Sunday, July 15, 2007
A doctor in a white coat ambles down a hospital hallway. Suddenly, an old lady attacks, whacking him with her metal cane. Pow! He collapses, falling face-first on the floor. Another old lady kneels over him, rummaging through his pockets, stealing vials of pills.
"That's me in drag," says Matthew Lesko, Washington's infomercial king, the self-proclaimed Guru of Government Giveaways. He's watching one of his latest ads on a laptop computer in a funky College Park coffeehouse, pointing to the "old lady," who is actually Lesko in a blue dress and a pink hat.
On the screen, the doctor-mugging scene disappears, replaced by the image of Lesko standing in front of the Capitol, wearing a garish blue suit speckled with big white question marks. "You don't have to take extreme action to get the health care you need!" he's yelling. "There are THOUSANDS of programs available for people of all ages, all incomes, with or without insurance -- FROM THE GOVERNMENT!"
In the ad -- in all his ads -- Lesko's voice is a high-speed, high-pitched shriek that falls somewhere between Fran Drescher calling her hogs and dental drills piercing your eardrums.
"I'm Matthew Lesko," he bellows in this ad. "For 25 years I've been studying government programs. My new GovernmentMoneyClub.com is the country's largest source of government benefits and includes THOUSANDS of health programs. . . . If your insurance company tells you no, there may be a government program that will COVER YOU!!" He turns and points at the Capitol: " They're not going to tell you -- but I WILL!"
On the screen, a graphic reads: "Only $19.99." It's a typical Lesko ad -- eye-catching and ear-bashing. But there's one problem with it.
"It didn't work," says Lesko, 64, smiling placidly as he sits in the coffee shop. "I don't know what works. You try something and you get lucky once in a while. I'll try anything."
He's speaking in a normal human voice, thank God, but he is wearing one of his 15 question-mark suits. This one's tan with orange question marks. He always wears these suits, except at weddings and funerals. Both of his family cars are festooned with question marks. So is the scooter he rides around Washington. His life is an ad for himself.
Lesko's here in the coffeehouse to meet with his director, Mike Fleg, who has an idea for a new ad. No geriatric muggers this time. This ad will feature Lesko rapping.
Rapping? Is the world really ready for Matthew Lesko rapping about how to get free money from the government?
Fleg thinks so. He's 23 and he just graduated from the University of Maryland. He's here with Elijah Harvey, another new grad, who raps under the name "XL." Together, they explain their idea for the ad: Lesko's walking through a funky neighborhood in his nerdy question-mark suit. A gaggle of gangbangers spot him, and one of them -- to be played by XL -- starts rapping about how lame Lesko looks. Then Lesko starts rapping back, talking about how he knows how to get free money from the government: "I got billions in free money and it's waitin' for you / So come get your money and your life will be new." And pretty soon, the gangbanger's girlfriends desert him and flock to Lesko because he's got free money. Then the music swells :"Getcha money! Getcha money!"
Lesko smiles and sings along: "Getcha money! Getcha money!" Then he says, "I like that. But the beginning is too long. How do we get to the 'getcha money' faster?"