Comedian Ellen DeGeneres received the prestigious Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center Monday evening.
DeGeneres was honored by several of her peers at the award's ceremony held in Washington, D.C. The show will be broadcast as "Ellen DeGeneres: The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize" on Oct. 30 on PBS stations (check local listings).
DeGeneres began her acceptance speech with a quip at Republican candidate Mitt Romney's suggestion that he would stop funding public broadcasting if he is elected president.
“Thanks to everyone at PBS; I am so happy to be part of your farewell season," she joked.
In her acceptance speech, DeGeneres, who is considered a trailblazer for helping gays find greater acceptance in Hollywood over her career spanning more than three decades, said she never intended to become a comedian, and only wanted to make her mother laugh.
She was already a well-known comedian when came out as a lesbian on her television show “Ellen” in 1997. After a significant amount of backlash, the show was canceled, and her career suffered for a time. Nevertheless, she paved the way for many gay actors and actresses to have success in their careers, as well as for the success of shows featuring gay characters, such as "Will and Grace" and "Modern Family," according to the Vancouver Sun.
"We didn't have a voice, until there was you," said “Will and Grace” star, Sean Hayes.
"She's the one who went in there with a machete" and cleared the way for other shows with gay characters such as "Glee," said Jane Lynch. "Look where she is today."
After rejuvenating her career as a stand-up comedian, Ellen went on to host her own talk show, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” now in its 10th season. She has also hosted three awards shows including the Grammys, Emmys and Oscars. In addition, she has been in several movies, served as an American Idol judge and posed as a spokesmodel for Cover Girl.
DeGeneres shares the Mark Twain Prize with other celebrities including Bill Cosby, Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin, Tina Fey, and Whoopi Goldberg.
"I'm flattered. It's fantastic. Of course I think, 'What took so long?'" she joked on the red carpet.