Elizabeth Blair

Updated October 7, 2021 at 5:58 PM ET

Stagehands at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. have voted unanimously to strike if the performing arts center's management imposes what the workers call "draconian cuts and changes to working conditions." According to a statement from the stagehands' union IATSE Local 22, which is part of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, those changes include wage cuts of 40% and the elimination of jobs.

Updated October 5, 2021 at 5:09 PM ET

The White House has announced who it would like to lead the arts and humanities endowments.

To Chair the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), President Biden's nominee is Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson, a longtime arts and humanities administrator and professor in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts (HIDA) at Arizona State University.

For live music fans, what was supposed to be "hot vax summer" has begun to feel more like "delta variant downer." The recent COVID-19 surges around the country are putting a damper on the joys of finally experiencing live music again even as major festivals and concerts return. It's also putting organizers and artists in the music industry in an increasingly tricky and uncertain position.

Dave Chappelle gave thousands of his fans in Washington, D.C., lots to love this weekend. Some 3,500 attended his show at the concert venue The Anthem on Friday, this being the theater's first show after being dark for 485 nights.

"You could power an entire city on the electricity that was in that room," says Audrey Fix Schaefer, a spokesperson for I.M.P. which owns The Anthem. "It was just an amazing thing," she says, "after all this time and all this anxiety we've had not being able to bring people in and give people jobs and let people come in and enjoy themselves."

Bill Cosby called on Howard University to support former co-star Phylicia Rashad's freedom of speech after she expressed support for him when his sexual assault conviction was overturned.

In a statement, Cosby also lashed out at the media, comparing journalists to the rioters who stormed the Capitol in January.

"Howard University you must support ones Freedom of Speech (Ms. Rashad), which is taught or suppose to be taught everyday at that renowned law school, which resides on your campus," Cosby said in a statement provided to NPR by his spokesman Andrew Wyatt.

Today the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announces new grants for arts and culture organizations under President Biden's American Rescue Plan. The pandemic relief fund set aside $135 million for both the arts and humanities endowments, nearly double the amount that was available to cultural groups in President Trump's CARES Act. Eligibility requirements for NEA grants have also been modified to allow for a broader pool of applicants.

Saturday Night Live and The Second City comedy enterprises have announced the recipients of a new training scholarship for diverse, emerging talent. From a pool of some 1,300 applicants, four up and coming comedians were selected: Alexi Bolden, Gabriella "Gabi" Castillo, Kaili Turner and Morgan Van Dyne. The scholarships will cover all of their performance and writing training at Second City and give them access to SNL talent executives.

The annual Kennedy Center Honorees have been announced: choreographer, and actress Debbie Allen; singer-songwriter and activist Joan Baez; country singer-songwriter Garth Brooks; violinist Midori; and actor Dick Van Dyke.

Arts and culture make up a huge, $877 billion industry that generates more than five million jobs across the country. But the amount of federal funding for the arts is tiny when compared with smaller industries like agriculture — so what are arts organizations hoping for under the Biden administration?

Billie Holiday's life and artistry have been analyzed, scrutinized, interpreted and embellished more than any other jazz singer in history. But the first biographer to fully immerse herself in the world of Lady Day was a New York journalist and avid Holiday fan named Linda Lipnack Kuehl. For some eight years in the 1970s, Kuehl interviewed everyone she could find who had a personal association with Holiday — musicians, managers, childhood friends, lovers and FBI agents among them.

When Irving Berlin's Oscar-nominated movie musical Top Hat entered the National Film Registry, the Library of Congress wrote "This effervescent musical proved the perfect tonic for Depression-era audiences." 85 years later, a mesmerizing, modern rendition of one of its dance numbers could be seen as a "pandemic-era" tonic for today's audiences.

No state escapes unscathed in Colin Quinn's new book: Vermont is "The Old Hippie"; Florida is "The Hot Mess"; in Wisconsin, "The Diet Starts Tomorrow." Even Quinn's beloved home state of New York is "The quiet state with the city that never shuts up."

