The first U.S. presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney may have attracted millions of viewers this week — but the follow-up debate between two of television's leading men was touted as the very reason "Al Gore invented the internet."
In a display of comedic endurance, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show and Bill O'Reilly of The O'Reilly Factor duked it out for 90 minutes, just like their political counterparts did on Wednesday.
But the TV hosts came armed with more zingers and a looser commitment to facts and formalities.
"How many people think it’s [former president George W.] Bush’s fault?" O’Reilly began in an allusion to the nation's woes. "Bush is gone," he deadpanned to applause.
"My friend Bill O’Reilly is completely full of sh--," Stewart said in his opening remarks. The Comedy Central host called his opponent mayor of "Bullshit Mountain" — a reference to a new segment on The Daily Show in which Stewart attacks O'Reilly's network, Fox News — and pleaded with O'Reilly to talk some sense into his people.
The so-called Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium was not a free-for-all — viewers had to pay $4.95 for access to the online-only show, half of which will go to charity.
The two men debated under a banner that read, "Yum, this banner tastes like freedom."
Stewart came prepared to rise to the occasion, literally, using a mechanical pedestal to elevate himself above his opponent when he wanted to drive home a point. Their jousting was called "refreshingly rude" by some observers, who found the polite exchange between Obama and Romney a bit artificial.
O'Reilly compared income redistribution to "Robin Hood on steroids" and encouraged Obama to show Israel some love by going on a double date with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
When Stewart suggested the U.S. is only as good as its weakest link, O'Reilly replied: "We’re only as good as CNN? Are you kidding me?"
The odd couple,who are friendly off air despite their political differences, also got closer than your typical debaters.
When asked how politicians could reach across the aisle to better run the country, Stewart quickly sat on O'Reilly's lap.
"And what would you like for Christmas, little boy?" O'Reilly asked, before pushing him off.
The event seemed to be a bipartisan crowd pleaser — at least for those who could gain access. Social media was flooded with the complaints of those who could not watch the event live on the internet because of an overloaded server.