If you didn’t tune in to last weekend’s broadcast of the Oscars, you might be unaware that comedian/actor/producer Adam Sander was one of five nominees in the Best Actor category for his movie, “Hustle.” Despite what the title might bring to mind, it wasn’t another one of the “R”-rated buddy movies or corny rom-coms Sandler is best known for, but a Netflix-produced drama about basketball, friendship, loyalty, and family, leavened with a healthy dose of humor. When the ceremony ended last Sunday, Sandler went home emptyhanded.
But, according to our nation’s cultural elite, at least, it’s his comedy stylings that deserve recognition. So, Adam Sandler is about to pick up an award this year for doing what he does best — making people laugh.
On Sunday, he’ll accept the prestigious Mark Twain Prize for American Humor from the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
During every Adam Sandler stand-up show, he straps on his electric guitar and sings a song. Unlike the bite-size ditties he’s peppered through the set about selfies or baggy shorts, this one concerns his late, great “Saturday Night Live” buddy, Chris Farley.
The song, with its mix of low- and highbrow, the profane and poetic, could serve as a four-minute-and-22-second window into why the comedian and actor is being recognized with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. And it’s why his friends are glad that, at 56, he’s finally getting his due. All of which may sound strange for someone whose films — generational comedies that include “Happy Gilmore,” “The Wedding Singer” and “Grown Ups” — have earned more than $3 billion at the box office. But for Sandler, popularity and praise have rarely come hand in hand.
That has changed some in recent years. Sandler’s dramatic acting performances in 2017’s “The Meyerowitz Stories,” last year’s basketball drama “Hustle” and especially 2019’s “Uncut Gems” brought unlikely (and ultimately fruitless) Oscar buzz. His 2019 stand-up special “100% Fresh” and 2020’s throwback comedy “Hubie Halloween” confirmed why he’s been packing movie theaters and arenas since the Clinton administration. The Twain puts Sandler in the company of such figures as Eddie Murphy, Carol Burnett and Steve Martin.
Okay, I fibbed. Sandler did pick up another award in 2023, one which shows his appeal spans beyond just people in my generation (Gen X):
A few days earlier, he was in Boston, helping Sadie look at colleges. The next day he’ll go to the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards with his daughters who will watch him receive the King of Comedy Award and submit to the inevitable sliming. (Sandler is the first person to receive the top comedy honors from Nickelodeon and the Kennedy Center, let alone receive them in the same month.)
I have a real love of some of those more dramatic roles Sandler has taken over the years, which I wrote about recently. But with his winning this iconic award for humor, I might need to revisit some of his comedy work. Do I enjoy a movie like “Happy Gilmore”? Yes. Yes, I do. But I also love the poignant song Sander sings about his late friend Chris Farley. Have your tissues handy. [Warning: language]:
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