LOS ANGELES (AP) — Tina Fey called him a genius. Sarah Silverman said he was her inspiration. Carl Reiner described him as “the most versatile human being there is on our planet as far as show business and making people laugh.”
Steve Martin was the object of this affection Thursday night when he received the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award during a private ceremony at Hollywood’s Dolby Theater, where almost a dozen actors appeared on stage to toast his talents.
After being feted by Silverman, Fey and Reiner, along with Amy Poehler, Dan Aykroyd, Lily Tomlin, Steve Carell and others, Martin asked, “How do I top this parade of stars who’ve been so, so funny?”
“Easy,” he joked.
AFI honored Martin for making it look easy, with successful careers as a comedian, actor, writer and now musician. A few of his colleagues even paid tribute in song.
Jack Black opened the evening, set to air as a special June 13 on TBS, with an earnest rendition of “I’m Picking Out a Thermos for You” from Martin’s 1979 breakthrough film, “The Jerk.” Queen Latifah sang a few bars from “Tonight You Belong to Me,” from the same movie.
Carell compared Martin to Charlie Chaplin. Poehler called him “the best of comedy.” Aykroyd credited him as a founder of the Blues Brothers. “I owe you a living, man,” he said.
Clips were shown from his many films, including “Father of the Bride,” ”Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” ”All of Me,” ”Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and “Three Amigos!”
Diane Keaton and Martin Short almost brought the guest of honor to tears when they each sweetly sang a song he recently wrote with Edie Brickell called “Friend of Mine.”
As he accepted the award from Mel Brooks, Martin said, “When you called my name, it was a total surprise.”
He said he loved sharing such an evening with his friends, even “darkly evil Martin Short,” and was “humbled, honored and thrilled” by the recognition.
He thanked his many colleagues, including Lorne Michaels, who put him on “Saturday Night Live” in the 1970s.
“Lorne is really responsible for my being here tonight,” Martin said. “Lorne, thanks for driving.”
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/APSandy .