A battle for the wittiest person — and a check for $10,000 — will begin at the Lincoln Theater on Friday during the 21st annual Thurber Prize for American Humor.
Boasting past winners such as Trevor Noah and Jon Stewart, Laurie Lathan, Executive Director of Thurber House and Executive Producer of Thurber Price, said the award is given annually to a single author and their book. Each year, nominees are evaluated by 50 judges based on several categories, including writing style, format, grammar and, most importantly, humor, she said.
“As you know, art is subjective, and that’s why we work very hard every year to have a diverse panel of judges, so that every book is carefully reviewed and read carefully,” Lathan said.
Finalists for this year’s award are Mike Birbiglia’s ‘The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad’, James McBride’s ‘Deacon King Kong’ and Alexandra Petri’s ‘Nothing Is Wrong and Here Is Why’, according to the Thurber Prize website.
Lathan said Thurber House – located at 77 Jefferson Ave. – is a non-profit literary arts center and museum that was once home to cartoonist and author James Thurber. Lathan said the organization’s predecessors decided to create the Thurber Prize in 1997 to preserve Thurber’s legacy in comedy writing and give an award to an author of humor writing.
“There are many awards and accolades for writers of drama and the like, but there really aren’t many for comedy writing, and we’re probably one of the few in the whole country that honors and recognizes the humorous writing,” Lathan said. .
The award show was previously produced in New York before moving to Columbus, Thurber’s hometown, in 2018, according to the Thurber Prize website. The award was given every two years until 2005, when it began to be given annually.
David Glover, show director for the Thurber Prize, said Thurber House came to him with the idea of elevating the awards show, so Glover said he approached the event as if he were leading a project theatrical. He said the event will be hosted by former Thurber Prize winner John Kenny and will feature music composed and conducted by Counterfeit Madison, as well as the finalists reading each excerpt from their books during the show.
“I can’t wait to have fun, I can’t wait to see all the hard work pay off, and I can’t wait to meet the talented finalists and give them an evening that celebrates their accomplishments and their humor.” Glover said.
Setting up this event is Glover’s first time working with Thurber House, he said. Awards ceremonies like this are not something he normally works on, as he said he mainly works as a trained director, actor and theater artist. Although he comes from the acting world, Glover said working with Thurber House has been a wonderful experience.
“They’ve been great at providing autonomy and a clean slate; there was very little they wanted other than to have a fun night and raise the Thurber Prize award,” Glover said. “It’s a bit daunting in the same sense, but also liberating because, essentially, we can kind of do whatever we want throughout the night.”
Lathan said she can’t wait to see how audiences react to the surprises this show has in store for her.
“For those who have never been to the show, I think they will spend about an hour and a half of the show laughing continuously,” Lathan said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun and unlike any other event you can attend in this city.”
The ceremony will take place Friday at 7 p.m. at the Lincoln Theater, located at 769 E. Long St. Tickets are available for purchase through CBUSArts. website.