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This tops peony fest; 3,000 turn out to event in honour of TV host who bet against mayor - The Toronto Star
March 21, 2007 - by Raju Mudhar

As birthdays go, Oshawa Mayor John Gray is going to have a tough time beating this one.

Of course, he had to share his 48th yesterday with "Stephen Colbert Day," but the combined draw brought out over 3,000 celebrants to the General Motors Centre.

As a result of a bet with the host of the Comedy Central series The Colbert Report, which airs on CTV and the Comedy Network, Gray had to declare March 20 in Oshawa "Stephen Colbert Day."

Joked Bonnie Gray, the mayor's wife, "I asked him what he wanted to do for his 50th, and he just said 'I can't think about it now, one celebrity at a time.'"

Despite a full lineup of events - the musical group Two for the Show, a set from comedian Darrin Rows, headliner Don Cherry, and a shootout between Shooter (the Oshawa Generals' mascot in net) and Steagle Colbeagle the Eagle (the mascot of the Saginaw Spirit that was named after Colbert) - the big question last night was whether or not Colbert was going to attend the festivities.

He didn't, but he did have some words for Oshawa later on last night's Colbert Report.

"Bold, innovative, vibrant: none of these words have been applied to the city of Oshawa," he said. "But what about these words? Beaver pelt," he added, saying that Oshawa was founded as a trapping centre.

"If you decide to make Stephen Colbert Day an annual event, I pledge to personally be there in 2008 in the form of a rerun of this episode," he said.

For many in Oshawa, a chance to see hockey commentator Cherry was just as good as seeing Colbert, eliciting a standing ovation from the crowd. Cherry answered questions and told some humourous anecdotes.

Afterwards, when asked about Colbert, Cherry pulled no punches.

"Usually I'm watching the hockey game, (instead of Colbert). I didn't know if he was left wing, but somebody told me this afternoon he's a left-wing pinko, and you'd expect a left-wing pinko not to show up and face the music after starting something," he said.

"He wears a visor too, I think."

Cherry also noted that it was the birthday of former Oshawa General and legendary NHL defencemen Bobby Orr, bringing cheers from the crowd.

It was also the 26th birthday of Maurice Collard, who won the Stephen Colbert look-alike contest held by the Comedy Network.

"I wasn't nervous at all," he said. "I did a variety show in my hometown doing my Colbert, so it was fine."

Collard won a wrestling-style championship belt plus a trip to New York to see a taping of The Colbert Report.

Colbert also contributed a taped message to the evening's festivities, which was peppered with Oshawa references.

"This is a city that I have admired ever since I learned about it ... recently," he said.

"I want this to be the biggest raver in Oshawa since last year's peony festival," he added to roars of laughter before digging into a cake with the words Happy Stephen Colbert Day.

There was also a giant cake in Oshawa with Colbert's visage and there was free Dr. Pepper, Colbert's favourite soft drink.

"Stephen Colbert Day" came about after about two million Colbert fans inundated an online contest a few months ago to name the mascot of the Saginaw Spirit, a Michigan OHL team.

Colbert - who encouraged fans of his show to cast the ballots - threw his support behind the squad and began trash-talking its OHL rivals, especially the Generals.

After a public volley of taunts and counter-taunts, Gray issued a challenge to Colbert on the eve of a recent showdown between the two teams: if the Generals won, Colbert would have to wear a Generals jersey for an entire show. If the Spirit won, Gray had to declare "Stephen Colbert Day" in Oshawa. The Spirit won the Jan. 26 game.

On his show last night, Colbert said the Generals could beat the Spirit some day "if the entire Saginaw team is devoured by wolves."

As part of his official duties on Colbert Day, the mayor prepared a special proclamation in Colbert's honour.

"I think a sense of humour is mandatory in a situation like this. And I think you'll see from the wording we're trying to have some fun with this," said Gray.

It read: "(We) submit to the might of Stephen Colbert and the Colbert Nation ... and that all the citizens of Oshawa never want to see Stephen Colbert in his underwear again (Colbert turned a Generals jersey into boxer shorts) ... God save the Queen and Stephen Colbert."The mayor admitted it has been a media frenzy ever since Colbert accepted his challenge.

One sentiment heard repeatedly last night was what a boon the event and the publicity was for Oshawa.

"You can't buy this kind of publicity. It's great how the mayor rolled with it," said Jordan Smith, 45, from Oshawa. "It's all in great fun and stuff like this just never happens around here."

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