In December of 1981, a group of staffers for Illinois Senator Charles Percy got together to plan a Christmas party. What started with banter over tinsel-strung celebrations and ideas for entertainment turned into three decades of satirical performance, continuously inspired by politics. Elaina Newport and her aforementioned colleagues founded Capitol Steps, a troupe of performers who write and enact sketches and musicals about political phenomenons.
The government employees—who worked across 18 Congressional offices and represented 62 years of House and Senate experience—became comedians and have recorded over 30 albums. Four times a year they perform “Politics Takes a Holiday” (New Years, April Fool’s, 4th of July and Halloween) nationally on public radio in front of a live audience in the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, DC. The Capitol Steps also have performed for five presidents, including Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr., Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. “We haven’t performed for Obama yet,” Newport said last week during an interview with encore. “But we’re still hopeful! Hillary saw us at a Radio/TV Correspondents Dinner a few years back.”
Newport and others have engineered a way to, as they say, “put the ‘MOCK’ in democracy.” Coming on 35 years of satirical comedy, Capitol Steps have found a way to stay fresh and up-to-date by focusing on the sensitivity of material.
“My favorite part, and also the biggest challenge, is when we can take a serious issue and still make people laugh,” Newport explained. “For example, we have a song about the Greek fiscal crisis. That was hard to make funny!”
Capitol Steps took inspiration from the famed ‘70s musical “Grease!” to create “Greece!” Most of the hilarity comes from ridiculous caricature portrayals and performances. Nevertheless, through it all, the comedy troupe have found a way to parody our government, yet maintain integrity and garner respect from the very people they riff on.
“Ronald Reagan invited us to perform at his final congressional picnic,” Newton said. “After the show, he came onstage and thanked us for the performance, then said, ‘Now, you’re all under arrest.’ His timing was perfect!”
Like they did in “Greece!”, Capitol Steps members have taken advantage of classic hits and chart-toppers to turn into musical parodies. Album titles range from “All I Want For Christmas is a Tax Increase” to “Liberal Shop of Horrors.” Each album features the group’s unique twist on bureaucracy.
“This year is a great time to see the show,” Newton said of the current campaign trail. “We have so much material on both sides—the show will get everyone, and it’s all in good fun, including lots of puns. If you’ve ever wanted to see Hillary sing a rock song, Trump sing a show tune, and Vladimir Putin dance (shirtless!), this is the show. We’ll do 30 songs and skits in a 90-minute show, with wigs and costumes flying!”
The troupe is known for refraining from the use of vulgarities and profanity in their routines. After last week’s Trump tape release, how they’ll avoid his now infamous snatch talk likely will be with innuendo and backward speech in their famed segment titled, “Lirty Dies” (“what you get when you mix your basic national scandal with word-initialization-rejuxtaposition”).
The Capitol Steps will take over Thalian Hall on October 12 and 13. Both performances will begin at 7:30 p.m. and tickets can be purchased on the Thalian Hall website.