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10 Hilarious, Touching Moments From Kevin Hart’s Mark Twain Prize Tribute

Get the inside preview of America’s top comedy honors show airing May 11 on Netflix

spinner image Kevin Hart talking onstage as he's honored with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center in Washington D C
Kevin Hart
Courtesy: Scott Suchman/Kennedy Center

Comedian Kevin Hart, 44, was moved to tears by the tributes of his famous friends — and reduced to giggles by their multiple insults — as he accepted the 25th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, the highest honor a comedian can earn, at the Kennedy Center in D.C. March 24.

Richard Pryor, Carl Reiner, Whoopi Goldberg, 68, Eddie Murphy, 62, Carol Burnett, 90, David Letterman, 76, and Adam Sandler, 57, are past winners. Here’s a sneak peek at what you’ll see when the celebrity roast-and-toast show airs May 11 at 8 p.m. on Netflix.

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spinner image Nelly and Robin Thicke perform onstage during the 25th Annual Mark Twain Prize For American Humor
Nelly, left, and Robin Thicke
Paul Morigi/Getty Images

The show started with a bang

Six flame pots erupted onstage as Robin Thicke and rapper Nelly ignited the event by performing Nelly’s 2002 hit “Hot in Herre”: “Warm, sweatin’, it’s hot up in this joint … You’re with a winner, so baby, you can’t lose!”

Hart’s inability to lose was the theme of the evening (along with jibes about his diminutive stature). Hart’s movies have grossed $4.2 billion; his stand-up comedy shows broke records; he’s launched a restaurant chain, a production company and an investment company; and the Plastic Cup Boyz, his old Philadelphia comedy buddies who’ve opened his shows for years, toasted him onstage with his own brand of tequila. One suspects his ambition of becoming a billionaire when he turns 45 in July may come true.

spinner image Jerry Seinfeld talking into a microphone onstage at the 25th Annual Mark Twain Prize For American Humor
Jerry Seinfeld
Courtesy: Scott Suchman/Kennedy Center

Seinfeld paid tribute to Hart’s ability to get paid

“I saw Kevin speak to a huge room full of crazy zillionaire super businessmen at the J.P. Morgan conference in Miami,” said Jerry Seinfeld, 69, a billionaire himself. “They just wanted to hear him talk about his business and they’re already millionaires. And they still wanted to find out how the hell are you doing it?” He also said another mystery had just been solved. “What would Kevin Hart want to do that he has not already done?” Seinfeld asked rhetorically. “The triumph of tonight is we found something Kevin Hart doesn’t already have: the Mark Twain Prize.”

spinner image Comedian Keith Robinson on the red carpet at the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor honoring Kevin Hart
Keith Robinson
Shannon Finney/Getty Images

The most moving moment in the show was also one of the funniest

Hart’s early comedy mentor Keith Robinson, 50, who had a 2020 stroke that slurred his speech and impaired his right arm, was in fine form, joshing about both Hart and his own infirmity, which hasn’t stopped his comedy career. “My New Year’s resolution: No more strokes,” he said. “Chris Rock calls me ‘Strokey Robinson.’ He’s an a--hole, man.” To Hart, he said, “Kev … this is a good thing for you, I love you to death.” He got a huge standing ovation.

spinner image J.B. Smoove speaking onstage while holding a cigar at the 25th Annual Mark Twain Prize For American Humor
J.B. Smoove
Scott Suchman/Kennedy Center

J.B. Smoove revealed the secret of Hart’s mega-success

Curb Your Enthusiasm star Smoove, 58, also witnessed Hart’s launch at Philadelphia’s Laff House Comedy Club. Though his tone was jokey, he made a serious point: When Hart started out, he was imitating other comics. (Hart was so unsuccessful at first, one clubgoer threw a piece of chicken at him, getting buffalo sauce in his eye.)

