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Washington, D.C. — The Mark Twain Prize salutes comedian Bill Cosby.  The program airs, Wednesday, November 4 at 8 p.m. ET on PBS stations nationwide.  Taped at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on October 26, the 90-minute special features tributes and comic testimonials from a star-studded cast of Cosby’s friends and colleagues including leading American entertainers Len Chandler, James De Priest, Dick Gregory, Jimmy Heath, Wynton Marsalis, Rita Moreno, Willie Nelson, Phylicia Rashad, Carl Reiner, Chris Rock, Bill Russell, Jerry Seinfeld, Sinbad, Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Steven Wright. The program, which recognizes the life and achievements of the beloved comedian, includes an assortment of classic film clips from Cosby’s career.

Dr. William Henry “Bill” Cosby, Jr. is an American comedian, actor, author, television producer and activist. He began his career performing in various comedy clubs, before landing a role in the 1960s action show I Spy. This was followed by his own series, The Bill Cosby Show, in 1969. He created the animated educational series Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, about a group of young friends growing up in the city and based on the famous routines. Cosby produced and starred in The Cosby Show, which is generally considered one of the landmark sitcoms of all time, airing from 1984 to 1992. “The Huxtable Effect” describes the notion that the show helped pave the way for the first black president. He produced the hit sitcom A Different World, which is credited with encouraging young people to obtain a college education.  Cosby produced Little Bill, a Nick, Jr. Emmy® award winning animated series that now airs on Noggin. Throughout his career, he has released a number of popular comedy albums. Nine of Cosby’s albums have been certified Gold and six have been certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).   In addition to performing, Cosby is the author of many best-selling books, including Fatherhood and Come On People, the Path From Victims to Victors, co-authored by Alvin F. Poussaint, M.D. In 1972, Cosby earned a Masters Degree in Education, followed by a Doctorate in Education in 1978, from the University of Massachusetts. His contributions to American culture were recognized with a Kennedy Center Honors in 1998 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in July 2002, America’s highest civilian honor.

Bill Cosby is the 12th recipient of The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.  Past recipients of the prize have been Richard Pryor (1998), Jonathan Winters (1999), Carl Reiner (2000), Whoopi Goldberg (2001), Bob Newhart (2002), Lily Tomlin (2003), Lorne Michaels (2004), Steve Martin (2005), Neil Simon (2006), Billy Crystal (2007) and George Carlin (2008).

Bill Cosby: The Mark Twain Prize is a co-production of WETA Washington, D.C.; The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; Mark Krantz Productions; and CoMedia.  Executive producers are Bob Kaminsky, Peter Kaminsky, Mark Krantz and Cappy McGarr.  WETA executive producers are Dalton Delan and David S. Thompson.

Funding is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS.
The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor was created in 1998 by The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Mark Krantz, Peter Kaminsky and Bob Kaminsky and John Schreiber to recognize the art of humorists who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th century novelist and essayist best known as Mark Twain*.  As a social commentator, satirist and creator of characters, Samuel Clemens was a fearless observer of society, who startled many while delighting and informing many more with his uncompromising perspective of social injustice and personal folly.  He revealed the great truth of humor when he said, “Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.”  Bill Cosby was presented a copy of an 1884 bronze portrait bust of Mark Twain, sculpted by Karl Gerhardt (1853-1940).  The bust and its images are courtesy of the Mark Twain House, Hartford, Connecticut.

The Kennedy Center, as the nation’s center for the performing arts, recognizes and presents all of the performing arts including opera, jazz, musical theater, drama, ballet and dance, as well as symphony and all kinds of smaller musical ensembles performing every imaginable kind of music. 

WETA Washington, D.C., is the third-largest producing station for public television.  WETA’s other productions and co-productions include The NewsHour, Washington Week with Gwen Ifill and National Journal, In Performance at the White House, The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, and documentaries by filmmaker Ken Burns, including The Civil War, THE WAR and  National Parks: America’s Best Idea.  Sharon Percy Rockefeller is president and CEO.  More information on WETA and its programs and services is available on the Web site at

*"Mark Twain Prize" TM/© Chase Manhattan Bank and Richard A. Watson as trustees of The Mark Twain Foundation Trust under license authorized by CMG Worldwide Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana, 46256 USA.


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