Richard Pryor gets the first Mark Twain humor prize from the Kennedy Center

Pioneering funnyman Richard Pryor will receive the inaugural Mark Twain Prize for humor on Oct. 20, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced yesterday. Pryor, 57, has starred in almost 50 movies and stand-up shows since the early ’60s, working his comedy magic with everyone from Gene Wilder and Jackie Gleason to John Candy and Eddie Murphy. “I feel great about accepting this prize,” Pryor said in a statement. “Two things people throughout history have had in common are hatred and humor. I am proud, like Mark Twain, that I have been able to use humor to lessen hatred.”

Kennedy Center President Lawrence J. Wilker waxed poetic about Pryor’s accomplishments. “Richard Pryor was selected because as a stand-up comic, writer, and actor, he struck a chord, and a nerve, with America,” Wilker said. “Though uncompromising in his wit, Pryor, like Twain, projects a generosity of spirit that unites us.” Morgan Freeman, Whoopi Goldberg, Damon Wayans, Robin Williams, Chevy Chase, and Danny Glover will salute Pryor’s wit at the Center’s concert-hall gala in D.C.; close pal Wilder reportedly will pay tribute via videotape from London where he’s shooting “Alice in Wonderland.” Comedy Central plans to broadcast Pryor’s award ceremony, the culmination of a three-day program called a “Celebration of American Humor,” in January 1999.