On Sunday night, Julia Louis-Dreyfus won the Mark Twain Prize for lifetime achievement in comedy — along with a heaping of praise (and some good-natured burns) from her fellow comedians along the way.
Louis-Dreyfus become the sixth female recipient (out of the previous 25 winners to snag the award) in a ceremony held at Washington’s Kennedy Center, joining an esteemed group that includes Richard Pryor, George Carlin, and Carol Burnett. Prior to taking to the stage to accept her award, the 57-year-old Veep actress received some ribbing (and veiled compliments) from the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, and 2010 Twain recipient Tina Fey.
“I’ve always liked Julia,” said Fey. “Maybe because I’d like to believe that we have a lot in common. We both studied comedy in Chicago, we both lost our virginity to Brad Hall (Louis-Dreyfus’ husband)…Just me?”
Fey went on to pay tribute to Louis-Dreyfus’ Seinfeld character, Elaine Benes. “Julia made the bold choice for her character Elaine Benes to wear long, loose dresses, flat shoes and over-sized coats and a center barrette,” she said. “Julia was letting us know that she was the real deal, comedy-wise, and she didn’t need to give us midriff for (us) to watch her work because, here’s the secret, Julia’s not afraid to be unlikable — not onscreen and not in person. Just try sharing an elevator with her.”
Later, when it was Seinfeld co-creator Larry David’s turn to roast the comedian, he couldn’t help but admit he was impressed by her dedication to her craft. “I want to congratulate Julia for this unbelievably prestigious award,” he said via video. “But I gotta say, the lengths that she went through to get it, frankly I was a little surprised … that whole cancer thing? Cancer? Honestly, I gotta take my hat off to her. What a scam.” The seventh and final season of Veep was delayed while Louis-Dreyfus received treatment for breast cancer, but is now currently in production.
Luckily, Louis-Dreyfus — who began her career on SNL before playing Elaine on Seinfeld for nine years and later Vice President Selina Meyer on Veep (a role for which she has earned her six consecutive Emmy Awards) — had a chance to get them back, as well as make a few jabs at the president, when she got on stage to accept the award. “Tina Fey, you are a comedy genius, whom I admire of all humans,” she said. “Tina was honored with the Mark Twain Prize, too. You know, before they got real serious about it.” Later she added, “Unfortunately, the president of the United States couldn’t make it tonight, either. Even though he lives in the neighborhood Mondays through Wednesdays.”
The Mark Twain Prize ceremony will air on PBS on Nov. 19 at 9 p.m. ET.