No shortage of satirical inspiration on the steps
When it comes to political satire, the Capitol Steps are never lacking for material.But given the current political climate and the imbalance of bipartisan representation, this renowned group of ex-government-employees-turned-comedians might have some trouble maintaining their reputation as “equal opportunity offenders.”The Capitol Steps were founded more than 20 years ago when most of the group’s members were still working for some body of the United States Government. For almost eight years, Capitol Steps co-founder and author Elaina Newport tried to juggle both careers – working as a legislative assistant for Republican senators while simultaneously mocking all aspects of both political parties in her then underground comedy group.
“The first couple of years, we didn’t do any public shows. We were all afraid,” Newport said. “We thought we had serious political careers and we’d be in some situation where we were finally about to be made secretary of something or other and they would say, ‘Well, back in 1991, you made fun of the president.’ They eventually noticed I wasn’t showing up to work a lot. This seemed more respectable. It was kind of gradual that we realized nobody was objecting. Senators invited us to parties and we made sure we had republicans and democrats in the group from day one. The first time a senator was mad, it was Sen. Alfonse DeMato from New York. He was mad because we didn’t have a song about him.”Taking no mercyThe Capitol Steps are still making fun of the president. And the vice president, members of both Houses, Kobe Bryant, mad cows, and basically any other figure in the news. They write songs such as “One Bush, Two Bush, Old Bush, New Bush,” “Hillary’s Way” and “Papa’s got a Brand New Baghdad.” While the personal political views of the 22 members of the group range from one extreme to the other, Newport said she’s dead center, and that making light of politicians has given her a new perspective on current affairs.”I’m personally an extreme moderate,” she said. “Both sides get ridiculous at some point – that’s where we try to get everybody. When I worked on the hill, you could get depressed thinking about everything happening. There are some subjects that aren’t funny, like the war in Iraq. But you go after the politicians involved – maybe Don Rumsfeld going over there and putting his foot in his mouth. It is an odd way to look at the world. While you might say, ‘Oh my goodness, Abbas is the leader for Palestinians,’ you don’t think of what’s going to happen with peace, you think, ‘What rhymes with Mahmoud?'”
Newport said that over the years, whether it’s been the sexual escapades of Bill Clinton or the incoherent and grammatically challenged public speeches of George W. Bush, the comedic material often writes itself. “During the Clinton years, we were almost redundant,” Newport said. “There’s been some very serious headlines in other points in our history. The war is tough. Our jobs are harder now, but more important. When the headlines are serious, you need to laugh more than ever.”Dubbed DubyaCapitol Steps member Kevin Corbett does a frighteningly convincing Bush impersonation. Bush’s remarks, after all, often require no additions or contrived comedy. Newport said the group sometimes puts its Bush numbers to the test to see if the audience can determine which speeches are authentic.
“We’ve occasionally taken verbatim quotes,” she said. “People can’t tell which ones are verbatim and which ones aren’t.”Although she said some members of Capitol Steps probably voted for Bush last November, she was personally surprised by the outcome of the election.”He pulled that one out of his hat,” she said. “I’ve voted both ways in the past, but I didn’t vote for Bush in the last election. I used to have something called the Dan Quayle test – if someone laughed hard enough at your intelligence, there’s no way they’d vote for you for president. I really thought the way people were laughing at George Bush, there would be no way. But, we can’t say we’re ungrateful to Bush for all the material he provides.”The biggest surprise is that Bush himself seems to be in support of the Capitol Steps.”His father used to have us perform for him a lot,” Newport said. “But the only quote we have from (George W.) is in recent years. Our paths crossed on the campaign trail. He told someone to say, ‘You tell the Capitol Steps, I’m going to provide them with a lot of material.’ That’s the understatement of the year.”Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or email@example.com.Vail Colorado