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Eddie Murphy Named Winner of 2015 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor

Apr 9, 2015

Murphy was only 19 when he was cast on "Saturday Night Live."

Eddie Murphy is this year's winner of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. The prize, given by the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., has been awarded since 1998. 

The first winner, Richard Pryor, accepted his award in a memorable night featuring speeches by Robin Williams, Morgan Freeman, Whoopi Goldberg, and many other notable comedians. Since then, the Kennedy Center has put on a yearly showcase of speeches and sets by notable comedians. (Think of a prestigious brother to Comedy Central's Celebrity Roasts.) This year's evening of comedy will take place on October 18, 2015

Murphy was chosen for his impact on American comedy with roles as varied as Donkey in "Shrek," James Thunder Early in "Dreamgirls," and the eponymous Axel in "Beverly Hills Cop," among many others. While he is widely recognized as a movie star, Murphy is beloved by comedians for his groundbreaking stand-up comedy specials "Delirious" and "Eddie Murphy Raw." He is also beloved by comedians for his years on "Saturday Night Live" during an era where the show was floundering.

Murphy's characterizations of figures both real and imagined-- Mr. Robinson, James Brown, Michael Jackson, Velvet Jones, and Little Richard Simmons-- kept the show alive while simultaneously building a career for the brand-new comedian. Murphy was only 19 when he broke into show business by getting cast on SNL.

During SNL's 40th anniversary broadcast, Murphy was expected to reincarnate his Bill Cosby impression. Murphy turned down the sketch, for which Cosby thanked him. The impression would have centered around allegations that Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted women throughout his career. Cosby won the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2009.

Other winners have turned out to be less controversial: Ellen Degeneres (2012), Carol Burnett (2013), Steve Martin (2005), Tina Fey (2010), and many others are still beloved by the American public. Murphy has stated that he is "deeply honored to receive this recognition from the Kennedy Center and to join the distinguished list of past recipients of this award."

Now the Kennedy Center will begin to compile the long list of other comedians and actors to honor Murphy in October. As a comedian so beloved within his industry, Murphy will likely draw other luminaries to honor him-- comedians we might see accepting this prestigious prize in years to come.

Julia Pistell is an intern at WNPR.