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The Colbert/O'Brien/Stewart feud (also known as "Who Made Huckabee?") refers to a mock rivalry that occurred among comedians Stephen Colbert, Conan O'Brien, and Jon Stewart in early 2008, reportedly over who was responsible for then-presidential candidate Mike Huckabee's success in the presidential race.[1]

Colbert O'Brien Stewart feud

From left to right: Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Conan O'Brien pose for a beer bottle-smashing bit during an all-out brawl over "Who Made Mike Huckabee?" on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.

In reality, however, the feud was concocted by the three comedians as a result of the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike.[2] Without writers to fuel their witty banter, the three comedians staged a crossover/rivalry in order to garner more viewers during the ratings slump.[3] Stephen Colbert made the claim that because of "the Colbert bump", he was responsible for Mike Huckabee's success in the 2008 Iowa caucus. Conan O'Brien claimed that he was responsible for Colbert's success because he had made mention of him on his show. In response, Stewart claimed that he was responsible for the success of O'Brien, since Stewart had featured him on his earlier comedy program, and in turn the success of Huckabee. This resulted in a three-part comedic battle between the three pundits, with all three appearing on each other's shows. The feud ended on Late Night with Conan O'Brien with an all-out brawl between the three talk-show hosts — but all in good fun.[3]

The feud

Beginning

The 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strike, which began in November 2007, deeply crippled the United States' entertainment industry. Virtually all scripted Hollywood shows were expected to shut down by the week of December 19, 2007.[4] Hollywood journalist Nikki Finke reported, "CEOs are determined to write off not just the rest of this TV season (including the Back 9 of scripted series), but also pilot season and the 2008/2009 schedule as well. Indeed, network orders for reality TV shows are pouring into the agencies right now."[5]

Of the "Big Four" networks—CBS, ABC, NBC, and FOX—NBC had the most severe ad shortfall as its prime time ratings declined sharply; none of its new shows achieved breakout success.[6] Moreover, during 2007, NBC saw its prime time 18-to-49-year-old viewership drop by 11%, CBS dropped the same demographic by 10%, and ABC lost 5%.[7]

Although he is a WGA member who pledged support for the writers, late night talk show host Conan O'Brien announced that following the collapse of negotiations, Late Night with Conan O'Brien would return to air on January 2, 2008, without writers, citing his non-writing staff facing layoffs as the main reason.[8][9] Later, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert announced that their shows, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, would also return without writers on January 7, 2008.[10] To show respect to the picketing writers, The Daily Show was renamed, for the duration of the strike, A Daily Show with Jon Stewart.[11] Similarly, The Colbert Report was rebranded as The Colbert Report (with hard T's) for its first new episode since the strike began. On January 2, 2008, Late Night featured a small musical segment at the beginning of the show detailing O'Brien's newly grown beard in a similar show of support for the striking writers.

Colbertreport

Stephen Colbert as the fictional Stephen Colbert

Much of the blame for what started the "feud", however, does indeed lie with Stephen Colbert, the fictional persona of political satirist Stephen Colbert. Described as a "well-intentioned, poorly informed high-status idiot,"[12] the character is a blustery, self-obsessed right-wing pundit with a strong distaste for facts. Colbert is deeply self-centered and takes everything personally, a trait which is reflected in his discussion of the news and current events. According to the comedian, "There's nothing too large that doesn't involve him. Every news story is really about him ... Everything he cares about is a news story because he cares about it." This is expressed in his frequent attacks on and feuds (known as “culture wars”) with other well-known figures such as the Decemberists, Barry Manilow, Sean Penn, and Conan O’Brien.

Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has generated a considerable following of young voters, primarily because of his support of the Fair Tax as well as his concerns about global warming, education, and several other issues typically not referred to by Republicans.[13] Most notable is the following Huckabee gathered among the younger crowd via the internet. Huck's Army, an online grassroots coalition and volunteer think tank, is largely composed of younger, more technologically savvy adherents. So productive was this group that it received national media attention and was credited by Huckabee as "the secret weapon of our campaign".

