Jay Leno was the target of a slew of jokes on Sunday night, and it wasn’t a roast. The former host of NBC’s “The Tonight Show” was honored with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, the nation’s top humor prize, at the Kennedy Center in Washington.
The award comes on the heels of Leno’s announced return to television on CNBC, this time focusing on his other passion: cars. “Jay Leno’s Garage” will premiere on the network in 2015.
The Mark Twain Prize gala, which will be broadcast on PBS Sunday, Nov. 23, featured a bevy of comedians including Leno’s replacement on NBC’s venerable late-night institution. Jimmy Fallon described Leno as “a man who has done so much for NBC; so much that we had to celebrate his career on PBS,” according to the Associated Press.
Leno got in a few cracks of his own, including one at the Clintons, while praising Fallon’s transformation of “The Tonight Show.”
“The truth is, my time was done,” he admitted. “When I left ‘The Tonight Show,’ I didn’t leave dead broke like Bill and Hillary. I was able to save.”
He said it was fun to see Fallon’s evolution of “The Tonight Show, adding that the young host brings “a new dynamic” to the show.
Leno’s long-time friends Garth Brooks and Kevin Eubanks were there for his big night, along with fellow comedians Chelsea Handler, Wanda Sykes and Jerry Seinfeld.
While they were there to honor Leno and his impact on American comedy, the comedians couldn’t help but make a few digs along the way.
“When I first heard that Jay was getting this Mark Twain Prize tonight, which is a huge honor, I found out it was for humor, and I was a little bit confused,” Handler said. “I wasn’t sure what the connection was.”
“There’s no one more deserving to get this wonderful award obviously than Jay,” Seinfeld added. “No one — except and I really don’t want to sound bitter here — except maybe me? I mean come on.”
PBS will broadcast the Mark Twain Prize special event on Sunday, Nov. 23 at 8 p.m. ET.