On Sunday night, Julia Louis-Dreyfus accepted the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor—an honor thats been bestowed on comedians including Tina Fey, Whoopi Goldberg, David Letterman, and Bill Murray. And as one might expect, after a year thats included breaking Emmys records and beating cancer, the beloved comedian had a lot to say.
“Last year I was lucky enough to get an Emmy Award for my performance on Veep, which was an incredible thrill and it set some kind of a record for the most Emmys for doing something or other—and 12 hours later I was diagnosed with cancer, another hilarious turn of events,” Louis-Dreyfus said onstage, per the Los Angeles Times. “Im only half-kidding, of course,” she continued. “Cancer isnt at all funny, but a big part of dealing with it has been finding the funny parts. The old cliché about laughter is the best medicine is true, which is good because thats what the current administration is trying to replace Obamacare with.”
The night followed a familiar formula: an impressive roster of comedians and guests roasted Louis-Dreyfus for a while until it was her turn to take the stage. Participants included Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld, Tina Fey, and Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer. Subjects for humor included Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh, whom Louis-Dreyfus invoked when she mused about the ceremonys location. “When I was a kid, Kennedy Center did seem like a fancy-sounding name,” Louis-Dreyfus said. “Now that I think about it, Kennedy Center could easily be another euphemism for Devils Triangle. You know, the famous drinking game.”
And although things stayed mostly light, they occasionally got more earnest, especially as Louis-Dreyfus looked back on her battle with cancer more seriously.
“When I was getting my hideous chemotherapy, Id cram a bunch of family and friends into this tiny treatment room with me, and we really did have some great laughs,” Louis-Dreyfus said, per USA Today. “Of course, I was heavily medicated and slipping in and out of consciousness, so I was probably a pretty easy audience. But my point is is that laughter is a basic human need, along with love and food and an HBO subscription.
“Theres no situation, none, that isnt improved with a couple of laughs,” Louis-Dreyfus added, choking up. “Everybody needs laughs. So the fact that I have had the opportunity to make people laugh for a living is one of the many blessings that I have received in my life.”
Louis-Dreyfuss friend Larry David, who worked with her on both Seinfeld and Saturday Night Live, participated in the ceremony with a pre-recorded message, congratulating Louis-Dreyfus on her win. But he also wondered about the lengths she went to in order to get this prize: “Frankly, I was a little surprised,” David said. “That whole cancer thing? Cancer? Honestly, I gotta tip my hat off to her. What a scam.”
Louis-Dreyfuss Veep co-star Kevin Dunn, who plays White House Chief of Staff Ben Cafferty, said, “Frankly, the publics attention was really on Julia, so when I had my stroke, I got no attention at all.”
Of course, Louis-Dreyfuss longtime co-star Jerry Seinfeld had nothing but good things to say. “I just really, really liked Julia,” he explained. “I could not get enough of her. I never said or did anything inappropriate. But that whole time, nine years, I was not acting. I couldnt. I thought she was funny, charming, beautiful, intelligent, every single second I spent with her onstage and off. Bingo, no acting required. Speak the lines in the script. Three stupid guys, one incredible woman. Nine years, 180 episodes, syndication, DVD, piece of cake.” The actor admitted to feeling a bit of jealousy when watching Louis-Dreyfus star opposite other men in other fake relationships, but said, “Somewhere in the back of my mind, [I knew] these are things she was required to do if she was to receive the Mark Twain Prize.”
With her Seinfeld character, Elaine Benes, Tina Fey said Louis-Dreyfus made a bold choice, particularly when it came to Elaines modest style. “Julia was letting us know that she was the real deal comedy-wise and she didnt need to give us midriff for [us] to watch her work because—heres the secret—Julias not afraid to be unlikable,” Fey said. “Not on screen and not in person. Just try sharing an elevator with her.”
Indeed, as she said in her speech, Louis-Dreyfuss real fear this whole time has been reserved for her children. “When youre a working mother, you really worry about the time spent away from your kid,” she said. “You try your best to be there as much as possible. But the truth is that you miss stuff, and you worry they are just going to get all screwed up and suffer all kinds of angst and neuroses when they grow up.
“And then you get the Mark Twain Prize,” she cracked, “and Ive got to say, its worth it.”
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