On January 4, 2008, Conan O'Brien attempted to take responsibility for Huckabee's popularity among young voters by claiming that his show was the sole cause of Huckabee's status in the votes, due to his use of "The Walker, Texas Ranger Lever"[14] while Chuck Norris was coincidentally sponsoring Huckabee.[15][16]

An infuriated Colbert later lashed out at O'Brien on his own show on January 16, 2008, claiming that he himself was responsible for Huckabee's success in the Iowa caucus thanks to his giving Huckabee "the Colbert bump." The exasperated Colbert ended his rant with this "threat" against O'Brien:

So back off of Mike Huckabee, or I will kick your translucent white ass! You got that, Irish?[17]

Conan

Conan O'Brien, host of Late Night with Conan O'Brien

Colbert, of course, ignored the Chuck Norris factor.[18]

During the January 17, 2008 episode of Late Night, O'Brien, in what he later described as "a heated moment", called Colbert the "temporary host of The Colbert Report." O'Brien also refused to recant his statement concerning Huckabee, claiming that, just by mentioning Colbert on his allegedly more well-known network show, he was, in turn, "breathing life" into Colbert's "basic cable" career. Therefore, according to his logic, "Conan made Colbert, Colbert made Huckabee, ergo Conan made Huckabee!"[19][20]

In response, during the January 29 episode of The Colbert Report, a stunned Colbert, persuaded by "the soundness of [O'Brien's] logic", was prepared to concede. Before he could, however, Jon Stewart, Colbert's former Daily Show colleague, appeared on the set and cautioned Colbert against doing so. Stewart exhibited a vintage VHS tape, which contained footage of him introducing O'Brien on Stewart's earlier MTV program in 1994.[3] Therefore, by his own logic:

JonStewart

Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and colleague of Stephen Colbert

Colbert made Huckabee... Conan made Colbert... Jon Stewart made Conan... Jon Stewart made Huckabee![20]

Colbert accepted this, as it kept Huckabee's 'creation' "in the Colbert family."[20] Stewart then jokingly said it was up to O'Brien to respond, so that the three of them could "figure out a way to settle the matter that wastes time on all three of [their] shows"[20] — an obvious allusion to the writers' strike and the need to generate new material without said writers. Colbert ended the segment with the crack, "The ball's in your court, Conan!"

Escalation

Upon learning of this, an insulted O'Brien used his February 1 episode to show a doctored photo of himself as the doctor delivering both Colbert and Stewart as babies[21][22] — after he which he proceeded to make fun of their genitalia. O'Brien then made the following statement:

I think this ends the feud. But this is my warning — and this is not a threat, this is a promise! If either Stewart or Colbert mentions this again in any way, I am going over to their tiny little studio, and I am kicking some Comedy Central ass![22]

Conan baby stewart colbert sm

In an attempt to settle the feud, Conan O'Brien exhibits a doctored photograph showing him as the doctor delivering Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart.

This resulted in a three-part comedic battle between the three pundits, with all three appearing on each other's shows on February 4, 2008. It all began on the set of The Daily Show, when Colbert, to thunderous applause, interrupted the middle of a seemingly normal show to thank Stewart for settling the feud.[22] Stewart at first responded happily to this, but then grew visibly frightened once Colbert informed him of O'Brien's response from a few days before.[22] Colbert then began taunting O'Brien, calling him "cheap", "stupid", and "lazy" — much to Stewart's chagrin, who begged Colbert to stop. It was too late, however, as O'Brien, accompanied by thunderous applause, quickly walked in and furiously scolded the two for keeping the feud going. A seething Colbert, nonetheless, refused to back down, and even snarled at O'Brien: "You want to tangle, Red?"[3] O'Brien agreed, but as the two prepared to take the fight outside, Stewart reminded them that he had to finish his show. O'Brien and Colbert agreed to wait outside, where they engaged in idle chit chat.[22]

When Stewart finished, he went into the hall to find Colbert was gone to film his show.[23] On the set of The Colbert Report, Colbert was discussing John McCain's rise in the polls, and joked that since the media had said that "a vote for Mike Huckabee is a vote for McCain",[24][25] and Colbert was Huckabee's "running mate," then Colbert, "by the transitive property of Huckabee",[3] was really John McCain.[26] He was soon interrupted by Stewart and O'Brien, who had just left the set of The Daily Show to continue their fight. Stewart jokingly claimed that, since he had "made" both Colbert and O'Brien, Stewart himself was McCain — clearly provoking O'Brien.[27] After some playful attacks, Colbert persuaded the two to wait outside until he finished taping his show.[26]

But of course, by the time Colbert had finished, O'Brien had scampered off to tape his show. Too impatient, Colbert and Stewart then decided to walk across the hall[28] and finally end the fight on O'Brien's set. However, the door supposedly leading to O'Brien's set was locked, leaving Colbert and Stewart no other choice but to use forced entry — via a bobby pin.[29] A later interview with O'Brien revealed further information of how Stewart and Colbert were able to slip through security:

[I]t's not that hard getting in the building, even though I probably shouldn't say that. They made crude NBC passes out of clay and just walked right through. . .They said they were from the network affiliate in Ohio.[2]

The feud ends

Conan stewart colbert sm2

Conan O'Brien mock-punches Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert during the brawl to settle their feud over who "made" Mike Huckabee.

