Comedian Kevin Hart joins an elite group honored with the Mark Twain Prize for American humor

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON (AP) — Kevin Hart, who rose from the open mics and comedy clubs of his native Philadelphia to become one of his country’s most recognizable performers, will receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor during a gala performance at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts .

Celebrities and prominent comedians descended on the Kennedy Center on Sunday night to pay tribute to Hart, with several specifically mentioning the comic’s work ethic, positivity and relentless dedication to his art.

“He’s just inspiring,” comedian Nikki Glazer said on the red carpet. ‘He is one of the most naturally talented people I have met. But he also loves himself, and you can’t say that about every successful comic.”

Comic actor JB Smoove (Leon in “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) remembers a young, rising Hart as almost problematically eager.

“Honestly, when he first started, he was a pest,” Smoove said. “But he always picked up bits here and there, always learned from people and was never afraid to learn.”

The show started with an energetic duet by Robin Thicke and Nelly.

Hart, 44, has honed a signature style that combines his short height, expressive face and motormouth expression into a successful stand-up act.

In Hollywood, Hart made his film debut in the 2002 film “Paper Soldiers” and became known for a series of scene-stealing cameos in hits like 2005’s “The 40-Year-Old-Virgin.”

Hart’s films have grossed more than $4.23 billion worldwide.

Now in its 25th year, the Mark Twain Prize annually honors artists who have had a lasting impact on humor and culture. Honorees receive a bronze bust of Twain, the iconic American writer and satirist whose real name was Samuel Clemens.

Mark Twain recipients are honored with an evening of testimonials and video tributes, often featuring previous award winners. Other comedians who have received the Lifetime Achievement Award include Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Newhart, Carol Burnett and Dave Chapelle. Bill Cosby, the 2009 winner, had his Mark Twain award revoked in 2019 following allegations of sexual assault.