Celebrities turned to political jokes about President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at this year’s Mark Twain Prize for American Humor ceremony honoring actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
“There are some terrible people in showbusiness who recently switched to politics,” said The Late Show host Stephen Colbert during the recent ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. “It’s no secret that I love VEEP – not the actual one.”
Referring to Pence, Colbert said, “Is he here tonight? Is he over there with you [Julia]? Oh, that’s right, he’s afraid to be alone with a woman. But I love Julia’s show. I’m a VEEP addict. Everybody knows it. After a long day of the news some people drink heavily. I watch VEEP while drinking heavily.”
Actress and comedian Tina Fey joked about the “parallels” between the HBO show VEEP, starring Louis-Dreyfus, and the Trump administration.
“We both won Emmys for playing people who should never be vice president,” she said at the ceremony, referring to her Saturday Night Live portrayal of former GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. “Everyone talks about all the parallels between VEEP and the current administration, but I think it’s more like Seinfeld – just a bunch of selfish dicks who don’t give a crap about anyone but themselves.”
Actor Kumail Nanjiani, star of The Big Sick, named the reasons he thinks Louis-Dreyfus should run for president in 2020, describing a time when she asked him if she could make fun of his physical appearance before filming a scene on camera.
“She is diplomatic – that used to be part of [being president],” he said to laughter from the audience. “You were able to say the funny and mean thing but to prep me so it didn’t hurt my feelings too much. That’s what being a president is about – screwing people over without having them feel bad about it and she asked me before she did it, so she values consent.”
Louis-Dreyfus mentioned the controversy surrounding Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court during her acceptance speech for the Mark Twain Prize. In September, she signed onto a letter supporting Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when she attended Holton-Arms in Bethesda, Md., the school also attended by Louis-Dreyfus.
“Back in fourth grade, as a matter of fact, I was in a Holton-Arms production of a very serious play called Serendipity. You know, it’s funny with us Holton girls, I remember every detail of that play,” she said. “I could swear to it under penalty of perjury and, yet, I don’t remember who drove me to the show or who drove me home or if Squee or Tobin were there or if Bart put it on his weird wall calendar.”
Louis-Dreyfus continued, “This, by the way, is totally true and not some kind of subtle attack on our newest Supreme Court justice – for God’s sake, the man has suffered enough.”
Referring to her battle with breast cancer, Louis-Dreyfus said, “Part of dealing with it has been finding the funny parts. The old cliché that laughter is the best medicine turns out to be true, which is good, because that’s what the current administration is trying to replace Obamacare with.”
On a serious note, the Seinfeld star told the audience that “everybody needs laughs, so the fact that I had the opportunity to make people laugh for a living is one of the many blessings that I have received in my life.”
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s speech at the ceremony focused on his personal relationship with Louis-Dreyfus and how he made their on-screen relationship work so well on Seinfeld. He shied away from political jokes.
“I just really, really like Julia. I could not get enough of her. I never said or did anything inappropriate but that whole time, 9 years, I was not acting. I couldn’t,” Seinfeld said. “I thought she was funny, charming, beautiful, intelligent, every single second I ever spent with her on stage and off, bingo, no acting required – just read the lines, read the script, three stupid guys, one incredible woman, 9 years, 180 episodes, syndication, DVD, streaming, piece of cake.”
President Obama met with past recipients of the Mark Twain Prize such as actor Bill Murray. Before the ceremony, Louis-Dreyfus was asked if she would have met with President Trump if she had the chance.
“I don’t think he’s interested in meeting with me – that’s fine. I have no problem with that. I’m not interested in meeting with him either – it’s no good,” Louis-Dreyfus told PJM on the red carpet.
Nanjiani and other celebrity guests applauded Louis-Dreyfus’ get-out-the-vote efforts ahead of the midterm elections.
“I’ve been contributing and also making videos to try and get people to vote and amplifying that, so to me that’s the most important thing right now is that we are in a democracy so the people’s voices are important. They just need to f—ing go vote. I’m sorry for saying that,” Nanjiani told PJM during an interview before the ceremony.
“Every election is important. It seems that people are more politically engaged than they have been, at least in my time in America, and I think it’s because it feels like people are pretty divided and some of the social issues I really care about seem to be going in a different direction than, at least, I would want them to go,” he added. “So I would say it’s a very, very important election.”
The president appoints members for six-year terms to the Kennedy Center’s board of trustees. First Lady Melania Trump and all former first ladies are honorary co-chairs of the performing arts center, but they did not attend the ceremony.
The Mark Twain Prize ceremony will air on PBS Nov. 19 at 9 p.m.