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Tina Fey to get prestigious Mark Twain humor prize

Tina Fey joins the ranks of Bill Cosby, Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin and others who have won the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Actress Tina Fey attends the NBC Universal's Upfront presentation in New York in May 17. Fey will win the nation's top humor prize from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Peter Kramer/AP

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The woman known for her impression of Sarah Palin on "Saturday Night Live" will win the nation's top humor prize this year from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Tina Fey joins the ranks of Bill Cosby, Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin and others who have won the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, the center announced Tuesday. Fey will be the youngest honoree, having just turned 40.

"I am truly thrilled to receive this honor," Fey said in a written statement. "I assume Betty White was disqualified for steroid use."

Fey returned to "SNL" earlier this month when the 88-year-old White drew rave reviews as host of the sketch comedy show.

Some of the biggest names in comedy will honor Fey when the prize is awarded Nov. 9 in Washington. The show will be taped for television broadcast later.

Fey got her start with Chicago's The Second City improv group and became the first woman to be head writer on "SNL" during nine seasons as a cast member and co-anchor of "Weekend Update."

Those years set her apart and changed the show, said Mark Krantz, an executive producer of the Mark Twain prize.

"It's that job as a head writer on a show that's been a traditionally male-oriented show," he said, adding that Fey's work "kind of broke the ceiling for many, many women in comedy, let alone that particular show."

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She created NBC's Emmy-winning comedy series "30 Rock," in which she stars with Alec Baldwin. Fey also has made several hit movies, including her screenplay "Mean Girls" and the 2008 film "Baby Mama" with her "SNL" buddy Amy Poehler. Her film "Date Night," with Steve Carell, is playing in theaters.

Fey is currently working on her first book, a humorous memoir due out next year. She lives in New York with her husband, Jeff Richmond, and their daughter.

This isn't the first recognition of her work. Fey was voted The Associated Press' Entertainer of the Year in 2008 by newspaper editors and broadcasters across the country after her Palin impression during the presidential campaign. Palin was the Republican vice presidential candidate.

She has more Emmy Awards, Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards than she can hold in two arms. And she's been one of People magazine's "Most Beautiful People," not once but four times.

"She's politically conscious, she's a writer, she's a filmmaker, she's a producer, she's a performer," Krantz said. "Her body of work is as inclusive and far-reaching as anyone else's, and she's just funny."

It's too soon to know who will perform in Fey's honor. The producers will likely invite many familiar faces, including people Fey has worked with, those who influenced her work and those she has influenced.

The prize honors people who have made an impact on society similar to Twain, a satirist, commentator and storyteller. This is the 13th year it's been awarded.

The Kennedy Center board chooses the winner with recommendations from former Twain honorees, the show's producers and others.

Last year, the Kennedy Center honored Cosby. Past honorees have included the late George Carlin, Whoopi Goldberg and "SNL" creator Lorne Michaels.

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Online:

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

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