Between debate after debate, constant news coverage, and budding political social media wars, sometimes you need to sit back, relax, and have a good laugh at the expense of politics. Enter The Capitol Steps– Washington D.C.’s most famous and funniest political parody. Now bringing their wisecracks, sketches, and original music on the road, The Capitol Steps stop in Austin on November 14th with their brand new show Mock the Vote.
In anticipation of the comedy troupe’s arrival, we did some Google searching to see just how funny they really are. And, as it turns out, they’re pretty darn hilarious. Take it from the Washington Post‘s recent feature on the group’s 30th birthday.
In December 1981, about a half-dozen Republican staffers, including Newport, decided to spice up the Christmas party of Sen. Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.). Newport played piano; her boss, Bill Strauss, wrote song parodies. A caricatured James Watt, the controversial interior secretary at the time, sang “Mine Every Mountain” (to the tune of “Climb Every Mountain”). There was a song about “The Meeseketeers (“The Mickey Mouse Club”) and Attorney General Edwin Meese, and one that poked fun at President Ronald Reagan, who was famously not known for keeping long hours. It was called “Working 9 to 10.”
“We just thought, how are we going to keep this party from being boring?” Newport says. Making light fun of the bosses seemed just the thing. That party turned into another and another. “We thought, if we add some Democrats, some House people, spread the risk around and make fun of everybody, maybe we’ll get away with this.”
The group took its name from the scandal involving Rep. John Jenrette (D-S.C.) and his wife, Rita, who posed for Playboy and bragged that she and John had had sex on the Capitol steps. (She recanted that story about sex on the steps earlier this year).
In 1984, the Steps started getting paid gigs. In 1988, Newport, then a legislative assistant to Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.), joined the troupe full time. It was “almost like running off, joining the circus,” she says.
Newport is the only original office party troupe member remaining. Strauss died in 2007 and Jim Aidala performed off and on for 10 years before taking a series of political jobs in the Clinton administration. He later moved to Grand Rapids, Mich., and remains on the Steps’ board.
The Steps brag that they are equal opportunity satirists and have a song for every scandal. They’ve done “Livin’ Libido Loco” about President Bill Clinton and “Don’t Go Faking You’re Smart,” a duet with a Laura Bush singing to her husband. His response: “I couldn’t if I tried.”
Mike Tilford, who studied opera and did local dinner theater before joining the troupe nearly 20 years ago, is a dead ringer for Michael Dukakis. Or Chris Dodd. Or Dick Cheney. Or a number of other white male politicians. He played Bill Clinton for years. “I’m Southern and kinda sleazy, so they hired me,” he says.
Staffers for President George H.W. Bush once ordered the Steps not to make fun of the president in a White House performance, but Bush would not have it. “I want to see your songs about me!” Newport recalls his saying, so in went the riff on his mix-up about Pearl Harbor Day, “Try to remember that date in September . . . ,” with Bush joining in onstage.
The politicians never, ever get offended by the jokes, each and every Step insists. It’s only when they’re not included that they get mad.