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Chris Huber and Seth Tupper, Forum Communications, Published October 19 2012

VIDEO: 'Colbert Report' segment gives Corn Palace 'a-maize-ing' publicity

MITCHELL, S.D. - Mitchell’s Corn Palace received an “a-maize-ing” six minutes and 37 seconds of free national publicity Thursday night.

Stephen Colbert did a segment about the corn-covered auditorium and tourist attraction on his popular “The Colbert Report” Comedy Central cable television show.

The segment, titled “A Shucking Disaster: Nightmare at the Mitchell Corn Palace,” took the form of a mock television news report about the effects of the ongoing drought, which has forced the Corn Palace to reduce from 12 to eight the number of different corn colors on its murals.

The report was filled with sarcastic yet mostly good-natured humor.

“We’ve seen the crushed farming communities,” Colbert narrated in an ominous-sounding voice. “We’ve been warned about rising food and fuel prices.

“But no one prepared us for less vibrant corn murals.”

The story included interviews with Corn Palace Director Mark Schilling, murals artist Cherie Ramsdell and decorating crew member Dan McCloud.

“What people are telling me today is that we came across as truly passionate about the Corn Palace, and that is a really good thing,” Schilling said in an interview with The Daily Republic.

Emails, tweets and Facebook messages have been pouring into the Corn Palace from people across the country saying how much they like the segment.

The average viewership is 1.2 million for the “The Colbert Report,” and the opportunity for that kind of national exposure was too good to pass up.

“Anytime we can get that many people watching something on the Corn Palace, we have to do it,” Schilling said. “It would be hard to get that kind of airtime on a local show, but a national one like this, it’s a no-brainer.”

In one particularly funny moment, there was a back-and-forth between Schilling and Colbert (Colbert’s voice was piped in over the actual interviewer to make it seem like he was in the room) about the various puns used to promote the Corn Palace. Colbert feigned misunderstanding of “a-maize-ing,” with Schilling taking great pains to explain that “maize” is an ancient word for corn.

“I don’t speak ancient,” Colbert quipped.

The segment included lots of video of the Corn Palace, often faded into a fluttering American flag and accompanied by comically dramatic music.

“Not only is it the biggest,” Colbert said of the Corn Palace’s place among corn monuments. “It’s also the ‘only-est.’”

“People drive from,” he went on, pausing for comedic effect, “presumably elsewhere to see the murals made of 12 different colors of corn.”

The segment also included a summary of the Corn Palace’s history, which Colbert ended with this deadpan summation of what the tourist attraction has done for Mitchell:

“As anyone would agree, Mitchell, South Dakota, is certainly … on a map.”

Even though the segment pokes fun at the Corn Palace, Mitchell Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Jacki Miskimins said it is a positive for the attraction and the city.

“We have always been in on the joke ourselves,” she said. “Look at our billboards and our slogans. We know we are corny, and we roll with it.”

Comedy Central contacted the Corn Palace in mid-August when the possibility of a colored-corn shortage was being discussed.

“When ‘The Colbert Report’ says they want to do a story on the Corn Palace, we know it’s not going to be a documentary on its history, so we kind of knew what we were going to get when we went into it,” Schilling said.

A crew of five people from the show visited Mitchell on Sept. 14, the same day as the Billy Currington and Jake Owen concert, and filmed from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Schilling found out at 5 p.m. Thursday that the show would air that night. Because of a confidentiality agreement, he could not talk about the show beforehand.

A crew member asked Schilling questions during the interview and instructed him to give short answers.

“They kind of cut and paste things to make them sound how they wanted to, but we knew that was going to be the case coming in,” he said. “Anyone who has seen the program knows they do that stuff.”

An interview with Mitchell Mayor Ken Tracy was conducted but didn’t make the segment’s final cut.

“They are kind of making fun of us a little bit, but it’s a lot of free publicity,” Tracy said.