Even In Disgrace, Blagojevich Finds The Spotlight

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AP
Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been rejected by the people of his state, bounced out of office by legislators and indicted by federal prosecutors. But in the world of entertainment, he's a hit.

Television, radio, theater _ all are familiar with rebuilding shattered reputations and seizing opportunities for publicity. All have welcomed Blagojevich.

The Second City comedy troupe has a huge success with its biting stage show "Rod Blagojevich Superstar," and Blagojevich himself joined Saturday's performance. He opened the show standing on a chair, his arms outstretched as if crucified, and then helped with some improv afterward.

The producers of NBC's "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!" courted Blagojevich for their eating-bugs-and-bickering show in the jungles of Costa Rica. They settled for his wife, Patti, when a judge wouldn't let him leave the country.

Blagojevich also has become a staple on a Chicago morning radio show, alternately attacking his political enemies and discussing his wife's performance on reality TV. He's no stranger to bigger shows like "Larry King Live" and "Today," either.

Blagojevich's love of the spotlight has even inspired some bizarre offers designed to grab a headline whether or not he agrees to participate. The host of a Chicago sports show challenged Blagojevich to a drag race, for instance, and the owner of a Nevada brothel offered him an internship that would play out on the HBO series "Cathouse."

Even more than most politicians, Blagojevich always craved public approval.

Put him in front of a crowd as governor, and he would get them cheering by promising a state grant or vowing to battle their enemies. He seized any opportunity to shake hands, chat with folks about his love of Elvis and remind everyone that he opposed any tax increase.

When the Chicago Democrat was kicked out of office in January and later indicted, he could have stayed in seclusion. Instead, he has sought out the spotlight, and the entertainment world has offered it to him eagerly.

Both sides get the same benefits: money and attention.

Second City, for instance, can link itself to a funny politician the same way "Saturday Night Live" did with vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, said Susan Murray, who teaches at New York University and writes about television and culture.

Meanwhile, Blagojevich gets more public attention and a chance to change people's impression of him. It may not hurt for potential jurors in a future trial to see him as an unpretentious guy with a devoted wife.

"He seems like a personality who would be attracted to that risky media behavior. He has little to lose since his political career is over," Murray said.

Blagojevich also gets money to pay his mortgage and his legal bills.

Patti Blagojevich's TV appearance will raise money for charity, but she's also being paid to appear. The ex-governor's Second City appearance also involved a contribution to charity and a payment to Blagojevich. Their publicist wouldn't say how much.

"They need to make a living. They needed to feed their family," said spokesman Glenn Selig.

So far on "I'm a Celebrity ..." Patti Blagojevich has eaten a tarantula and ants, prayed with a couple of reality TV stars _ one of whom said he would have supported Rod Blagojevich for president _ and quietly endured mud, snakes and celebrity tantrums. She frequently defends her husband and describes the stress on her family, including the possibility that she'll be indicted, too.

She comes across as one of the few grown-ups on a show of childish egos.

"This has become a great opportunity for people to see what she's like and how badly she's been portrayed," Selig said. "It is an opportunity to sort of set the record straight."

Federal prosecutors say that as governor, Blagojevich schemed to profit financially and politically from his power to awad state contracts, appoint people to government boards and name President Barack Obama's replacement in the U.S. Senate.

Selig insisted he isn't worried the couple could be seen as making light of those charges or Blagojevich's removal from office, even when taking part in a show that does.

The Second City's satire is so far removed from reality that it "barely resembles" Blagojevich's life, Selig said. By taking part, the ex-governor is showing that he has nothing to fear and can laugh at himself, he said.

But a Second City executive sees it differently.

Kelly Leonard said "Superstar" jabs Blagojevich hard, and that his appearance Saturday was an ideal mixture of funny and awkward.

"This is a show that eviscerates this guy," said Leonard, a Second City vice president.

Leonard said he understands some people might object to the troupe working with someone accused of serious crimes, the troupe's job is satire. Blagojevich's appearance added to the satire and gave the cast material to sharpen their barbs in future shows, even if it also may have helped Blagojevich improve his battered image.

"In any of these things, everyone's got their desires and their point of view. I have no idea who this served better or worse," Leonard said. "I know we're selling lots of tickets."