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Julia Louis-Dreyfus Becomes Sixth Woman to Receive the Mark Twain Prize

Julia Louis-Dreyfus on the red carpet for the 21st Annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus on the red carpet for the 21st Annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Getty Images

On Sunday, Julia Louis-Dreyfus received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which is considered the highest honor in comedy. The comedian and actress rose to fame in the ‘90s for her role as Elaine Benes in the sitcom Seinfeld, where she was a “last-minute addition.” She is the sixth woman to be awarded the Mark Twain prize, with Whoopi Goldberg, Tina Fey, Lily Tomlin, Ellen DeGeneres, and Carol Burnett as past recipients.

During his speech, Jerry Seinfeld said that in the nine years of his work partnership with Louis-Dreyfus, he never had to act, as he “just really liked Julia,” adding that he, “could not get enough of her.” And, on the red carpet, her Veep bagman Tony Hale said that, “for someone as deserving as Julia, this is an absolute joy to watch.”

A caravan of female colleagues praised Louis-Dreyfus for paving the way for other women in the field. Broad City stars Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson did a sketch that included Elaine’s iconically terrible Seinfeld dance, and Jacobson addressed the honoree and said that, “Every time you create a character, you open a door, a door for another generation of young women to goofily walk through.”

Fellow recipient Tina Fey spoke of the importance of Louis-Dreyfus “in the early ’90s, at a time on network TV when actresses were expected to have great timing and great tans and great eating disorders, Julia made the bold choice for her character Elaine Benes to wear long, loose dresses, flat shoes, and oversized coats” she said.

When Louis-Dreyfus went on stage to accept her award, she couldn’t help being her hilarious self, first feigning confusion over getting an e-mail from Mark Twain himself: “I thought I was being asked to honor someone else.” But once she realized it was her who would be awarded, she said, “this is a great night, a great honor. Anybody would be lucky to be part of a night like this, honoring someone like me.”