Comedian Tina Fey is a celebrated writer, producer and performer. ((Lucas Jackson/Reuters) )

Comedy It girl Tina Fey, celebrated for her hit comedy 30 Rock and pitch perfect Sarah Palin impression, is the latest recipient of the top humour prize in the U.S.

The Saturday Night Live alumni is the 13th annual winner of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor — and the youngest ever to be named, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced on Tuesday.

"I am truly thrilled to receive this honour," Fey, who recently turned 40, said in a written statement.

"I assume Betty White was disqualified for steroid use," she quipped, referencing the 88-year-old comedy veteran who recently drew raves as host of the New York sketch comedy show.

Fey, a former member of The Second City improv troupe in Chicago, was the first woman to become head writer of SNL. She remained on the show for nine seasons, both as a writer and cast member, including her much-praised co-anchoring of the program's Weekend Update news segment.

Her time at SNL is considered a watershed for the long-running show, during which strong female comic performances rose to the forefront of the traditionally male-oriented program.


Tina Fey is seen at left in character as Alaska governor Sarah Palin in 2008, opposite Amy Poehler's Hillary Clinton. ((Dana Edelson/NBC/Associated Press))

She left in 2006 to develop a new show, the satirical 30 Rock, but has returned to SNL for regular cameos — including as former Alaska governor and U.S. vice-presidential candidate Palin during the election campaign and for the recent episode White hosted.

An Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award-winner, Fey has also appeared in several hit film comedies, including Mean Girls (which she wrote), Baby Mama and Date Night.

"She's politically conscious, she's a writer, she's a filmmaker, she's a producer, she's a performer," said Mark Krantz, a Twain Prize executive producer.

"Her body of work is as inclusive and far-reaching as anyone else's, and she's just funny."

Fey will be feted at a Kennedy Center gala on Nov. 9. Typically organizers assemble the winner's colleagues, those who have influenced her and those whom she has influenced to honour her at the gala, which is later broadcast on TV.

Established in 1998, the Mark Twain Prize recognizes individuals who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the iconic 19th century American author, essayist and humorist.

Awarded each year by the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, past recipients have included Steve Martin, Bill Cosby, the late George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Bob Newhart and SNL creator Lorne Michaels.

With files from The Associated Press