WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Wanting an award, Bill Murray once said, is ''like a virus. It's an illness.''
At the Kennedy Center here on Sunday, Mr. Murray was the willing recipient of the Mark Twain Prize, one of comedy's most significant honors. But his attendance hadn't been guaranteed: His favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, needed to seal a World Series berth the night before or else he would have been tempted to skip the ceremony for the final game.
''I'm glad they won last night so I could be here this evening,'' Mr. Murray said. ''If they hadn't won last night I would have had to have been there, because, honestly, I do not trust the media to report the story.''
Perched in a box seat for more than two hours, Mr. Murray watched with a grin as frequent collaborators and prominent admirers offered tributes. He laughed often and acknowledged the audience between sets, shouting ''More!''
The testimonials were equal parts earnest and joking. David Letterman recounted the time he told Mr. Murray of his young son's forthcoming christening. An hour later, a package appeared from Mr. Murray: It was a handmade Irish christening gown.
The actress Emma Stone recalled a glum week she had while working on a film with Mr. Murray. To cheer her up, Mr. Murray delivered gifts each day, including the umbrella hat the actress wore onstage during her tribute.
Other speakers were equally playful. ''You and I were as close as two people can be, considering one of them is you,'' Steve Martin said in a video tribute.
''Bill Murray could shove you over the side of the Hoover Dam, and you'd be like, 'Hey, Bill Murray!''' said Jimmy Kimmel, who helped open the show.
Clips of Mr. Murray's ''Saturday Night Live'' and film appearances highlighted his eccentric charm and knack for improvisation. As the writer Roy Blount Jr. said during the program: ''A script is a chance to say something else.''
Even clips of Mr. Murray as himself revealed just how protean he could be in real life. The actor Bill Hader scored big laughs with photos of Mr. Murray joining a recreational kickball game and crashing a wedding portrait.
At the end, Mr. Murray went onstage to accept the award in what he described as a ''Chicago Cub blue'' bowtie. He spoke of the awe he felt this weekend in the capital, seeing the Washington Monument from the White House and dining with Justice Sonia Sotomayor of the Supreme Court.
And in an emotional salute to his older brother Brian Doyle-Murray, who was on hand, he thanked him for his trust when the younger actor was an unknown kid -- ''Little Murray'' -- at Second City, the improv troupe in Chicago, near where the two grew up in Wilmette, Ill.
''The only reason I'm here is because of the guts of my brother Brian,'' he said. ''He's been waiting a long time to hear that.''
The annual Mark Twain Prize was first given to Richard Pryor in 1998 and is meant to celebrate comedians who mix social commentary with traditional genres of comedy. The ceremony will be broadcast on PBS on Friday night.
''As soon as I stop speaking, the pledge drive begins,'' Mr. Murray said.