Calvin Trillin, a longtime New Yorker staff writer, comic novelist, and witty bard of political doggerel, was named the winner of the 2012 Thurber Prize for American Humor for his essay collection Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin: Forty Years of Funny Stuff. The award, which includes a crystal plaque and a $5000 prize, was given to Trillin in a ceremony held at Carolines, a Times Square comedy club. The other finalists were Nate DiMeo (and the creative team of Parks and Recreation) for Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America and Patricia Marx for Starting from Happy.
As previous ceremonies had been held at New York’s legendary Algonquin Hotel where celebrated wits like Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley had once held court, the new venue was bit of a comedown. But host Randy Cohen, a former Late Night with David Letterman writer and the original New York Times Magazine‘s “Ethicist,” reminded the audience that “we should be grateful we’re still indoors.”
The award was created by Thurber House in 1996 to celebrate the art of humor writing; initially given every two years, the award became an annual event in 2004. But Cohen noted that the genre still gets very little respect from the literati. “Once you’re honored as a humor writer, expects insults and condescension for your work,” he told the finalists. “Your books are going to be marginalized in an obscure corner of the bookstore, shelved in the humor section between gardening and cat books.”
On a more somber note, the evening’s presenters mourned the passing of last year’s winner, David Rakoff (Half Empty), who died August 9.