Julia Louis-Dreyfus gets a top award for comedy

Julia Louis-Dreyfus poses for a portrait at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto. (AP)
Updated 22 October 2018

Julia Louis-Dreyfus gets a top award for comedy

  • Louis-Dreyfus is the 21st Mark Twain recipient, joining a list that includes Richard Pryor, George Carlin and Carol Burnett

WASHINGTON: After a 35-year acting career and with two iconic television characters to her name — Elaine Benes of “Seinfeld” and foul-mouthed Vice President Selina Meyer — Julia Louis-Dreyfus has been honored with the Mark Twain Prize for lifetime achievement in comedy.
On Sunday night at Washington’s Kennedy Center, the 57-year-old actress received a stream of testimonials from celebrities including Jerry Seinfeld, Stephen Colbert and 2010 Mark Twain recipient Tina Fey, touching on the multiple aspects of her career.
“We both started comedy in Chicago,” said Fey, paying tribute by tracking the similarities between their lives.
“We both moved on to ‘Saturday Night Live.’ We both lost our virginity to Brad Hall,” referring to Louis-Dreyfus’ husband and former SNL cast mate, sitting next to the honoree. Fey praised the “secret precision” of her comedy and her willingness to make her Seinfeld character so flawed.
“Julia let Elaine be selfish and petty and sarcastic and a terrible, terrible dancer,” Fey said. “Julia’s never been afraid to be unlikable — not on screen and not in person.”
Louis-Dreyfus is the 21st Mark Twain recipient, joining a list that includes Richard Pryor, George Carlin and Carol Burnett. Bill Cosby, the winner in 2009, had his award rescinded earlier this year after he was convicted of three counts of aggravated indecent assault.
During last year’s ceremony to honor David Letterman, Cosby’s name was never mentioned. But this year, two of the performers felt comfortable making Cosby jokes. Late night host Stephen Colbert displayed a sign proclaiming, “167 days since the last Un-Twaining.”
With his fingers crossed, he told Louis-Dreyfus, “I think you’ll be OK.”
Later Keegan-Michael Key come onstage, dressed as Mark Twain himself and proceeded to roast many of the previous award recipients. When a picture of Cosby was briefly shown, Michael-Key quickly moved things along and said, “It’s OK, he’s not watching,” then added that he doubted PBS was a popular channel “in the penitentiary.”
Seinfeld, while on the red carpet before the ceremony, recalled first meeting Louis-Dreyfus during an informal audition. His iconic sitcom, “Seinfeld,” was still in the planning stages and producer Larry David knew Louis-Dreyfus from their time together on “Saturday Night Live.”
“We had just two short pages of script, and we sat down to read the dialogue together,” Seinfeld said. “As soon as she opened her mouth, I knew she was the one.”
Seinfeld also credited Louis-Dreyfus for having the confidence and strength of personality to hold her own on what he called “a very male show.”
That confidence was evident very early for Louis-Dreyfus, who said she knew as a young child that she had a gift for comedy.
“The first time I really knew was when I stuffed raisins in my nose and my mother laughed. I ended up in the emergency room because they wouldn’t come out!” Louis-Dreyfus said before the ceremony.
Comedian Kumail Nanjiani grew up in Pakistan and never saw an episode of “Seinfeld” until he immigrated to the USas an adult.
“But I became a huge fan as soon as I moved here,” he said.
The co-writer of the movie “The Big Sick” recalled her iconic, slightly convulsive “Elaine Benes dance” on the show, which he credits to Louis-Dreyfus’ gift for physical comedy.
“There are some comedians who think physical comedy is beneath them,” he said. “But she was just fearless and ego-less.”
At the end of the night, Louis-Dreyfus accepted her award with an extended comedic bit and a few shots at new Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
The veteran comedic actress first drew laughs by repeatedly referencing her true life’s ambition to be a respected dramatic actress_stopping in mid-speech to deliver a monologue from Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice.”
A native of the Washington suburbs in Maryland, Louis-Dreyfus is a graduate of the elite Holton-Arms school, alma mater of Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of assault.
Louis-Dreyfus make a veiled but unmistakable reference to Ford’s testimony_framing it around her performance in high school of the play “Serendipity.”
“I can remember every single aspect of that play that night, so much so that I would testify under oath about it,” she said, to a round of laughter and applause. “But I can’t remember who drove me there or who drove me home.”
Louis-Dreyfus emerged from Chicago’s famed Second City comedy troupe before joining the cast of “Saturday Night Live.” After her nine-year run on “Seinfeld,” her turn as Vice President Selina Meyer on “Veep” earned her six consecutive Emmy Awards.
The upcoming seventh and final season of “Veep” was delayed as Louis-Dreyfus received treatment for breast cancer. That season is currently in production.
PBS will air the Twain event on Nov. 19.


