Washington (CNN) -- The stars were out Sunday night as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts bestowed its prestigious Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on actor and comedian Will Ferrell.
The award, which was established in 1998, honors comedians who have shaped American society with their work, as Mark Twain once did.
Ferrell himself commented on the importance of the prize, telling CNN it's "the only legitimate award that recognizes comedy," and he was honored to receive it.
Fellow comedians Jack Black, Tim Meadows, Ed Asner, Paul Rudd, Andy Samberg, Conan O'Brien and Molly Shannon showered Ferrell with praise at the ceremony.
"When you see Will Ferrell on a marquis, he's going to give you 90 minutes to two hours of fascinating entertainment," said Asner, who worked with Ferrell in the movie "Elf."
In the movie, Will "was so steeped in his character that I had to believe in mine," Asner said.
"He's a blast. I mean, he's always coming up with new stuff," said actor Rudd, who co-stared with Ferrell in "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy"
He's, "just fun to watch, and he's very good at keeping it together."
O'Brien took a different approach -- the backhanded compliment.
"None of us are here for Will," he said. "We're here because Will's very powerful. We fear Will. Let's get that straight, okay? I'm angry. And afraid. I'm here out of fear."
Also in attendance were senior administration officials, including White House Chief of Staff William Daley, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew.
Past winners include Tina Fey, as well as Richard Pryor, Bob Newhart, Lorne Michaels, and Steve Martin.