On February 5, 2008, after O'Brien's monologue concerning his "feud" with Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, the two strutted West Side Story-style onto the set, accompanied by thunderous applause, and pulled O'Brien backstage. Colbert, O'Brien and Stewart then proceeded to fight it out to the tune of "Brianstorm", the hit song by Arctic Monkeys.[30] It was one fight scene cliche after the other, from slow motion punching to falling into cardboard boxes to rolling down a flight of stairs. What followed was "four punishing, uninterrupted minutes of Louisville Slugger bludgeonings, the gruesome torching of pasty comedian flesh, and a near-beheading by the razor-sharp blades of a pair of hockey skates."[18] The battle finally ended with a simultaneous freeze frame punch that turned into a parody of the end of Rocky III when the scene dissolved into a watercolor painting. It was not over just yet, however, as Mike Huckabee himself appeared and declared:

Let's be clear: None of these guys made me. This great nation made me. So vote for me. God bless America and forget these three idiots.[31]

With that, the bell sounded and the image of Huckabee morphed into a Rocky III-style painting, marking the end of the feud.[31]

Aftermath

That same day, Colbert and Stewart issued the following joint statement:

Conan's claims on Mike Huckabee could not go unanswered. We just hope the kids out there learned that sometimes the best way to resolve a conflict is with violence.[3]

Conan stewart colbert sm1

Jon Stewart hammily bludgeons an off-camera Conan O'Brien with a fake Louisville Slugger, while Stephen Colbert pounds O'Brien over the head with a fake, oversized recycling bin.

Meanwhile, as O'Brien was recovering, he conducted an interview with The Associated Press, and explained that one of the reasons he took part in the feud was because, "[Colbert] had been leaving me threatening messages. He got to me. I have a temper. A famous temper."[2]

Later that same day, on The Daily Show, Stewart apologized to Colbert for inadvertently smashing him over the head with a beer bottle during the brawl, amidst the confusion. While Colbert accepted his apology, Stewart continued and asked why Colbert had initially responded by shoving a recycling bin over Stewart's head and hitting him with a baseball bat. To which Colbert replied, "No, no, Jon — I shoved a recycling bin over your head and encouraged Conan to hit you with a baseball bat," and, as usual, leaving Stewart confused. At the end of the segment, Stewart asked Colbert: "Did we win that [fight], by the way?" Colbert's answer was, "I think America won, Jon."[32]

In the meantime, Huckabee won the first contest of "Super Tuesday" by winning the West Virginia GOP state convention by winning 52% of the electorate to rival Mitt Romney's 47%.[33] Backers of rival John McCain threw him their support to prevent Mitt Romney from capturing the winner-take-all GOP state convention vote.[34] He also secured victories in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee on Super Tuesday, bringing his delegate count up to 156, a distant third compared to 689 for Republican Party front-runner John McCain[35] and Mitt Romney's 286, according to the 2008 Republican presidential primaries and caucuses.

On February 7, 2008, Huckabee made a trip to New York to make yet another appearance on The Colbert Report, declaring he was still a viable candidate in the race. By the end of the segment, he was playing a game of air hockey with the host.[36]

However, despite winning the Kansas Republican Caucuses[37] and the Louisiana Republican Primary,[38] Huckabee decided to end his bid for the GOP nomination, upon losing the Texas Repulican Primary on March 4, 2008.[39]

Reception

Reaction to the "feud" by both the public and the media has been nearly uniformally positive, even eliciting a YouTube parody by fans.[40]

Interestingly, upon returning to air on January 7, 2008, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report had increased ratings. As of the end of January 2008, The Daily Show was up 17% for viewers between 18-34 from January 2007 and up 9% for 18-49 year olds in the same period. The Colbert Report was up 21% for 18-34 year olds and 15% for 18-49 year olds over the same time period. Late Night with Conan O’Brien, however, remained at a normal level, with 2.5 million viewers.[41] One reason given for the increase in Daily Show and Colbert Report ratings was the current presidental election, allowing them a large amount of political humor to use. However, one journalist commented that the raise of ratings in these two shows without the writers "has to be a big PR setback for the WGA."[42]

In fact, not long after the "Who Made Huckabee?" feud culminated, the writers' strike officially ended on February 13, 2008.[43] As one fan said, "This is what prompted the writers to end the strike, they realize these guys could do the show successfully without them."

