NEW YORK — With teleprompters emptied by the writers strike, Conan O’Brien, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have been transformed into a bloodthirsty, if well-dressed mob.
The trio appeared on each other’s late-night TV shows Monday in a mock feud over who “made” Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.
The fight began weeks ago, when O’Brien claimed responsibility for any success of Huckabee’s campaign after the former Arkansas governor appeared on his “Late Night” show. Colbert took offense, having frequently touted the effect of the “Colbert bump” in the polls.
Debating — as Colbert called it — the “transitive property of Huckabee,” Stewart was eventually roped in, having hosted O’Brien on his MTV program “The Jon Stewart Show” in 1994.
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And after too many slights (O’Brien called Colbert the “temporary host” of “The Colbert Report”), the trio congregated Monday, roaming across three shows and two networks.
Eventually, blowtorches, bricks, stunt doubles and even a little dancing were employed.
“My favorite comedy is comedy where nothing is achieved and there is no point,” O’Brien said in a phone interview Tuesday. “That this whole Huckabee fight turned into an insane Marx brothers dance was fitting somehow.”
Pooling the hosts’ combined talents had the intended upshot of filling time. NBC’s “Late Night” and Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” are working without writers because of the strike.
Slideshow: Celebrity Sightings “Nonsense! That was never, ever the point!” contradicted O’Brien before relenting. “Certainly it was a source of inspiration. The fight itself is three people with a box full of props playing for about an hour.”
First, they got together on “The Daily Show,” which airs earliest at 11 p.m. (EST), followed by “Colbert” 30 minutes later and “Late Night” at 12:35 a.m.
“You want to tangle, Red?” Colbert snarled at O’Brien.
Arranging it so they could make guest appearances and still host their own shows took some slight fiddling, O’Brien said. All the shows tape around the same time in various locations in Manhattan — though on Monday night’s shows, the studios were shown as being down a single hallway.
The trio put off the tussle until Stewart finished his show, only to reunite on “Colbert.” Again, the fight needed to be postponed while interviews were attended to by the TV hosts.
Later, across town at “Late Night,” the feud culminated in an elaborate fight that ended only when the trio appeared to simultaneously knock each other out — the image frozen in a LeRoy Neiman-like painting.
“Conan’s claims on Mike Huckabee could not go unanswered,” Stewart and Colbert said in a joint statement Tuesday. “We just hope the kids out there learned that sometimes the best way to resolve a conflict is with violence.”
For anyone watching, it was clear the three hosts share a certain comedic sensibility. Such playfulness would seem impossible with other late-night talk-show hosts; CBS’ David Letterman and NBC’s Jay Leno, for instance, have long had icy relations.
“The three of us have come along in the same comedic environment,” said O’Brien. “Our shows all probably have their distinct flavor, but this happened because the three of us knew we would like doing this with each other.”
While the rubble settled, Huckabee appeared by satellite to have the last word.
“Let’s be clear: None of these guys made me. This great nation made me,” declared Huckabee. “So vote for me. God bless America and forget these three idiots.”
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