Iconic Funny Women Recipients of the Mark Twain Prize

The comics who led the way in proving women can be funny

By Madalyn Owen

The District of Comedy Festival kicked off this week, with a variety of different comedy acts (both free and ticketed) across the span of three days. Along with many other laugh-inducing acts you will find at the festival, the Kennedy Center is pleased to present Funny Women Stand-Up, one of our many free events featured this weekend. In anticipation of this event, we look back at some of the funny women honored with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, who helped pave the way for women comics everywhere.

Tina Fey

Comedian, actress, writer, and producer, Tina Fey, accepted the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2010, making her the third woman recipient of the award, since its advent in 1998. As the first female head writer for Saturday Night Live, Fey’s no stranger to paving the way for funny women.

Carol Burnett

An icon both onscreen and stage, Carol Burnett has been entertaining audiences for decades. Most recognized for The Carol Burnett Show, Burnett showed the world how funny women can be in a world of sketch comedy dominated by men. Burnett accepted the Mark Twain Prize in 2013, preceding 25 Emmy Awards, a special Tony, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a Kennedy Center Honor. Burnett most recently received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award in 2016.

Ellen DeGeneres

Beloved talk show host, comedian, entertainer, and author, Ellen Degeneres’ distinctive comedic style has gained her multiple Emmy awards, People’s Choice Awards, and Genesis Awards. After coming out in 1997, DeGeneres helped lead the way for future LGBTQ+ artists, and in 2009 won a GLAAD award for Outstanding Talk Show Episode. DeGeneres accepted the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2012.

Whoopi Goldberg

As one of only 12 people who have won the famous EGOT (an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award), Whoopi Goldberg is part of an elite group of entertainers. Goldberg got her start in the entertainment in theatre and improvisation. Her 1985 Grammy for Best Comedy Recording of Whoopi Goldberg-Original Broadway Show Recording helped launch her career both in comedy and the entertainment industry. In 2001, Goldberg became the first woman to win the Mark Twain Prize.

Lily Tomlin

Actress, comedian, writer, producer, storyteller, and innovator, Lily Tomlin has thrilled audiences for decades. Onscreen, Tomlin is most known for her work on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Tomlin currently stars in the Netflix series, Grace and Frankie opposite Jane Fonda. Onstage, Tomlin has starred in Appearing Nitely and The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, her one-woman show that gained her a Tony award for Best Lead Actress in a Play. As a multi-faceted entertainer, stretching her talents across a wide range of media, Tomlin accepted the Mark Twain Prize in 2003.