WASHINGTON – Adam Sandler placed his hand on the bronze bust of Mark Twain and speculated that it “one day might be the weapon used to bludgeon me in my sleep.”
A host of comedic and entertainment royalty gathered at Washington’s Kennedy Center as Sandler was presented with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
Presenters including Drew Barrymore, Conan O’Brien, Chris Rock, Jennifer Aniston, Steve Buscemi, Dana Carvey, and Luis Guzmán gave testimonials to Sandler's creative longevity, while poking occasional fun at his uneven movie output and tendency to cast all his friends in his movies.
Sandler's longtime writing and production partner Tim Herlihy joked that the pair were responsible for “31 motion pictures with a combined Rotten Tomatoes score of 59.”
Buscemi, known largely for dramatic and often violent roles, portrayed a string of comedic characters in Sandler movies.
“He takes his comedy very seriously. I laugh hard at everything I do with him,” he said.
Buscemi also singled out Sandler's musical comedy, including “The Chanukah Song," which became a multiplatinum hit. “His comedy songs alone deserve this reward,” he said.
Judd Apatow, Sandler's roommate during their early days in Los Angeles, recalled a young Sandler's boundless confidence and obvious talent.
“The moment you met him, you knew Adam was going to be a big star,” Apatow said. “And so did Adam.”
To highlight Sandler's seemingly limitless comedic energy, Apatow played an old video he recorded of a young Sandler prank-calling a local deli in his spare time to try out different comedic voices.
At the end of the night, Sandler, who's from Manchester, New Hampshire, paid tribute to his parents and siblings for arming him with “that weird irrational confidence thing that I guess I still have.”
Sandler, 56, first came to national attention as a cast member on “Saturday Night Live.” After being fired from the cast following a five-year stint, Sandler launched a wildly successful movie career that has spanned more than 30 films, grossing over $3 billion worldwide.
Sandler's top hits include “Happy Gilmore,” “The Wedding Singer” and “You Don't Mess with the Zohan.” Although primarily known for slapstick comedy and overgrown man-child characters, he has excelled in multiple dramatic roles in films such as "Punch Drunk Love" and “Uncut Gems.”
Guzman, who co-starred in “Punch Drunk Love,” admitted he originally thought Sandler was “out of his depth” in a dramatic role scripted by auteur director Paul Thomas Anderson. But he came away impressed and praised Sandler's “total commitment to something that was so far our of his element.”
Other comedians who received the lifetime achievement award include inaugural honoree Richard Pryor in 1998, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Newhart, Carol Burnett and Dave Chapelle. Bill Cosby, the 2009 recipient, saw his Mark Twain Prize rescinded in 2019 amid multiple allegations of sexual assault.
The comedy institution "SNL" has provided more than its share of the 24 Mark Twain recipients. Sandler is the seventh cast member to receive the prize, joining Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Will Ferrell, Billy Crystal, Eddie Murphy, Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Show creator and producer Lorne Michaels won in 2004.
The ceremony will be broadcast nationally on CNN on March 26.
This story was first published on March 19, 2023. It was updated on March 20, 2023, to correct the names of two previous recipients of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. They are Will Ferrell, not Will Farrell, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, not Julia Louise-Dreyfus.