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Ellen DeGeneres receives Mark Twain Prize

2012-10-23 12:03
Ellen DeGeneres
Los Angeles - Ellen DeGeneres received the highest US award for achievement in comedy on Monday.

Receiving the Mark Twain Prize for American Humour at the Kennedy Centre, the national showcase for arts, DeGeneres was praised as a pioneering female comic whose edgy variety show has helped define the format for daytime television in recent years.

But several guests also highlighted the comedian's groundbreaking decision 15 years ago to go public with her sexual identity in a career-rattling move the comedian said was a necessary step for personal dignity.

'I did it for me'

"I did it for me and it happened to help a lot of other people and cause a big ruckus," DeGeneres, 54, told reporters before the tribute. Ellen continued to explain her decision in 1997 to come out publicly as gay in tandem with her on-screen character in a move that sparked controversy and prompted some advertisers to flee.

The Twain prize, named after the 19th century satirist, is the nation's highest honour for achievements in comedy.

DeGeneres spent her twenties as an itinerant comedian on the Los Angeles nightclub circuit until prominent spots on late night television led to her own primetime sitcom.

Hosted Emmy's twice

The original show, Ellen, featured DeGeneres in the lead role as a bookshop owner in an quirky neighbourhood. While the show got a boost after the star came out of the closet, it was cancelled a few years later.

She later returned to the stand-up stage, and hosted the 2001 Emmy awards, which was postponed twice after the 9/11 attacks, a somewhat subdued celebration that allowed her to try to lighten the national mood.

Several guests said that DeGeneres brought a compassion to her comedy that is rare in the field.

"The rest of us comics come from really messed-up, dark childhoods. She might have come from that, I don't know. But it's not what she puts forth," fellow comedian John Leguizamo said. "She just puts out this beautiful goodwill."

Fourth woman to receive this award

In the last 10 seasons on television, DeGeneres has left her mark with a daytime variety show which she often uses as a way to promote a commitment to gay equality.

"For a lot of people, Ellen is their only homosexual friend," said late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel.

DeGeneres is the forth woman to receive the award since its inception in 1998. Past award winners have included Bob Newhart, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby.

Read more on:    ellen degeneres  |  tv  |  celebrities
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