Ellen Degeneres has been awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humour.

The openly-gay chat show host scooped up her gong at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Monday night (22.10.12), and was saluted for being ''fearless'' in her mission to raise awareness about homosexuality.

Ellen joked: ''I'm flattered. It's fantastic. Of course I think, 'What took so long?''', before adding: ''You don't do it for awards, you do it to make people happy.''

'The Ellen Degeneres Show' presenter was accompanied by her wife, Portia De Rossi, and several of America's best comedy talents to receive the highest US award for lifetime achievement in comedy.

Fellow funnyman Jimmy Kimmel praised her achievements, saying: ''For a lot of people, Ellen is their only homosexual friend. She's there in their living room every single day. She's very genuine and she makes it look easy and it's not easy.''

Speaking about her infamous coming out in 1997 which almost ruined her career, Ellen explained: ''I did it because it was the right thing for me to do. It was the right thing for me to do to not live with shame. I happened to help a lot of people, and it happened to create a ruckus.

''I never could have imagined my life would end up this way ... I only thought I'd be a positive gay comedian wearing parachute pants.''

The 54-year-old star is the 15th recipient of the Mark Twain Prize and follows in the footsteps of Whoopi Goldberg, Will Ferrell and Bill Cosby.