Washington At the beginning of the performance at the Kennedy Center's concert hall Tuesday night, the sound system failed and a man in the balcony shouted, "Does anyone have four double-A batteries?"
The man in the balcony, Carl Reiner, was there to get the Mark Twain Prize for American humor and, not for the first time, he got the first laugh, before Jerry Seinfeld, Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore and Steve Martin even had a chance to walk onto the stage to honor him.
During his turn Mr. Seinfeld, declaring in Seinfeldesque bravado that only he had "the guts to say this," raised Mr. Reiner above the level of the prize's namesake and said, "I think that Carl Reiner is funnier than Mark Twain."
Mr. Reiner said later, "Next year, I hope one of my children will win this," and the audience applauded the clear reference to his son Rob Reiner.
Mr. Reiner the elder, a comic, writer and director, is the third person to receive the annual Kennedy Center humor award, after Jonathan Winters and Richard Pryor.
In an interview before the show, Mr. Reiner was asked about his days with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca on "Your Show of Shows" in the 1950's during what has been called television's golden age.
"For my son, the golden age will be the Beatles age," he said. "There is always a golden age."
He expressed optimism about the future of comedy, even to the point of predicting that a version of "Your Show of Shows," a combination of comedy sketches, music and dance, would survive on television.
"It's still alive with `Saturday Night Live,' " he said.
The show honoring Mr. Reiner was taped for television broadcast and will be shown on PBS on Feb. 28.