Stephen Colbert, if you are reading this, Schenectady forgives you.
A week after Colbert poked fun at Schenectady on his Comedy Central TV show, local tourism officials are hoping to turn the slight into a positive sound bite for the area.
They have put together a peace offering — a basket of gifts — to be delivered by Chris Hunter, director of archives and collections for the Schenectady Museum & Suits-Bueche Planetarium.
Hunter will attend Tuesday’s “Colbert Report” show in New York City with his brother, Michael, and is hoping to present the gift basket to Colbert directly or to a member of his staff. Hunter scored the sought-after Colbert tickets in December as a Christmas present for his brother. The waiting list for the free tickets stretches into months, he said.
The basket contains a free round-trip airplane ticket, donated by Richmor Aviation of Schenectady, for Colbert and five of his entourage to visit Schenectady; a picture of Colbert’s hero, Ronald Reagan, taken when he visited Schenectady in 1954 as a spokesman for General Electric; a photo of the first TV drama ever produced in the United States, at WRGB, birthplace of television; and several other items.
Hunter’s visit to the show could not be any more perfect, local officials said, coming a week after Colbert said the best way to visit Schenectady was through Google Maps.
At the time, Colbert was interviewing former Tennessee Rep. Harold Ford Jr., who is considering a campaign for U.S. Senate in New York. His quip came in response to Ford’s earlier statement that his only visit to Staten Island came when he “landed there in a helicopter.”
Said Colbert: “Are there other places in New York that you designate as ‘helicopter only?’ Because I would recommend that for Schenectady. I would just look at that on Google Maps.”
Hunter, a longtime fan of the satirist, learned of Colbert’s comment the next day when he visited the Comedy Central Web site. His first impression: “In one sense any publicity is good publicity. And then it started to sound like an opportunity and a chance to have some fun and give the city of Schenectady some publicity.”
After he read Colbert’s comments, Hunter mentioned to a friend he had tickets to Colbert’s show. The friend passed the information to someone else and soon the Chamber of Schenectady got involved.
Gail Kehn of the chamber contacted local organizations and helped put together the gift basket.
Items were selected with Colbert’s Comedy Central character in mind, Hunter said. Colbert’s character is a fan of Ronald Reagan, hence the photo of Reagan visiting the area when he was a movie star.
Colbert’s character is also self-important, so the planetarium will put on a live show that will highlight what the night sky would look like on important days of his life.
There is also a serious side to the gift basket, Hunter said. Local officials would like Colbert to visit the Operation Aim High program offered by the Empire State Aerosciences Museum in Glenville. Aim High invites disadvantaged youths from the Capital Region to spend a day learning about aviation.
Chamber President Charles Steiner said the program’s theme is to help youths “set goals and get a direction in life that provides a great future, to aim high.”
Hunter said he left a message with Colbert’s press director about the gift basket; he has yet to hear back. “I informed her that [Colbert’s] comments about Schenectady have created quite a buzz up here and that the story was featured on the front page of the local newspaper, that people up here are good-natured and are having fun with the story,” he said.
David Buono, manager of Richmor Aviation in Schenectady, said the airplane ticket is valued at $2,500. Richmor will use a Kingair 200, a six-seater turbo-prop, for the flight.
Richmor donated the ticket because “we want to improve the way the city of Schenectady and Schenectady County are viewed. We feel we are lucky to be here in Schenectady County, and we hope that those who have never been here will come and see what we see, which is that Schenectady County is a good place to live and work.”
Steiner said he doesn’t know if the gift basket will work. “You never know. It is a sincere ask and it has an enticing piece, the plane ride. It’s faster than a helicopter,” he said.