David Letterman: The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize

(Rochester, NY) – This November, The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor salutes David Letterman. The program premieres Monday, November 20, 2017 at 8 p.m. on WXXI-TV. The special will be recorded at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on October 22, and it features a star-studded cast of Letterman’s friends and colleagues including Senator Al Franken, Jimmy Kimmel, Norm Macdonald, Steve Martin, John Mulaney, Bill Murray, Amy Schumer, Paul Shaffer, Martin Short, Eddie Vedder, Jimmie Walker and other top entertainers and comedians. The evening pays tribute to the humor and accomplishments of the broadcasting icon.

“This is an exciting honor,” said David Letterman upon learning he is to receive the nation’s top prize for comedy and humor. “For 33 years, there was no better guest, no greater friend of the show, than Mark Twain. The guy could really tell a story.”

David Letterman has been hailed as one of the most innovative and influential broadcasters in the history of television. In 33 years on late-night television, Letterman hosted 6,028 episodes of Late Night (NBC) and The Late Show (CBS), surpassing his mentor, Johnny Carson, for the longest-running late-night broadcaster in American history. As a writer, producer and performer, Letterman is one of the most-nominated people in Emmy Award history, with 52 nominations, resulting in 10 wins. Letterman is also a Peabody-Award winner and a Kennedy Center Honoree.

Born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana, Letterman's first network break came as a writer, in 1978 on the CBS variety series Mary, starring Mary Tyler Moore. In November of that year, he made the first of his 22 appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He also guest-hosted Tonight numerous times. In 1980, Letterman began hosting a morning comedy-variety program, The David Letterman Show, which ran for three months on NBC. His ground-breaking show Late Night with David Letterman premiered in February 1982. Throughout its 11 years, Late Night changed the complexion of late night television, earning five Emmys and 35 Emmy nominations. On Aug. 30, 1993, the Late Show with David Letterman made its debut on CBS, establishing itself as the first successful comedy/variety show in late night, outside of NBC. In its 22 years at CBS, Late Show became known as one of the most inventive and imaginative comedy programs in television, and launched the careers of countless comedians and musical acts.

From his roots in comedy, Letterman also became renowned as a masterful interviewer, sharing the stage with the U.S. Presidents, Cabinet officials, Medal of Honor recipients, and virtually every Presidential candidate for more than 20 years. Through his guest interviews, Letterman also brought to light important global issues such as world hunger and climate change. Letterman announced his departure from Late Show in 2014, and aired his final episode on May 20th, 2015 to an audience of 13.76 million people. David Letterman is 70, and resides in New York with his wife Regina, and twelve-year-old son Harry.

David Letterman is the 20th recipient of The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Past recipients of the prize have been Richard Pryor (1998), Jonathan Winters (1999), Carl Reiner (2000), Whoopi Goldberg (2001), Bob Newhart (2002), Lily Tomlin (2003), Lorne Michaels (2004), Steve Martin (2005), Neil Simon (2006), Billy Crystal (2007), George Carlin (2008), Bill Cosby (2009), Tina Fey (2010), Will Ferrell (2011), Ellen DeGeneres (2012), Carol Burnett (2013), Jay Leno (2014), Eddie Murphy (2015) and Bill Murray (2016).

Pictured: David Letterman
Credit: Courtesy of Scott Suchman



WXXI is the essential, life-long educational media resource for the Greater Rochester area. WXXI puts the community first with programming that stimulates and expands thought, inspires the spirit, opens cultural horizons and promotes understanding of diverse community issues. Log on to wxxi.org for more information about our services and programs.


WXXI Media Contact:

Kristin Tutino

Creative Services Department



Go to the NPR Pressroom

Go to the PBS Pressroom

Get logos for Media Use

Read our Media Policy

Radio Archives

TV Archives