July 5, 2012 at 1:00 am

TV pilot an outlet for Rep. McCotter

Lowbrow project was a way to deal with his failed presidential bid

McCotter was preparing for life outside elected office when he wrote the “Bumper Sticker” pilot. (John L. Russell / Special to the Detroit News)

As U.S. Rep. Thad McCotter's short-lived presidential run fizzled last year, the Livonia Republican turned to another aspiration: writing a TV show.

"Bumper Sticker: Made On Motown" starred McCotter hosting a crude variety show cast with characters bearing the nicknames of his congressional staffers, his brother and a drunk, perverted "Black Santa." They take pot shots about McCotter's ill-fated bid for the White House while spewing banter about drinking, sex, race, flatulence, puking and women's anatomy. It features a cartoon intro and closing snippet with an Oldsmobile careening through Detroit and knocking over the city's landmarks. The double-finned car has a Michigan license plate reading: "Made on MoTown."

The News obtained a copy of the script from a former staffer who offered it as evidence of what the five-term congressman was pitching while in elected office and the tawdry humor unbecoming of a public official who had become disinterested in serving the 11th Congressional District.

McCotter told The News the work was unfinished and was given to a reporter without his permission. He said the show was a "cathartic" creative outlet that helped him through the humiliation of the presidential campaign flop. "Bumper Sticker" brought to life a possibility of something that could be worse than his political failure — being trapped in a bad TV show that takes away "any shard of dignity left," he told The Detroit News.

McCotter maintains he didn't write the show on the taxpayers' time: "Most of my writing is done in my garage … where I can smoke." He circulated the idea to at least one filmmaker and shared the script with some staffers, he said.

Some congressional staffers included in his 42-minute pilot episode dated Oct. 17, 2011, were the same longtime employees who handled the collection of petition signatures that botched his chances of getting on the Aug. 7 primary ballot. The character named "Wardo," the nickname others acknowledge is used for District Director Paul Seewald, dresses in a matador costume, gets drunk on a whisky-laced Slurpee and runs off stage after puking.

"Chowsers," the nickname for Deputy District Director Don Yowchuang, leers at women's body parts and snaps cell phone pictures of them, goes "cougar hunting" and repeats the line "I'm Thai."

Seewald and Yowchuang received substantial pay increases in the first quarter of this year — 19 percent and 32 percent, respectively, compared with previous quarters, according to records from Legistorm. McCotter was bounced from the ballot when 87 percent of his collected signatures were deemed invalid. The Michigan attorney general's office is investigating. McCotter maintains he did nothing differently than in the past by trusting the same longtime staffers to handle the petitions and has welcomed the probe.

Asked who would find the humor in the script funny, McCotter said he wasn't trying to reach a broader audience. He said the show was "deliberately designed to be a train wreck" to further assault the dignity of the central character — McCotter the host, who is already humiliated from the presidential run.

"The very fact that people wouldn't find that funny and the suffering of the protagonist of having to be involved in it was what was funny," McCotter said.

"It's really a one set piece," he said of the show, inspired by the 1977 show "Fernwood Tonight," starring comedian Martin Mull. "Because once he's humiliated, it's kind of it. How can you do that five nights a week?"

"Bumper Sticker" is not McCotter's first foray into media. He was a regular on Fox News' overnight Red Eye show, a commentator on Breitbart.com and a guest political insider on a Washington, D.C., local morning show. He also published a book in February 2011 called "Seize Freedom! American Truths and Renewal in a Chaotic Age." But it didn't gain any traction.

But the creative musings he drummed up for a television pilot reveal a different side of the mind of the congressman.

McCotter had been planning to leave Congress in 2014, he told The News, so he was preparing a career outside elected office and making connections with Hollywood conservatives.

Other creative endeavors

McCotter, who has played in a congressional band and cited rock lyrics in House floor speeches, formalized his pursuit of creative endeavors in 2010 when he started a registered corporation with the state of Michigan, Screaming Lemur Productions. McCotter said forming the company was necessary so he could join the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers and register a piece he and Jon Kahn, a musician and screenwriter, had done for Andrew Breitbart, the late conservative commentator and publisher.

Screaming Lemurs is the name of the band he plays in with his brother, Dennis, a school teacher in Livonia. According to former congressional staffers, McCotter was also pitching a script for a movie with the working title, "Think Dink," starring a character played by his brother, Dinky McSweeny, running for a Senate seat.

McCotter says he first wrote the idea in novel form when he was a Wayne County commissioner before being elected to Congress, inspired by the idea of what would happen if a political candidate said whatever he wanted. Asked if he had pitched the movie idea to Kahn, McCotter said they discussed if anybody was ever interested, he'd have to give away rights to the work and someone else could write it while he was in Congress.

Reached by e-mail, Kahn says he "dig(s) McCotter … creative guy." He wasn't available for a phone interview.

Local Republicans have castigated McCotter for fouling up the most basic political task of getting on the ballot, and critics say he has been disengaged from his job of serving his constituents in Wayne and Oakland counties.

McCotter rejects the notion his writing hindered his job performance. Some politicians play golf, but creating things — writing, music, painting — is his outlet to deal with the "destructive" environment in Washington.

A train wreck of a show

In "Bumper Sticker," conservative commentator S.E. Cupp is cast as guest on the pilot. Cupp, a regular guest on cable political shows, also has appeared on "Red Eye" and co-hosts MSNBC's "The Cycle."

McCotter tries to ask serious questions of the columnist, while his sidekicks chime in by asking how she "keeps that great stripper bod?" and whether "D-Cupp" is dating anyone. In the script, Cupp is disgusted by the "train wreck" of the show.

It's unclear whether Cupp knew of her role in the pilot. Reached by e-mail, she didn't want to talk about McCotter.

McCotter also casts Stephen K. Bannon, the conservative filmmaker, as the reluctant producer of "Bumper Sticker." In the show, Bannon is not amused McCotter doesn't have a second guest lined up and McCotter has to interview Bannon instead.

Reached by phone, Bannon, who now runs Breitbart's media enterprise, said he didn't realize McCotter cast him in the script. He recalls McCotter emailing him an earlier version, but he chalked it up to "musings" McCotter would send periodically to Breitbart and himself after his presidential run failed.

As a filmmaker who reads plenty of professional work, Bannon said he didn't take McCotter's scripts seriously, but rather as cathartic musings to burn off the anger and hurt from his book and presidential campaign flopping.

Presidential run not a lark

McCotter, he said, is a serious man with serious policy ideas in a town — Washington D.C. — filled with unserious people. Bannon said he and Breitbart told McCotter they didn't think a presidential run was a good idea. While some may have thought McCotter's run was a lark, to him it "wasn't a lark at all. He made a very serious attempt," Bannon said. When he was shut out of debates and not embraced by conservatives, McCotter took it as a rejection of his ideas that were worthy to be part of the national debate.

"I think he took that a lot harder than what people think," Bannon said.

"Thaddeus McCotter was a serious voice and I hope he remains a serious voice somehow," said Bannon, who calls McCotter one of the smartest people on Capitol Hill.

Any future in hosting a variety show? "God, no," he says.

mschultz@detnews.com

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