Kennedy Center Adds Comedy Series With $5M Gift

Laughter will be a permanent part of the repertoire at the Kennedy Center as the arts center plans to host a new standup comedy series beginning in 2015, officials said Thursday.

The new series will present three top acts each year, beginning with Jay Leno and Kathy Griffin. The center also is home to the nation’s top humor award, the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which Leno will receive Sunday. Standup comedy performances will be combined with free, monthly comedy nights on the center’s Millennium Stage and other productions throughout the year.

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Performing during the 2014 Carousel of Hope Ball at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.

“We’re going to put some more laughter back into our building,” said Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter. “It’ll be fun.”

The center has long presented classical music, opera, dance and theater but also hosts a significant jazz season and produces new musicals that sometimes move to Broadway.

The Comedy at the Kennedy Center program is focused on elevating comedy as an art form and seeing the world through a different set of eyes, Rutter said.

“It’s all about storytelling,” she said. “If you think about what it takes to conceive of the ideas, the delivery, the interaction with the audience, all of that is about communicating with audiences. I think that is as much about art as acting. It’s just a different forum.”

The center’s 2,400-seat Concert Hall will provide a large venue for humor that’s different from typical comedy clubs. Comedy could draw people to the Kennedy Center for less formal shows, Rutter said. She presented comedy shows in Seattle at an arts organization she led in the past and said there was a huge market for humor.

Capital One bank is providing a $5 million gift over five years to fund the initiative.

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41st annual Daytime Emmy Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.

To celebrate Leno, the new Mark Twain Prize recipient, Capital One enlisted the former “Tonight Show” host’s “Ross the Intern” character, as played by Ross Mathews, to make surprise appearances throughout Washington on Saturday.