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Fancy Ray and Treehouse Records eat up exposure from Taco Bell's Super Bowl ad

Beyoncé's tour announcement wasn't the only pleasant surprise for Twin Cities viewers last night during halftime in the Super Bowl. In a prime slot at the start of the break, WCCO aired a Taco Bell commercial with Minneapolis' "best looking man in comedy" Fancy Ray McCloney that was inspired by -- and doubled as -- a promotion for Minneapolis' beloved indie LP shop Treehouse Records.

"Hi, this Fancy Ray for Treehouse Records, where we pay more cash for your dusty old records!" the clip starts out. It then shows the comedian donning different outfits to trumpet the store's selection of gospel, jazz and "Viking metal" (read: Scandinavian death metal). Ray even holds up a record by one of the store's favorite acts, former Jayhawks co-leader Mark Olson.

It's not until McCloney hoists a second LP do we see that he is really shilling for a new shelled item from the fast-food chain.

"The only thing bigger than our selection is Taco Bell's new Quesalupa," he says as he hoists an album cover with the Taco Bell logo on it, and then proceeds to pull one of the cheesy new menu items out of the LP jacket.

The commercial -- which only aired locally but is part of a national campaign -- was based on an actual TV spot that Treehouse Records made with McCloney back in 2012. It's one of many low-budget but high-energy small-screen ads the veteran comic and pitchman has created over the years for small Twin Cities businesses.

"This really is a validation of all the work I've done all these years making these wacky but smart, attention-grabbing commercials," McCloney said Monday morning, answering one of many phone calls since the ad aired.

He called the backstory of the new commercial "a bit of a roller-coaster ride," since he was first approached to do it by Los Angeles ad firm Deutsch Inc. more than two months ago but only just filmed it two weeks ago. Deutsch shot similar ads with local TV figures in four other markets.

In the end, Fancy Ray said, "It was remarkably easy. I just had to show up and deliver my lines, which I was born to do" (as opposed to his own commercials, where he's also in charge of all the logistics). The commercial will now be touted online but was only scheduled to air once on TV. McCloney is holding out hope it will live on, possibly even on a national level.

"They're saying they're real excited about it, so we'll see," he said.

Taco Bell paid for the ad, and Treehouse got a location fee out of it -- in addition to the obvious exposure it will bring.

Treehouse owner Mark Trehus was quick to point out on Facebook last night, "There are plenty of Mark Olson's latest LP for anyone who wonders why I decided to feature it."  He forgot to mention the nearest Taco Bell to his Lyndale Av. and 26th St. store.

Here's the commercial that aired last night along with the original 2012 posted underneath it.

Eggers, James interview each other at MOI fundraiser

Authors Marlon James, left, a Macalester professor who recently won the Booker Prize, and Dave Eggers got together for a fundraiser for the MOI youth writing program. Photo by Adam Iverson.

"You've been reading since you were five?" a pointedly incredulous Dave Eggers asked fellow author Marlon James from the stage at Central Presbyterian Church in downtown St. Paul Thursday night."Hmmm, so you say. I was finger-painting at five, with one finger up my nose."

Trading friendly jibes and revelations on their work and backgrounds, the two literary powerhouses had joined forces to raise money for the Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute (MOI), a tongue-in-cheekily named creative writing and homework help program for Twin Cities youth. Eggers co-founded 826 National, a network of several similar locally funded programs around the country, and hopes to add MOI to the fold.

It's off to a promising start. Less than five years ago, MOI served 75 kids, and that figure is up to 1,200 this school year, said Chad Kampe, director of the program, which relies mostly on volunteers and donations. Three fifth-graders also briefly took the stage to read from stories they wrote during MOI activities. Eggers showed he has a way with kids, even when guilty of asking them leading questions "Sorry, I'm doing it again," he said, smiling.

James, who just returned from a book festival in India, talked about his uneasiness with sudden celebrity status he has achieved in countries once part of the British empire after winning Britain's prestigious Man Booker prize. The day after a series of frustrating airport-arrival experiences, he awoke to find his picture splashed across tabloids,which over a series of days changed the tenor from "James hates India" to "James overwhelmed by India" to "James changes mind about India," he said.

After pointing out that James, an English professor at Macalester College, is the first Jamaican to win the Booker, Eggers said, "More importantly, he's the first Minnesotan."

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