WASHINGTON -- Some of the nation’s top comedians hailed Ellen DeGeneres as a trailblazer Monday night as she received the nation’s highest humor prize.
The Kennedy Cen ter is awarding De Gen eres the Mark Twain Prize for Am er ican Humor. The show will be broadcast Tuesday on PBS stations.
"Thanks to everyone at PBS. I am so happy to be part of your farewell season," DeGeneres joked in accepting the prize and taking a jab at Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s plans to stop funding public broadcasting.
DeGeneres, 54, began her career as a comedy club emcee in New Orleans.
Turning to acting, DeGeneres landed sitcoms on Fox and ABC, eventually starring in "Ellen" from 1994 to 1998. She broke new ground and a taboo in 1997 when she came out publicly as a lesbian and her TV persona then became the first lead character on prime-time TV to reveal she was gay. A re cord 46 million viewers watched the episode.
"It was the right thing for me to do to not live with shame," she said. "I happened to help a lot of people, and it happened to create a ruckus."
"She’s brilliantly shined a light on society, and that’s what Mark Twain did," said Cappy McGarr, an executive producer for the Mark Twain Prize show.