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Kevin Hart’s acceptance of the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Prize marks his official emergence as an American icon.

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After rising from Philadelphia’s open mics to become one of the most popular performers of his generation, comedian Kevin Hart has been selected to win the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Prize for lifetime achievement in American humour. This honour caps off a three-decade career.

Other comedians who got the lifetime achievement award include George Carlin, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Newhart, Carol Burnett and Dave Chapelle.

Hart, 44, launched his career as a teenager performing at venues such as The Laff House in his native Philadelphia under the name of Lil Kev. He recalled his early stand-up performances as a string of brutal failures that included being booed off the stage multiple times and at one point, he claimed, having a piece of chicken thrown at him on stage.

With time, Hart developed a distinctive style that brought together his small size, expressive face, and motormouth delivery to create a highly popular touring act. He debuted in a motion picture in 2002 with “Paper Soldiers,” and he gained widespread recognition with a series of memorable appearances in blockbusters like 2005’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”

Now in its 25th year, the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor annually honors performers who have made a lasting impact on humor and culture. Honorees receive a bronze bust of Twain, the iconic American writer and satirist whose real name was Samuel Clemens.

Hart, in a statement, noted that the launch of the Mark Twain Prize in 1998, with inaugural recipient Richard Pryor, basically coincided with the start of his comedic career.

Mark Twain recipients are honored with a night of testimonials and video tributes, often featuring previous award winners.

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