Will Ferrell to get the Mark Twain prize. Where's his book?
So Will Ferrell will receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor from the Kennedy Center, it was announced Thursday. The award, now in its 14th year, will be presented in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 23.
The Mark Twain Prize has been awarded to comedians who have conquered multiple formats: live performance, sitcoms, movies, live television. Bill Cosby (Mark Twain Prize 2009), Bob Newhart (2002), Jonathan Winters (1999), Lily Tomlin (2003) and Richard Pryor (1998) also had hit comedy records. Steve Martin (2005) did too -- then went one step further and won Grammy for his bluegrass banjo playing.
And almost all of the prior winners have written books. When he got the Mark Twain prize, Martin had written a novella, a book of essays and a short story collection -- and since then, he's written two novels and a memoir. Bill Cosby hit bestseller lists with comedic riffs in books like "Fatherhood" and "Kids Say the Darndest Things." On top of his many plays and screenplays, Neil Simon (2006) has written two memoirs. Whoopie Goldberg (2001) published "Book" in 1997 and has, in recent years, been co-writing books for kids. George Carlin (2008) had published four books, Billy Crystal (2007) three, Winters two, and Newhart one. Carl Reiner (2000) had written six books before he'd won, beginning with 1958's "Enter Laughing."
That's what one would hope for a prize named for Mark Twain -- while yes, he toured the country as an early multitalented celebrity, he also wrote books. Brilliant, lasting books, including "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," "The Prince and the Pauper," "Roughing It," "Letters from the Earth" and the 2010 bestseller, published 100 years after his death, "Autobiography of Mark Twain."
All of the Mark Twain Prize recipients are writers -- they write screenplays and skits and create performances with improv. They write jokes. Like Mark Twain, they're funny. But still: Mark Twain's humor lasts not in transcriptions of his performances but in the way he set down words on the page in his books.
I like Ron Burgundy and his not-quite-Twain-esque mustache as much as anyone, but it has to be said: Will Ferrell hasn't written a book.
In this, he's not completely alone among the Mark Twain Prize winners. Lorne Michaels and Lily Tomlin haven't published books of their own yet, either. And Tina Fey, when she won the prize in 2010, was not yet published.
But she did have a book deal. And "Bossypants" is now resting comfortably at the top of our nonfiction bestseller list.
So ... publishers? Anybody want to make Will Ferrell an honest Mark Twain Prize winner and give him a contract so he can get something between the covers?
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: Will Ferrell in 2011. Credit: Victoria Will / Associated Press