Jay Leno was honoured for being a "trail-blazing comedian" yesterday (19.10.14).

Jay Leno

The 64-year-old presenter was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humour in a ceremony at the Kennedy Centre in Washington, and a host of famous faces paid tribute to his talent.

His 'Tonight' show successor Jimmy Fallon hailed Jay as a "trail-blazing" comedian and thanked him for being someone who showed him "that hard work does pay off" before introducing a clip of the star's first appearance on 'The Tonight Show'.

Meanwhile, Jerry Seinfeld recalled first meeting the presenter in 1978 and said: "He has really guided my career in so many ways, especially as a standup comedian. ... I learned how to do this from him.

"He showed me the way of what I wanted to be -- to let your inner crankiness out,. That can make good comedy. Entertaining complaining is a lot of what stand-up comedy is about."

Chelsea Handler also spoke at the ceremony, and joked: "Jay never made me feel like I wasn't one of the guys. I love you, and if you ever need anything from anyone, call Jimmy Fallon."

Other attendees included Seth Meyers, Kristen Chenoweth and Garth Brooks, while Jamie Foxx and Betty White sent video messages.

Highlights of the evening included a classic clip from the 'Tonight Show' featuring the late Robin Williams and Billy Crystal as guests, and Jay's 1986 'Saturday Night Live' opening monologue.

At the end of the evening, Jay was presented with a copy of an 1884 bronze portrait bust of Mark Twain sculpted by Karl Gerhardt and made a funny speech in which he thanked his friends and wife of 34 years, Mavis.

Of his spouse, he said: "Most people get to hear the good jokes -- she had to hear all the stupid ones that didn't work."

And the veteran entertainer admitted he would "treasure" the accolade.

He added: "This means a tremendous amount to me. I am so touched by this."

Previous recipients of the Mark Twain Prize include Richard Pryor, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Newhart, Steve Martin, Billy Crystal, George Carlin, Bill Cosby, Tina Fey and Carol Burnett.

Last night's show was taped and will air on PBS stations in the US next month.