Jon Stewart Stresses the Importance of Comedy in Mark Twain Speech: It 'Survives Every Moment'

Jon Stewart accepted the 23rd Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. on Sunday

Jon Stewart
Photo: Kevin Wolf/AP

Jon Stewart was honored for his comedic legacy.

The 59-year-old comedian and political commentator became the 23rd recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on Sunday. While accepting the award at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., Stewart opened up about the important role comedy plays in society: "Comedy survives every moment."

"Comedy doesn't change the world, but it's a bellwether. We're the banana peel in the coal mine," he added, per The Hill. "When society is under threat, comedians are the ones who get sent away first. Authoritarians are the threat to comedy, to music, to thought, to poetry."

At one point, Stewart referenced the infamous 2022 Oscars slap, when Will Smith struck comedian Chris Rock over a joke about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith. "It's not the fragility of audiences. It's not the world police that are going to be an existential threat to comedy. It's not the Fresh Prince. It's the Crown Prince. It's not the fragility of audiences. It's the fragility of leaders," he said.

"It ain't the pronoun police — it's the secret police. It always has and it always will be," he continued. "What we have is fragile and precious. And the way to guard against it isn't to change how audiences think, it's to change how leaders lead."

Before accepting the prize, Stewart was honored by Jimmy Kimmel, Samantha Bee, Steve Carell, Olivia Munn, Pete Davidson, Ed Helms, Stephen Colbert, Bassem Youssef and past recipient Dave Chappelle in a star-studded ceremony. Additionally, Bruce Springsteen put on a live performance.

The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, named after the late writer and humorist of the same name, honors those who've had an impact on society. Past recipients include Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Steve Martin and Whoopi Goldberg.

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The first-ever Mark Twain Prize was presented to Richard Pryor in 1998.

Stewart's comedic legacy spans decades. After getting started as a stand-up comedian, Stewart went on to act in dozens of projects. He, however, is best known for hosting The Daily Show with Jon Stewart from 1999 to 2015.

Stewart returned to his talk show roots last year with The Problem with Jon Stewart, which premiered on Apple TV+. He has also written and directed films as well as authored two books.

Jon Stewart
Jon Stewart. John Lamparski/WireImage

Aside from developing an impressive career, Stewart has served as an advocate for 9/11 first responders. For his efforts, he received the New York City Bronze Medallion in 2019 for helping to pass the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act.

Fans can see Stewart accept the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor during the event's broadcast on June 21 at 9 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings).

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