No surprise, Julia Louis-Dreyfus got political Sunday (Oct. 21) night in accepting the 2018 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center, where she was toasted and roasted by admirers including Stephen Colbert, Bryan Cranston, Tina Fey, Keegan-Michael Key, Kumail Nanjiani and Jerry Seinfeld.
Reminiscing about her performance in a play while she attended the Holton Arms school, the same school attended by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh accuser Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, she said, “I can remember every single aspect of that play that night, so much so that I would testify under oath about it. But I can’t remember who drove me there or who drove me home… Or if Squee or Tobin were there. Or if Brett put it on his weird wall calendar.”
In a time when awards shows are struggling to validate their own relevance, there’s something that sparkles about the Twain Prize, this year produced for the first time by Done + Dusted, and slated to air on PBS stations on Nov. 19.
There’s particular poignancy, too, that the current Veep star, former Saturday Night Live, Seinfeld and New Adventures of Old Christine luminary, is in the spotlight this year. Aside from winning a bounty of awards in the past 35 years, including 11 Emmys, JLD took on a new role last year as a public face of someone battling breast cancer—with both grace and humor.
In one of the night’s wittiest bits, Seinfeld co-creator Larry David, known for going where even many in present company won’t, commended Louis-Dreyfus for manufacturing the cancer scare to secure the prize. “Fake cancer, that’s right up my alley,” he quipped.
Similar wisecracks were strung through video messages from the cast of Veep, which wraps this year after its seventh season. And Tony Hale, who portrays Gary Walsh, assistant and hero-worshipper to Louis-Dreyfus’ Selina Meyer, said on stage, “I will continue picking up her dry cleaning with mine… and I will continue my love for Julia Louis-Dreyfus.”
Before the show, Hale noted, “With comedy there’s a big trust factor, and we have a trust with each other. When you throw the ball, you know it’s going to be thrown back.”
For his part, Seinfeld, told Billboard of meeting JLD, “lt was love at first comedy.”
Common threads of Louis-Dreyfus’ life and career were woven throughout the program: Her boys-club-busting comedy nurtured at Northwestern University, where she met her husband and SNL co-star Brad Hall. Her dedication to keeping it real. Her desire for those around her to feel good and succeed, a trait lauded by friend and fellow environmental activist Jack Johnson, who serenaded JLD with his hit “Better Together.”
Of course the Elaine Benes dance was in full swing, particularly from Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson of Comedy Central’s Broad City, who celebrated their “hero and empress” with a dramatic reenactment.
In a room sanguine on arts support, less so on current U.S. politics, the Trump administration provided a renewable-energy gust of comic fodder. “It’s no secret I love Veep. Not the real one,” deadpanned Colbert. “Is he here, sitting with you Julia? No, he’s afraid to be alone with a woman.”
Nanjiani gave a “Twain Talk” to convince Louis-Dreyfus to run for president, citing her diplomacy, which he noted “used to be part of it.” An active anti-Trump voice on his socials, the Silicon Valley star and creator/star of film The Big Sick said on the carpet his biggest push now is getting out the vote. “We’re in a democracy, and the people’s voices are important. They just need to fucking go vote.”
Fey referenced Louis-Dreyfus’ upbringing outside of DC and her schooling at Holton Arms, noting JLD spent her time “boofing on the quad, playing devil’s triangle, her favorite drinking game, with her girlfriends. The classic American childhood.” Fey also shook off comparisons between Veep and the current administration, noting the comparison best fits Seinfeld: “Just a bunch of selfish dicks who don’t give a crap about anyone but themselves.”
On the red carpet prior to the show, Louis-Dreyfus was asked whether she would meet with Trump. “I don’t think Donald Trump wants to talk to me,” she said, then paused the perfect beat. “But that’s OK, I don’t want to talk to him either.”