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Jon Stewart

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

George Carlin may not have been around to accept the award in bodily form, but some of the big names who were inspired by his sharp brand of funny made sure he was there in spirit.

Jon Stewart, Gary Shandling, Joan Rivers, Lily Tomlin and Margaret Cho were among the laughmakers who showed up Monday to honor the pioneering comic at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., where the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor was awarded posthumously for the first time.

Carlin died of heart failure June 22, barely a week after learning that he was the recipient of this year's prize, which in the past has gone to luminaries such as Steve Martin and Billy Crystal.

"He was thrilled," Carlin's daughter told the Associated Press earlier today. "I think he represented a lot of what Mark Twain did for our country, not only being smart and funny but also being a sharp commentator."

Next-generation funnyman Stewart, who was 9-years-old when the album featuring the "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" came out, called Carlin a "working man" who "respected what he did."

"His comedy wasn't just joke, joke, joke," Tomlin said. Like Twain, "his performances were often like essays."

Tonight's ceremony was taped and will be televised at a to-be-determined date by PBS.

Carlin's final HBO special, It's Bad for Ya, which—among other things—mocks death and the way society deals with it, comes out on DVD Nov. 25.