After jestingly accusing the then-teenage Hart of chronically heisting other comics’ jokes, he said seriously, “I’ve watched him go from sitting in the back of small clubs in Philly to standing onstage in arenas around the damn world. And how do you do that? Well, simple: being himself.”

spinner image Chris Rock talking into a microphone onstage at the 25th Annual Mark Twain Prize For American Humor
Chris Rock
Scott Suchman/Kennedy Center

Chris Rock said his advice to Hart backfired

Rock, 59, whose 2023 stand-up comedy documentary Kevin Hart & Chris Rock: Headliners Only was a hit, was yet another mentor to the younger comic. He recalled giving the same advice to Hart that Smoove did. “I said, ‘Oh, man, you’re really funny, but your problem is you’re competing with these other comedians. They are not your peers. You’re better than all of them. But you need to develop your own voice.”

Rock bemoaned the result. “Within 800 days, Kevin Hart was a bigger star than me!” Hart even started taking roles away from Rock, who hailed The Upside as Hart’s finest hour as an actor: “He had to act like he had less money than Bryan Cranston.”

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spinner image Jimmy Fallon wearing a country hat and playing an acoustic guitar onstage at the 25th Annual Mark Twain Prize For American Humor
Jimmy Fallon
Scott Suchman/Kennedy Center

Jimmy Fallon turned country-western singer

A monitor played a video clip of Hart on Fallon’s show, inviting him to the Mark Twain Award show — but not to speak a word at the event. So instead, Fallon, 49, donned a cowboy hat, grabbed a guitar and crooned:

“We all love this little man/he’ll fit in the palm of your hand …

We all love this famous Kevin/Even though he’s 2-11.

He’s the boss in any room/But from behind, he looks like he’s 7.

He entertained millions of people/We’d be so heartbroke if you got carried away by an eagle.”

spinner image Dave Chappelle speaking into a microphone onstage at the 25th Annual Mark Twain Prize For American Humor
Dave Chappelle
Scott Suchman/Kennedy Center

Dave Chappelle got serious for once

Chappelle, 50, who won the Mark Twain Award in 2019, was less scathing and more loving than his usual stage persona. “Kevin Hart grew up in Philadelphia, endured poverty,” he said. “If survival had a mascot, it would be him. A little guy, strong, but probably can’t fight. And survived with humor and levity.”

Chappelle looked up how many people have paid to watch Hart crack them up: “Half a billion!” He hailed Hart as the first comic to sell out an entire NFL stadium. “I never played arenas until I saw him do it. It made me dream bigger — and he’s younger than me. It’s humiliating! But it’s inspiring, man. My God, Kevin Hart, you are a very powerful dreamer.”

Then came a Chappelle zinger: “I really wish you had come when I won this award.”

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spinner image Chelsea Handler speaking into a microphone onstage at the 25th Annual Mark Twain Prize For American Humor
Chelsea Handler
Scott Suchman/Kennedy Center

Chelsea Handler said she always knew he’d wind up a prizewinner

Handler, 49, who met Hart as a guest on her show, said she knew from that moment that he was destined for superstardom, “especially when he told me he was destined for superstardom.” She sized him up as “one giant-hearted, hilariously funny, fun-loving, hard-working little m-----------.”

spinner image Regina Hall onstage with images of him and Kevin Hart is projected on a big monitor in the background at the 25th Annual Mark Twain Prize For American Humor
Regina Hall
Scott Suchman/Kennedy Center

Regina Hall razzed her onscreen husband

Hall, 53, who’s costarred as Hart’s love interest in so many movies she claims to be entitled to half his estate, gave one of the funniest tributes of the night. She accused him of being a leprechaun, because of his height and also the fact that he inspired her to follow her own rainbow to her own pot of gold. “Since Kevin has been in my life, I have had nothing but good fortune — except for the last three years. Where the hell you been?”

Hart gave credit where credit is due

The final spotlight went to the night’s honoree — but not until he took a restroom break. “Is it OK if I pee?” he asked, then visited the restroom. Back onstage, he thanked everybody present at the Kennedy Center and practically everybody in his life, including his children, who were watching him with awed pride from the audience. “I breathe for you. I live for you,” he said, wiping away tears. But he thanked one person above all: the mother whose support and strictness saved him from his addict father’s example and the menace of the Philly streets. “Take my mom away, and I don’t have an idea of what I want or who I want to be,” he said.

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