As Colbert and his crew of writers and producers took the stage on Sunday to accept the award for Outstanding Live Variety Special, former late-night talk show host and comedy icon Conan O'Brien walked up with the group and stood onstage as the audience laughed and Colbert hilariously refrained from addressing his presence.
The host -- who won the award for his special, Stephen Colbert's Election Night 2020: Democracy's Last Stand Building Back America Great Again Better 2020 -- spoke with ET's Lauren Zima while addressing press backstage and joked about why O'Brien wasn't still with them celebrating the win with reporters.
"Conan would be here, but I had to fire him in the last five minutes. It was a budgetary thing. COVID has hit a lot of budgets really hard and we had to cut. They said cut by height," Colbert quipped. "It's been an honor to work with him and I'm sure he'll find a gig someplace."
In all honesty, however, it turns out O'Brien didn't just crash the speech, but rather he was invited by Colbert on a lark. They were sitting together around the same table and it just worked out.
"I said, 'Why don't you come onstage with us if we win?' and he said, 'Really?' I said yeah and he went, 'OK, if you change your mind just let me know.' And he came up!" Colbert recalled. "We love Conan, and we're honored to be superfans."
Colbert also spoke with ET's Kevin Frazier and Nischelle Turner backstage, and reflected on the live election special that earned him the Emmy this year, and how he almost didn't agree to do the show.
Colbert recalled how his producer asked him if he wanted to do another live election night coverage spectacular, as he'd done in 2016, and he balked at the idea.
"I said, 'No I do not! Do you remember what four years ago was like? I'm not sure my bone marrow can take another one of those,'" Colbert said with a laugh. "So I forgot to thank the American people for making it a much better [election night] evening."
Meanwhile, Colbert isn't the only late-night host who feels indebted to O'Brien. Earlier in the evening, John Oliver won the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Talk Series for Last Week Tonight -- which also earned the award for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series -- and he used part of his speech to share a special thanks with the longtime late-night host.
"Thank you so much. Like many in this room, I was rooting for Conan, so this is kind of bittersweet," Oliver said in his speech. "Thank you so much Conan for 30 years of inspiring comedy writers, a ridiculous number. You're the best."
O'Brien was nominated in the same category for the final season of his self-titled late night show, Conan. To his credit, O'Brien does have four Emmy Awards to his name, out of a total 29 nominations.