With their writers on strike for three months, 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 feud began weeks ago, when O'Brien claimed responsibility for any Huckabee success after the former Arkansas governor appeared on his Late Night. Colbert took offense, having frequently touted the effect of the "Colbert bump" in the polls because of Huckabee's appearances on The Colbert Report.
Debating, as Colbert called it, the "transitive property of Huckabee," Daily Show host Stewart was roped in, having hosted O'Brien on MTV's The Jon Stewart Show in 1994.
And after too many slights (O'Brien called Colbert the "temporary host" of The Colbert Report), the trio rumbled 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 by phone Tuesday. "That this whole Huckabee fight turned into an insane Marx brothers dance was fitting somehow."
Pooling the hosts' talents had the intended upshot of filling time. All three shows are without writers because of the strike.
"Nonsense! That was never, ever the point!" O'Brien said 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.
"This happened because the three of us knew we would like doing this with each other."
First, they got together on The Daily Show, which airs at 11 p.m., followed by Colbert 30 minutes later and Late Night at 12:35 a.m.
Making guest appearances and still hosting their shows took some schedule fiddling, O'Brien said. The shows tape around the same time in different Manhattan locations, though on Monday's shows, they were shown as being down one hallway.
The trio put off the tussle until Stewart finished his show, only to reunite on Colbert. Again, the fight needed to be postponed for Colbert to finish. Then, at Late Night, the feud culminated in an elaborate fight that ended when the trio appeared to simultaneously knock one 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 statement Tuesday. "We just hope the kids out there learned that sometimes the best way to resolve a conflict is with violence."