As a veteran stand-up comedian, Quinn has spent more than a couple of decades on the road, performing in 47 out of the 50 states he now affectionately eviscerates in Overstated: A Coast-to-Coast Roast of the 50 States.

At a time when we really need to keep a sense of humor, comedy clubs are closed. Stand-up comedians are on lockdown. So what do you do if your career is making people laugh? You can write jokes while you shelter in place, but how do you know if they're funny?

Theater is a team sport — just ask Broadway theater director Bartlett Sher. "I don't believe in individual genius, I believe in collective genius," he says.

That approach has earned Sher a Tony Award — and nine Tony Award nominations. As resident director of New York's Lincoln Center Theater, Sher digs deep into American classics — To Kill a Mockingbird, My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof — and makes them feel relevant to today's audiences.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Comedian Gina Yashere has toured the world with her standup, filmed specials for Netflix and made regular appearances on "The Daily Show With Trevor Noah."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH TREVOR NOAH")

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Dave Chappelle grew up near Washington, D.C. So when he received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on Sunday night at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, it was a family affair.

Chappelle's wife and kids were there. A selection of his favorite musicians — people like Yasiin Bey, Common, Erykah Badu, Q-Tip, Frederic Yonnet and John Legend — performed throughout the evening. And his fellow comedians talked about him like he was kin.

When Gina Yashere was growing up, she loved to entertain other kids. "At school I had a drama teacher who was like 'You should be an actor or an entertainer,'" she recalls. Her mom didn't agree. "My mom was like 'Actor? No, no, no. You can act like a doctor when you become a doctor.' There was absolutely no chance of me going into the arts."

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Stand-up comedian Brian Regan has been on the road performing almost nonstop since the 1980s.

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BRIAN REGAN: I'm trying to go to more parties. I'm not good at them. I'm not good at talking to people, which might sound weird in this setting.

(LAUGHTER)

Comedian Dave Chappelle will be awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor this year, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has announced.

The stand-up comic, actor, producer and director joins a prestigious group of comedians to receive the award. Among them are Carol Burnett, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Newhart and Richard Pryor — who won the very first Twain Prize in 1998.

Entertainment Weekly once called Brian Regan "your favorite comedian's favorite comedian." Chris Rock has been quoted saying: "No comedian in the world says, 'Yeah, I want to follow Brian Regan.'" Bill Burr said on his podcast: "Brian basically goes out and, for 90 straight minutes, it sounds like a jet is landing, how hard this guy kills."

Veteran comedians know all about the funny side of anger.

The late George Carlin wrote an entire bit called "Free-Floating Hostility." Jerry Seinfeld once declared in the Los Angeles Times that "All comedy starts with anger."

Updated at 8:15 a.m. ET Thursday

Jill Rorem, like many Americans, had made some special plans for the holidays. The Chicago native, whose legal work often brings her to Washington, D.C., was finally going to get to see the nation's capital with her arts-obsessed kids.

Nothing like a comedy festival to make you think so hard your head hurts. Immigration, #MeToo, bullying. Pain has long been at the root of great comedic material, and it was no different at this year's annual Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal, where hundreds of comedians perform, attend panels and schmooze with agents, TV network reps and each other. "We're an industry built on outsiders," Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby told a roomful of her peers at the annual Just For Laughs Awards Show on Friday. She also urged the crowd not to forget it.

For a lot of people, when they hear "fetch" and "Is butter a carb?" one thing comes to mind: Mean Girls. The 2004 movie was so influential that screenwriter Tina Fey and producer Lorne Michaels figured, why not a musical? Fourteen years later, it's opening on Broadway.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The 40th Annual Kennedy Center Honors were a chance to celebrate among others a dancer, a rapper and a TV-sitcom pioneer. Here's NPR's Elizabeth Blair.

Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812 was supposed to be the next Hamilton. It was going to invigorate Broadway and attract younger and more diverse audiences — and it almost succeeded. Instead, it's closing on Sept. 3, in part because of a controversy over casting and race.

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The actor Kevin Hart is launching an all-digital streaming comedy service. The Laugh Out Loud Network is the latest entry in a crowded market. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.

Comedian Sasheer Zamata is at a crossroads.

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