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Adam Sandler wins the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor

Adam Sandler is the winner of this year's Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Sandler will receive the award at a gala performance at the Kennedy Center on March 19th, 2023.
Jeff Kravitz
Adam Sandler is the winner of this year's Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Sandler will receive the award at a gala performance at the Kennedy Center on March 19th, 2023.

Adam Sandler has been named the recipient of the 24th Mark Twain Award for American Humor, considered one of the most prestigious honors in comedy.

According to the Kennedy Center, the Mark Twain Prize "recognizes individuals who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th-century novelist and essayist Samuel Clemens, best
known as Mark Twain."

Sander's movie credits include Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, Grown Ups, Big Daddy, The Wedding Singer and the Netflix films Hustle and The Meyerowitz Stories. His multi-hyphenate career includes acting, writing, producing and songwriting.

Among the other comedians who've won the Mark Twain Prize are Richard Pryor, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Newhart, George Carlin, Lily Tomlin, Eddie Murphy, Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jon Stewart.

The Brooklyn born Sandler was 23 years old when he joined SNL in 1990. His characters included Opera Man, The Herlihy Boy and Canteen Boy. He sang and played guitar on such songs as Lunch Lady Land and the now classic Chanukah Song in which he lists stars who, like him, are Jewish.

When Sandler hosted SNL in 2019, he sang a song about leaving the show because NBC fired him as well as his partner in comedy, the late Chris Farley.

"NBC said that I was done.

Then I made over 4 billion dollars

At the box office.

So I guess you could say I won."

"Adam Sandler has entertained audiences for over three decades with his films, music, and his tenure as a fan favorite cast member on SNL," said Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter in a statement, "Adam has created characters that have made us laugh, cry, and cry from laughing."

Critics over the years have been less enthusiastic about Sandler's work. In 2014, Mark Olsen wrote in The Los Angeles Times that Sandler's movies, "exist on their very own plane of bad taste and questionable intentions." In 2008, NPR's Bob Mondello wrote that his comedies, "take in millions, in inverse proportion to the wit of their scripts." Sandler has said he stopped reading reviews early in his career.

But while some might find Sandler's comedies sophomoric, his dramatic performances have received more positive reviews. In The New York Times, Glenn Kenny called the actor a "revelation" in the Netflix film The Meyerowitz Stories. The headline for Justin Chang's review of Hustle in The Los Angeles Times reads that Sandler "gives one of his warmest, most modulated portrayals" as Stanley Sugerman, a former athlete-turned-talent scout.

Sandler's two daughters might be among those scratching their heads at the announcement that he's won the honor. At the recent Gotham Awards, Sandler was honored with a Performer Tribute. He had the audience in stitches reciting a speech he said was written by his daughters. "Daddy's silly film career began in 1988, formed by two guiding principles: people in prison need movies too and TBS needs content."

Sandler will receive a copy of an 1884 bronze portrait bust of Mark Twain sculpted by Karl Gerhardt (1853–1940) at a gala performance at the Kennedy Center in March.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.