Ironic subtext

In contrast to the strained relationship depicted on-camera amongst Colbert, O'Brien, and Stewart,[44] the three are actually good friends and admire each other's shows.[22][45] O'Brien admitted that, "the three of us have come along in the same comedic environment,"[3] and that, while "our shows all probably have their distinct flavor, [...] this happened because the three of us knew we would like doing this with each other."[3] The Associated Press noted:

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.[3]

Conan stewart colbert 6

In the final moments of their brawl, Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, and Conan O'Brien knock each other out via a three-way, slow-motion mock punch.

This from tvsquad.com's Annie Wu:

I would also like to note that even those that haven't found this fake feud particularly amusing must find a bit of sweetness in it. After all, these are hosts that have constantly expressed how lost they feel without their writers. There's something wonderful in seeing three comedians doing each other a favor by creating some silly material and taking it this far, just to help fill time. This one dumb fight alone has taken up so many episodes. Bless their little late night hearts for helping each other out.[46]

In a similar fashion John Gillespie, of "A Sensitivity to Things", found the brawl "inspiring",[47] and stated:

What is really great about this clip, the in-joke that informs, underlines everything you see, is that these are three very famous people, working in exactly the same field, competing directly for television ratings and advertising dollars, who should supposedly have very large egos, making fun of all of that, and revealing—wait… is that irony, on American TV?—that they are probably very good friends, having a very good time.[47]

"My favorite comedy is comedy where nothing is achieved and there is no point," O'Brien said. "That this whole Huckabee fight turned into an insane Marx Brothers dance was fitting somehow [...] The fight itself is three people with a box full of props playing for about an hour."[3]

