Dave Chappelle Accepts Mark Twain Prize For American Humor Sarah Silverman, Tiffany Haddish and Jon Stewart were among the comedians who honored Chappelle as he received the annual American humor award in a music-filled ceremony at the Kennedy Center.

'The Best Part Of The First Amendment': Dave Chappelle Accepts Mark Twain Prize

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Comedians and musicians celebrated Dave Chappelle at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., last night. Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman, Tiffany Haddish all paid tribute to the comedian as he picked up the prestigious Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Here's NPR's Elizabeth Blair.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Dave Chappelle grew up near Washington, D.C. In his recent Netflix special, "Sticks And Stones," he told a story about asking his dad if he could go to a big dance at his middle school.


DAVE CHAPPELLE: It costs $3 to get in. And my dad said, ooh...


CHAPPELLE: ...Sorry, Son. I don't have it. I was like, what the [expletive]? You don't have $3?


CHAPPELLE: Well, then how are we alive, Dad?


BLAIR: The Kennedy Center show was a family affair. Chappelle's wife and kids were there, and his fellow comedians, whether peers or proteges, like Tiffany Haddish, talked about him like he was kin.


TIFFANY HADDISH: Dave, you have always been a mentor. You've been my mentor, my big brother. Every time I step onstage, every time, I think of you 'cause I always want to make you proud. 'Cause you're the greatest.

BLAIR: Chappelle's career took off in the early 2000s with "Chappelle's Show" on Comedy Central. The show obliterated boundaries. In the first episode, Chappelle played Clayton Bigsby, a blind, black, white supremacist.


WILLIAM BOGERT: (As Kent Wallace) You refer to African Americans, what exactly is your problem?

CHAPPELLE: (As Clayton Bigsby) How much time you got, buddy? Where would I start? Well, first of all, they're lazy, good-for-nothing tricksters, crack-smoking swindlers.

BLAIR: Chappelle famously walked away during the show's third season. Jon Stewart was also working at Comedy Central at the time, hosting "The Daily Show." Onstage, Stewart called "Chappelle's Show" a cultural phenomenon that Comedy Central would do anything to keep going.


JON STEWART: And they offered Dave $50 million to just give us one more. But Dave, at that moment, was conflicted because of the difficulty of how the show was to do because he wondered about its impact on the audience that he meant it for. And he wondered if the creative process wasn't right for it. And he walked away. And it was that moment that I remember thinking, Comedy Central has $50 million?

BLAIR: Eventually, Chappelle went back to doing stand-up, and he's taken some heat for making fun of just about everyone, which he addressed in his recent special.


CHAPPELLE: If you're in a group that I'm making fun of then just know that I probably will only make fun of you if I see myself in you. I make fun of poor white people because I was once poor. And I know that the only difference between a poor black person and a poor white person is that a poor white person feels like it's not supposed to be happening to them.


BLAIR: Before receiving the Mark Twain Award, Chappelle told me stand-up is an American phenomenon.

CHAPPELLE: It's, like, the best part of the First Amendment to me, that I'm able to express myself this way and make a viable living doing it. And it's not necessarily an easy living, but it's worth everything that I've been through, especially to get a night like tonight and have people that's recognized. It's not an easy thing to do, and it's humbling to get an award.

BLAIR: Dave Chappelle. The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize will air on PBS stations in early January. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News, Washington.

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