Sandler will be the 24th recipient of the award, named for Samuel Langhorne Clemens, i.e. Mark Twain, following last year’s honoring of Jon Stewart. The award, created in 1998 and first bestowed upon Richard Pryor, is given to humorists who make a lasting impact on American society — which, let’s be honest, “Happy Gilmore” almost undoubtedly has.
The Sandman, as the 56-year-old comedian is nicknamed, is frequently referred to as one of “nicest guys in Hollywood.” Known for their goofy, juvenile nature, his movies have collectively grossed more than $3 million worldwide, according to a news release from the Kennedy Center. The announcement raises one vital question: Will Sandler wear a suit to the ceremony, or will he stick to his oversize polos and basketball shorts? (Good money is on the latter, as when his performance in “Uncut Gems” was snubbed by the Academy in 2020, he tweeted, “Bad news: Sandman gets no love from the Academy. Good news: Sandman can stop wearing suits.”)
“Adam Sandler has entertained audiences for over three decades with his films, music, and his tenure as a fan favorite cast member on SNL,” Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter said in a statement. “Adam has created characters that have made us laugh, cry, and cry from laughing. I am looking forward to a laughter-filled evening like no other as we celebrate his career at a ceremony that is sure to bring together the best in comedy.”
After a few small television roles, including a short stint on “The Cosby Show,” the Brooklyn-born Sandler joined SNL in 1990 as a writer. He eventually became a cast member known for such over-the-top characters as Opera Man (in which he sang the news on Weekend Update), Carlo the Pepper Boy (in which he plays an Italian waiter who has some, err, trouble with the pepper grinder) and Cajun Boy (in which he says short phrases ending in the “ion” sound, a play on the Cajun accent). The show also offered a stage for him to debut original novelty ditties, such as “The Chanukah Song,” which landed on the Billboard Top 100.
Sandler left SNL in 1995 as his film career was taking off with such movies as “Billy Madison” (1995), “Happy Gilmore” (1996) and “The Wedding Singer” (1998). He founded his own production company, Happy Madison Productions, in 1999, which has produced most of his films since, along with a number of other projects.
Despite his tremendous box office success, Sandler has rarely impressed critics throughout the three-plus decades he’s been in show business — and he knows it. In 2018, he released a stand-up special cheekily named “100% Fresh,” a reference to the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, which calculates a percentage of positive reviews a particular work receives. In an amusing twist, the special actually received a 90% “fresh” rating, ranking it among Sandler’s most lauded work.
Occasionally, Sandler will delight said critics by taking a short break from his broad comedies to turn in a stunning dramatic performance for an auteur director, such as Paul Thomas Anderson’s ″Punch-Drunk Love” (2002), Judd Apatow’s “Funny People” (2009), Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories” (2017), and Josh and Benny Safdie’s “Uncut Gems” (2019). After winning best male lead at the Film Independent Spirit Awards for his role in the Safdie brothers’ movie as the gambling-addicted jeweler Howard Ratner, he used his speech to joke about not receiving an Oscar nod — and he quipped that he’d “like to also give a shout out to my fellow nominees, who will now and forever be known as the guys who lost to f—ing Adam Sandler.”
Sandler became one of the first people to sign a multi-film deal with Netflix, agreeing to star in and produce movies exclusive to the service. His latest, the sports drama “Hustle” (2022), earned him a tribute at the 32nd Gotham Awards, where he read a speech (more of a self-roast) written by his teenage daughters. “Daddy’s silly film career began in 1988,” he said, “formed by two guiding principles: people in prison need movies, too, and TBS needs content.”
Due to covid protocols, the Twain Prize ceremony went on a two-year hiatus after stand-up comedian Dave Chappelle received the honor in 2019. It returned this year as a spring ceremony after generally being a fall event. It proceeded in a semi-normal fashion, aside from some general masking that honoree Jon Stewart joked made the crowd look “like something from an O. Henry story” and the fact that Stephen Colbert, who was scheduled to speak about Stewart, had to Zoom into the show after contracting the virus.
In his speech, the former “Daily Show” host mostly focused on his family but ended by reflecting on both the role and health of comedy in the modern world.
“Comedy survives every moment,” Stewart said, which is vital because “comedy doesn’t change the world, but it’s a bellwether. We’re the banana peel in the coal mine. When society is under threat, comedians are the ones who get sent away first.”
“What we have is fragile and precious, and the way to guard against it isn’t to change how audiences think, but to change how leaders lead,” he concluded.
Sponsorship packages for the Mark Twain Prize gala performance, which include a preperformance reception, gala performance tickets and a post-performance celebration and start at $1,300, are now on sale. Information about the limited sales of performance-only tickets will be announced at a later date. kennedy-center.org.