WASHINGTON (AP) — David Letterman's "stupid human tricks" and Top 10 lists vaulted into the ranks of cultural acclaim Sunday night as the late-night comedian received this year's Kennedy Center Honors with rock band Led Zeppelin, an actor, a ballerina and a bluesman.
Stars from New York, Hollywood and the music world joined President Barack Obama at the White House on Sunday night to salute the honorees, whose ranks also include actor Dustin Hoffman, Chicago bluesman Buddy Guy and ballerina Natalia Makarova.
The honors are the nation's highest award for those who influenced American culture through the arts. The recipients were later saluted by fellow performers at the Kennedy Center Opera House in a show to be broadcast Dec. 26 on CBS.
Obama drew laughs from his guests when he described the honorees as "some extraordinary people who have no business being on the same stage together."
Noting that Guy made his first guitar strings using the wire from a window screen, he quipped, "That worked until his parents started wondering how all the mosquitoes were getting in."
The president thanked the members of Led Zeppelin for behaving themselves at the White House given their history of "hotel rooms trashed and mayhem all around."
Obama noted Letterman's humble beginnings as an Indianapolis weatherman who once reported the city was being pelted by hail 'the size of canned hams.'"
"It's one of the highlights of his career," he said.
All kidding aside, Obama described all of the honorees as artists who "inspired us to see things in a new way, to hear things differently, to discover something within us or to appreciate how much beauty there is in the world."
"It's that unique power that makes the arts so important," he added.
Later on the red carpet, Letterman said he was thrilled by the recognition and to visit Obama at the White House.bz
"It supersedes everything, honestly," he said. "I haven't won that many awards."
During the show, comedian Tina Fey said she grew up watching her mom laugh at Letterman as he brought on "an endless parade of weirdos."
"Who was this Dave Letterman guy?" Fey said. "Was he a brilliant, subtle passive-aggressive parody of a talk show host? Or just some Midwestern goon who was a little bit off? Time has proven that there's just really no way of knowing."
Alec Baldwin offered a Top 10 reasons Letterman was winning the award, including the fact that he didn't leave late night for a six-month stint in primetime — a not-so-subtle dig at rival Jay Leno.
Jimmy Kimmel, who will soon compete head-to-head with Letterman on ABC, said he fell in love with Letterman early in life and even had a "Late Night" cake on his 16th birthday.