Merriam-Webster’s top word of 2020 not a shocker: pandemic

Updated 30 November 2020

Merriam-Webster’s top word of 2020 not a shocker: pandemic

  • ‘It’s probably the word by which we’ll refer to this period in the future’
  • The Merriam-Webster site has about 40 million unique monthly users and about 100 million monthly page views

NEW YORK: If you were to choose a word that rose above most in 2020, which word would it be?
Ding, ding, ding: Merriam-Webster on Monday announced “pandemic” as its 2020 word of the year.
“That probably isn’t a big shock,” Peter Sokolowski, editor at large for Merriam-Webster, told The Associated Press.
“Often the big news story has a technical word that’s associated with it and in this case, the word pandemic is not just technical but has become general. It’s probably the word by which we’ll refer to this period in the future,” he said.
The word took on urgent specificity in March, when the coronavirus crisis was designated a pandemic, but it started to trend up on Merriam-Webster.com as early January and again in February when the first US deaths and outbreaks on cruise ships occurred.
On March 11, when the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic, lookups on the site for pandemic spiked hugely. Site interest for the word has remained significantly high through the year, Sokolowski said.
By huge, Sokolowski means searches for pandemic on March 11 were 115,806% higher than lookups experienced on the same date last year.
Pandemic, with roots in Latin and Greek, is a combination of “pan,” for all, and “demos,” for people or population. The latter is the same root of “democracy,” Sokolowski noted. The word pandemic dates to the mid-1600s, used broadly for “universal” and more specifically to disease in a medical text in the 1660s, he said.
That was after the plagues of the Middle Ages, Sokolowski said.
He attributes the lookup traffic for pandemic not entirely to searchers who didn’t know what it meant but also to those on the hunt for more detail, or for inspiration or comfort.
“We see that the word love is looked up around Valentine’s Day and the word cornucopia is looked up at Thanksgiving,” Sokolowski said. “We see a word like surreal spiking when a moment of national tragedy or shock occurs. It’s the idea of dictionaries being the beginning of putting your thoughts in order.”
Merriam-Webster acted quickly in March to add and update entries on its site for words related to the pandemic. While “coronavirus” had been in the dictionary for decades, “COVID-19” was coined in February. Thirty-four days later, Merriam-Webster had it up online, along with a couple dozen other entries that were revised to reflect the health emergency.
“That’s the shortest period of time we’ve ever seen a word go from coinage to entry,” Sokolowski said. “The word had this urgency.”
Coronavirus was among runners up for word of the year as it jumped into the mainstream. Quarantine, asymptomatic, mamba, kraken, defund, antebellum, irregardless, icon, schadenfreude and malarkey were also runners up based on lookup spikes around specific events.
Particularly interesting to word nerds like Sokolowski, a lexicographer, is quarantine. With Italian roots, it was used during the Black Death of the 1300s for the period of time a new ship coming into port would have to wait outside a city to prevent disease. The “quar” in quarantine derives from 40, for the 40 days required.
Spikes for mamba occurred after the January death of Kobe Bryant, whose nickname was the Black Mamba. A mass of lookups occurred for kraken in July after Seattle’s new National Hockey League franchise chose the mythical sea monster as its name, urged along by fans.
Country group Lady Antebellum’s name change to Lady A drove dictionary interest in June, while malarkey got a boost from President-elect Joe Biden, who’s fond of using the word. Icon was front and center in headlines after the deaths of US Rep. John Lewis and US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
The Merriam-Webster site has about 40 million unique monthly users and about 100 million monthly page views.