Culminating their satirical coverage of the campaign, Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert teamed up Tuesday for a live one-hour comedy special - though Mr. Stewart had his Walter Cronkite moment, too.
Mr. Stewart became the first comedian to announce presidential-election results on live national television.
Sensing the end was imminent, the broadcast delayed its sign-off for a moment as offstage producers gave the closing cue while hovering over TV monitors. When they said the election had been called, the comedians effectively became newsmen.
Interrupting Mr. Colbert - who was writhing in mock disappointment at Sen. John McCain’s loss - a clearly moved Mr. Stewart announced: “I would just like to say, if I may … that at 11 o’clock at night, Eastern Standard Time, the president of the United States is Barack Obama.”
It was a straight line on a broadcast full of parody.
Sitting at “The Daily Show” desk - expanded for the two anchors - Mr. Stewart and Mr. Colbert mocked over-the-top election coverage with fake reports from campaign headquarters and real updates on polling numbers.
“We don’t normally do this live. We are a fake news show,” Mr. Stewart told the crowd beforehand, putting emphasis on “fake.”
“The Daily Show” has been regarded for years as a legitimate news source. Mr. Stewart’s take on the news has been influential enough to draw visits from both candidates. “The Colbert Report” host infused himself into the race by briefly - and comically - running in the South Carolina primary.
The two comedians - Mr. Stewart himself, Mr. Colbert in his right-wing pundit persona - reacted to the night’s news like a Democrat and Republican, respectively. Most of the gags went to Mr. Colbert.
Mr. Stewart repeatedly called the night a historic one, only to have Mr. Colbert correct each time that it was “an historic” evening.
A desperate Mr. Colbert attempted distraction with a cockatoo, scoffed at blue states like Vermont and pleaded that Mr. McCain’s win in South Carolina was “this year’s bonus state” - tripling its electoral-tally value.
“Daily Show” correspondents pitched in, too, including a video interviewing voters prodding for evidence of the so-called Bradley effect.
Comedy eventually yielded to the magnitude of the election results. After the broadcast - held in front of a raucous and partisan crowd - the cast exchanged hugs and Mr. Colbert and Mr. Stewart both went into the audience to embrace their wives.
In a brief interview after the broadcast backstage, Mr. Colbert was still rattled.
“I’ve never had this feeling before, which is: Things went well on Election Night,” said Mr. Colbert, whose political views are not his character’s. “I’m a little stunned. I don’t know what to do with my happiness. I’m still afraid someone’s going to take it away.”
In the nearly two-year-long presidential campaign, comedy was the unqualified winner, mirroring the candidates and the media every step of the way to great popularity. Like NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” each enjoyed record ratings and increased relevance.
The exit of the Bush administration, some have argued, will dwindle comedic fodder, but Tuesday night’s show ended with Mr. Stewart reassuring his correspondents and Mr. Colbert that their jobs would continue.
“There was a world out there before this election, and there’s still a world out there,” Mr. Stewart said.
Afterward, Mr. Colbert, too, said the show would go on.
“It’s like saying nighttime news will go out of business tomorrow,” said a grinning Mr. Colbert. “Do you think that’s gonna happen?”