On Sunday night, an impressive cast of comedians and actors poked fun at and celebrated retired late-night TV legend David Letterman as he accepted the Kennedy Center's 20th Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Letterman's post-Late Show beard was a popular topic. "Dave has always had spot-on comedic instincts," Steve Martin said. "What better time than right now to insist on looking like a Confederate war general?" Amy Schumer joked later that Letterman "has successfully transitioned from a standup comic to a late-night host to a Civil War re-enactor," adding, "I'm glad you didn't look like that when you were the last thing we saw when we were going to bed at night."
Bill Murray, last year's Mark Twain Prize recipient, cracked Letterman up with a rundown of what his new honor means. "You're not exactly a god, but you're way up there," he said. "You will be able to walk up to any man or woman on the street, take a lit cigar out of their mouth, and finish it. You'll be able to board any riverboat in this country." And Letterman's psychiatrist, Clarice Kestenbaum, made a surprise appearance, paraphrasing a typical session: "'I'm dumb. People hate me. I have E.D.' Oh, Jesus, what a f---ing pity party. Don't get me wrong: He's crazy. Not Trump crazy. But who knows?"
Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder played a Warren Zevon song on a guitar with Tom Petty's initials. There was a Top Ten List, Paul Shaffer led the band, and Late Show regulars made appearances. Letterman himself ended the show on a serious note, urging people to be nice to one another ("If you help someone, in any way, big or small, automatically you will feel good about yourself") and quoting Mark Twain's definition of patriotism: "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it." PBS will broadcast the entire ceremony on Nov. 20. Peter Weber