Steve Martin's Wild & Crazy Night

Steve Martin, actor, comic, writer, etc., and recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, 10-23-05
AP
Steve Martin's character in "The Jerk" is ecstatic to find his name in print - in the phone book. "Things are going to start happening to me now!" he says.

Twenty-six years later, the actor and writer is receiving a more prestigious form of recognition.

For his career achievements, Martin was honored Sunday with one of the nation's top comedy awards - the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Among those saluting the versatile performer at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts were actors Tom Hanks, Lily Tomlin, Diane Keaton, Martin Short and Claire Danes and musicians Paul Simon and Randy Newman.

"He redefined comedy by defining the moment of our ascendancy as a generation," Hanks said. "As did Charlie Chaplin, as did the Marx Brothers, as did Laurel and Hardy define their own times, Steve Martin defined ours."

Martin's colleagues paid tribute in between dozens of clips from his movies and TV appearances. Newman performed "I Love to See You Smile," a song from Martin's film "Parenthood."

Tomlin said, "His artistry soars to heights of sublime silliness and divine absurdity."

In accepting the Mark Twain Prize, Martin mentioned some other awards he had won, including a 1969 writing Emmy for "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour." "But of course the Mark Twain Prize is more special to me," he said, "because it's more recent."

"He's an original genius," Short said before the ceremony. "He's kind of blazed his own trail."

"I think he's the most intelligent man I've ever met," said Monty Python veteran Eric Idle. "Honesty, simplicity and truth are the secret to his comedy."

Hanks disagreed, saying Martin's success is based on "self-loathing and unhappiness."

Asked if he had any regrets, Martin said, "It's a life of cherishing a few things and regretting a lot of things, but that's the life of a performer."