President Barack Obama awarded medals to 24 American giants of the arts and humanities, lauding their accomplishments and sharing some laughs.
Comedian Mel Brooks, who Obama has said he admires for his over-the-top Western satire “Blazing Saddles’’, looked as if he were dropping down to receive a knighthood after a citation for “a lifetime of making the world laugh’’.
Obama shook Brooks’ hand, and warned that he would catch him if he tried to sell his National Medal of Arts on eBay.
He also joked with Broadway star Audra McDonald, whose citation was misplaced, and admired the spiked sneakers of poet Louise Glück.
Obama said, “I do think Mel Brooks kind of set the tone for this thing; this has been a much more staid affair.”
Also among the honourees are Motown producer, Berry Gordy, and composer, Philip Glass, as well as author Sandra Cisneros.
Others include Ron Chernow, Rudolfo Anaya and James McBride.
“We believe that the arts and the humanities are in many ways reflective of our national soul.
“They are central to who we are as Americans: dreamers and storytellers and innovators and visionaries.
“They are what helps us to make sense of the past the good and the bad, and how we chart a course for the future,’’ Obama added.
Obama gave a medal to Spanish celebrity chef Jose Andres, whose restaurants have been favourite haunts during his time in Washington, and has worked with the White House on immigration reform issues.
The American President deadpanned that Freeman, who has been involved with the foundation raising money for his presidential library in Chicago, “ undoubtedly is off playing a black president again; he never lets me have my moment,’’ Obama said.