By EW Staff
Updated January 19, 1996 at 05:00 AM EST

IT MAY HAVE been a cable-network publicity stunt, but the citizenry of Carey, Idaho (pop. 300), played along willingly. On Jan. 4, the tiny town added an R to its name for a day and staged an all-out birthday party for Jim Carrey, who turns 34 this month.

”We were just looking for a fun thing to do,” says Susan Hunter, a production assistant for Encore Media Corp.’s STARZ! movie channel, based in Denver. STARZ! will air the bash as part of its Jan. 17 birthday salute to the actor. The channel’s producers came up with the idea late last year but couldn’t locate a town spelled like the actor’s surname; they found two singularly R’d Careys — the other, in Ohio, is a comparative metropolis of more than 3,600 people.

The party, probably the biggest event to hit Carey since President Harry Truman dedicated the local airstrip, was held at the local gymnasium. Townspeople declared the actor an honorary volunteer fireman (to cheerleader chants of ”S-s-s-mokin!”), played party games with Ace Ventura-inspired toilet plungers, and enjoyed the antics of several dozen homegrown Carrey impersonators. And then there was Carey High School junior T. J. Dilworth, who bowled over the crowd with a Dumb and Dumber-style haircut he got, ”like, an hour ago.” In fact, the only thing missing from the celebration was Carrey himself, who is filming Cable Guy in L.A. ”He’s flattered they named a town after him,” says his spokeswoman. What’s next for the Idaho burg? Well, Mariah Carey must have a birthday coming up soon.