influencer Jon Stewart has been named the 23rd recipient of the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, awarded for lifetime achievement in comedy.
The 59-year-old Stewart — born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz — rose to prominence as a stand-up comic and host of multiple failed talk shows before taking over Comedy Central’s The Daily Show in 1999. His 16-year run as Daily Show host turned him into a cultural and political force as Stewart trained his satirical eye on both politics and an increasingly polarized national media.
In perhaps his most iconic moment, Stewart went on CNN’s popular Crossfire debate show in 2004 and challenged the show’s entire premise of left-wing vs. right-wing debate. Stewart told co-hosts Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala they had a “responsibility to the public discourse” that they were cheapening with insincere political role-playing.
“You’re doing theater when you should be doing debate,” said Stewart in an openly hostile exchange with Carlson. “What you do is not honest. What you do is partisan hackery.”
Stewart’s appearance rocketed him to new levels of prominence and may have sealed the fate of Crossfire, which was canceled three months later.
Since retiring from The Daily Show in 2015, Stewart has become a vocal proponent of a number of social causes and one of the most prominent voices in support of health care for Sept. 11 first responders in New York City. He recently returned to television as host of The Problem With Jon Stewart on Apple TV+.
“For me, tuning into his television programs over the years has always been equal parts entertainment and truth,” Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter said in a statement. “In these often divisive and challenging times, someone like Jon, through his undaunted advocacy for first responders and veterans, also demonstrates that we all can make a difference in this world through humor, humanity, and patriotism.”
Stewart will be presented with the award during a gala ceremony on April 24, featuring testimonials by a host of comedians and surprise guests. He was one of the comedians who spoke during Dave Chappelle’s Mark Twain Prize ceremony in 2019.
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