See also

Notes

  1. Gomez, Fin (2008-02-06). Who Created Huckabee? Conan, Stewart, and Colbert Fight it Out. FOX News. Retrieved on 2008-05-11.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Steinberg, Jacques. "The Story Behind a Late-Night Brawl". The New York Times. Published 2008-02-06. Retrieved on 2008-06-10.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 Conan, Stewart, Colbert unite in TV feud. The Associated Press. Retrieved on 2008-02-05.
  4. WGA Strike Shuts Down Most Scripted Shows, United Press International, December 14, 2007[dead link]
  5. Finke, Nikki (2007-12-24). "Attempt Fails To Restart WGA-AMPTP Talks; Outlook Very Grim". Deadline Hollywood Daily (LA Weekly). http://www.deadlinehollywooddaily.com/exclusive-attempt-fails-to-restart-wga-amptp-talks-outlook-very-grim/. 
  6. Kang, Stephanie; Rebecca Dana. "NBC Gives Money Back to Advertisers" (preview). The Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119742320500222409.html. Retrieved 2007-12-23. 
  7. Hanson, Joyce (2007-12-22). "Old media hits the skids as new models roil market". Crain's New York Business. http://www.crainsnewyork.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071223/FREE/465255421/1010/rss26&rssfeed=rss26. Retrieved 2008-01-23. 
  8. Finke, Nikki (2007-12-17). "WGA Reminds Returning Jay And Conan: No Monologues". Deadline Hollywood Daily (LA Weekly). http://www.deadlinehollywooddaily.com/wga-reminds-returning-jay-conan-dont-write-monologues/. Retrieved 2007-12-19. 
  9. Finke, Nikki (2007-11-27). "WGA Scolds Carson Daly For Returning 'To Support Staff' And Seeking Scab Jokes". Deadline Hollywood Daily (LA Weekly). http://www.deadlinehollywooddaily.com/accusation-carson-daly-seeks-scabs/. Retrieved 2007-12-19. 
  10. Stewart, Colbert Returning to the Air. The Associated Press (2007-12-21). Retrieved on 2007-12-21.[dead link]
  11. "Introducing A Daily Show", http://www.thedailyshow.com/video/index.jhtml?videoId=147108&title=introducing-a-daily-show . The Daily Show, Comedy Central. Aired on 2008-01-07. Retrieved on 2008-06-10.
  12. Solomon, Deborah (September 25, 2005). Funny About the News. New York Times Magazine. Retrieved on 2007-11-13.
  13. Mike Huckabee Weighs In on Gay Rights... And Opening for Zeppelin? (MTV News, February 1, 2008).
  14. A recurring gag on Late Night with Conan O'Brien is Conan's use of a lever called "The Walker, Texas Ranger lever" to show clips from the series (most of the clips are usually fight scenes). Source: Steinberg, Jacques. The Story Behind a Late-Night Brawl The New York Times. Published 2008-02-06. Retrieved on 2008-06-10.
  15. Huck PAC
  16. Chuck Norris (2007-10-21). "My choice for president". WorldNetDaily. http://wnd.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=58255. 
  17. "Back Off Mike Huckabee". The Colbert Report, Comedy Central. Aired on 2008-01-16. Retrieved on 2008-06-08
  18. 18.0 18.1 Vicious Cross-Network Melee Leaves Stewart, O'Brien and Colbert In Critical Condition
  19. "The Conan/Colbert Feud Gets Ugly". Retrieved on 2008-06-12.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 "Jon Settles Colbert-Conan Feud". Comedy Central. Aired on 2008-01-29. Retrieved on 2008-06-09.
  21. Conan O’Brien Baby Delivery Photo
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 22.4 22.5 "Late Night Tangle". The Daily Show, Comedy Central. Aired on 2008-01-04. Retrieved on 2008-06-09.
  23. "Moment of Zen - Conan Fight". The Daily Show, Comedy Central. Aired on 2008-02-04. Retrieved on 2008-06-09.
  24. Limbaugh, Rush (February 5, 2008). "A vote for Huckabee is a Vote for McCain" (in english). rushlimbaugh.com. http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/home/daily/site_020508/content/01125114.guest.html. Retrieved 2008-02-07. 
  25. Hemingway, Mark (February 5, 2008). "Mary's Message to the Right" (in english). National Review Online. http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=YWRlMjkwY2FiOTM5OWIxYjE5N2E5NjU4MzAwMzkyNjc=. Retrieved 2008-02-07. 
  26. 26.0 26.1 "Conan and Jon". The Colbert Report, Comedy Central. Aired on 2008-02-04. Retrieved on 2008-06-09.
  27. Political Punch: Colbert, Conan & Stewart Fight Over Huckabee. Posted February 07, 2008. Retrieved on 2008-06-09.
  28. Here, it is suggested on-camera that all three shows are just down the hall from each other in the studio. In reality, though, none of these shows are recorded in the same building. Source: Steinberg, Jacques. The Story Behind a Late-Night Brawl The New York Times. Published 2008-02-06. Retrieved on 2008-06-10.
  29. "Post-Show Ass Kicking". The Colbert Report, Comedy Central. Aired on 2008-02-04. Retrieved on 2008-06-10.
  30. MTV Asia. "Top 100 Hits List". Retrieved 2007-12-27
  31. 31.0 31.1 "Conan vs. Colbert: The Brawl". Late Night with Conan O’Brien, NBC. Aired on 2008-02-04. Retrieved on 2008-06-10.
  32. "Daily/Colbert - Apology". The Daily Show, Comedy Central. Aired on 2008-02-05. Retrieved on 2008-06-11.
  33. POLITICO: Romney Loses West Virginia!
  34. Huckabee Wins W.Va. GOP Convention
  35. Election Guide 2008 - Presidential Election - Politics
  36. Huckabee on Colbert, Tyra - The Caucus - Politics - New York Times Blog
  37. CNN: Huckabee Wins Kansas
  38. CNN: Huckabee wins Louisiana
  39. Huckabee drops out of presidential race
  40. The Epic Battle!!! (a Colbert, O'Brien, Stewart feud parody)
  41. Grigoriadis, Vanessa (2005-09-26). Conan on the Couch. New York magazine. Retrieved on 2008-05-11.
  42. Downey, Kevin (2008-01-29). "Hefty bounces for Stewart and Colbert". Media Life Magazine. http://www.medialifemagazine.com/artman2/publish/Cable_20/Hefty_bounces_for_Stewart_and_Colbert.asp. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  43. WGA's Press Release. Variety magazine. Retrieved on 2008-04-23.
  44. Franklin, Nancy (November 28, 2005). The Spinoff Zone. The New Yorker. Retrieved on 2007-12-20.
  45. Dowd, Maureen (October 31, 2006). America's Anchors. Rolling Stone. Retrieved on 2007-12-20.
  46. The O'Brien vs. Stewart vs. Colbert three-show throwdown - VIDEOS. tvsquad.com. Posted 2008-02-05. Retrieved 2008-06-15.
  47. 47.0 47.1 Gillespie, John. Conan O’Brien vs Stephen Colbert vs Jon Stewart. Sensitivitytothings.com. Published on 2008-02-05. Retrieved on 2008-06-11.

External links

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