Mark Twain Prize creator speaks on the value of humor in politics
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He’s been there as Eddie Murphy yukked it up in the Oval Office with President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaContinuing resolutions are undermining Congress' right (and responsibility) to operate Rising costs top concern for Americans: poll Biden Supreme Court study panel unanimously approves final report MORE, and he came to the rescue amid a bodyguard-related White House snafu involving Paul McCartney, but now the co-creator of the famed Mark Twain Prize is ready to spill the behind-the-scenes beans on what happens when comedians have brought the wisecracks to Washington.

Cappy McGarr details the 23-year history of the Kennedy Center’s prestigious comedy award — which has honored A-listers including Dave Chappelle, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, David Letterman and Bill Murray in recent years — in his new book, which comes with a tongue-in-cheek title: “The Man Who Made Mark Twain Famous.”

McGarr’s memoir follows the Texas native’s comedy-infused career path, which included jobs as a hedge fund manager and a Democratic fundraiser.


“I was invested in politics, I was good at raising money, and I loved making people laugh,” McGarr writes in his book. “In a perfect world, I could find a passion that would bridge those three areas as much as possible.”

McGarr helped create and executive produce the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Prize, the country’s highest honor for humor, in 1998. The award was originally envisioned as an Oscars-like soiree dedicated solely to honoring comedy and was pitched to the Clinton White House as an event that could be held there. But amid the scandal involving former President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, McGarr said there was “no way [the White House was] about to green-light a comedy show.” That’s when McGarr joined the effort to bring the award to the Kennedy Center.

Throughout the book, McGarr recounts encounters he’s had with comedians that sound as if they could be setups to jokes, like the time McGarr entered the Oval Office with Twain Prize recipient Murphy in 2015 and the 44th president made a self-deprecating crack at his salt-and-pepper look.

“President Obama looks at Eddie and says, ‘Eddie, you and I are the same age, and you have no gray hair.’ ”

Murphy replied, “Mr. President, you’ve got a very stressful job. You’re the leader of the free world. All I do is make people laugh.”

“The President looks at me and says, Cappy, I’m funny, aren’t I?” McGarr, 70, recalled, adding he responded in the affirmative.

Another time, McCartney was scheduled to jam at a concert at the White House but insisted that he bring his personal bodyguard. After another producer goofed and tried to get in the bodyguard by listing his name for Secret Service as production staff, McGarr was tasked with clean up on Aisle 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

McGarr quickly managed to get a meeting with the head of Secret Service to try to smooth over the bodyguard issue, or face McCartney being a White House no-show.

Finally, McCartney’s hired muscle got the go-ahead, as long as he didn’t “act like a bodyguard.” If he did, McGarr said the Secret Service warned, “We’re gonna throw him out of the White House. And we’re going to make sure that he’s not allowed in any federal building without frisking, and any airport he comes into he’ll have delays.” The concert went off without a hitch.

McGarr, who’s donating the proceeds from book sales to the Kennedy Center’s arts education programs, said especially during the “troubled times” the nation faces amid a pandemic and other global atrocities, laughter is even more critical.

The Mark Twain Prize — which was skipped last year due to COVID-19 and pushed from its typical October ceremony to May of next year — is a chance to “stop once a year and say thank you for all those incredibly funny comedians who made us laugh,” McGarr said.