Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday November 20th 2018

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Step Up

By Jennie McKeon

If you’ve been following the news, there’s a good chance you need a good laugh.

The Capitol Steps offers both—news and comedy.

Since 1981, the comedy/musical group has been performing their political satire hits all over the country. Their newest album, “Orange is the New Barack” features songs such as “Putin on the Ritz,” “Wake Me Up in Mar-a-Lago” and “We Warm the World.”

Believe it or not, the Capitol Steps was born out of a Senate Christmas party.

“It was the early days of Reagan,” said Elaina Newport, one of the founding members of the Capitol Steps. “He went from acting to politics; we went from politics to acting.”

Newport and fellow staffers of Senator Charles Percy were tasked with coming up with a skit for the holiday party. Thirty-six years later, they are a regular touring company with a large catalog of songs.

“No one told us to stop,” Newport said with a laugh.

In its early days, working on Capitol Hill was a requirement for any of the performers, but when the demand for shows became greater, the rules relaxed.

“The first 15 years, you couldn’t join unless you worked on Capitol Hill, but then we got so busy we needed performers,” Newport said. “So now, we’re half former staffers and half professional performers.”

No matter the political background, auditions can sometimes be a little odd.

“Someone can come in and sing a beautiful song, but then we’ll say ‘Sing it like Kim Jong Un,’” said Newport.

The Capitol Steps is an equal opportunity offender poking fun at both sides of the aisle.

Newport said it’s the kind of show where you can see Donald Trump sing a rock song or Bernie Sanders belt out a show tune. Self-described as an extreme moderate, Newport said she believes both sides can be “very silly.”

But the Capitol Steps, and political satirists in general, were blessed in a way with the 2016 election. The group took a stab at the Republican primary with its rendition of “76 Trombones” remade into “76 Unknowns.”

It’s often a question asked of anyone in the comedy world if President Donald Trump is a gift of endless jokes. While Newport said there is a goldmine of one-liners, keeping up with the news coming out of Washington can be exhausting.

“Think of all the things that have happened last year,” she said. “Remember when Anthony Scaramucci was communications director for 10 days? We wrote a song about him. We thought he was going to be the funniest character. People like Ben Carson and Rick Perry would be funny under a normal administration.”

There’s also a skill to impersonating the President, especially one with such a large personality. Like most satire, the Capitol Steps will exaggerate a politician’s character, but as Newport said, Trump already has a pretty big personality.

He’s also one that stays updated on pop culture and doesn’t miss a chance to critique shows that critique him, like “Saturday Night Live.”

“I don’t know if President Trump is aware of our show, but I like to think he’d enjoy it bigly,” Newport said.

The party in power often takes the heat from the show, but you’ll still see some Democratic celebrities such as Nancy Pelosi and, of course, Hillary Clinton.

A group of five perform each show, which means there’s a lot of wigs and a lot of accents.

“I’ve been told we have more changes than a Cher concert, which I think is a badge of honor,” Newport said.

The political climate right now can be tense, to put it mildly. From your Facebook feed to family dinners, it seems as if no topic is safe. But in times like this, it’s important to find something to laugh at.

“Right after the election there’s been so much bickering. It was so contentious,” said Newport. “But you do have to laugh.”

When it comes to writing jokes, Newport said they try to stick to front page news.

Although, now it’s a little harder to stay fresh with a constant scroll of news updates on social media and memes that closely follow.

Sometimes, the jokes jump out, sometimes the song sticks first. And sometimes, the group has to weigh-in on sensitive subjects, like the #MeToo movement.

Of course, the Capitol Steps were around for the previous sexual harassment scandals with President Bill Clinton and Justice Clarence Thomas in the 90s. This past year they tackled more than that and they still keep the show rated PG.

“We had a Roy Moore song for about a week in our show, but we’re kind of glad he lost,” Newport said.

Despite the news, the Capitol Steps aim to do a show that makes everyone laugh and even escape, even if it’s just for a short period of time.

“The issues are serious and the world is a very different place,” said Newport. “But it energizes us to go back to the office and write something that will connect with the crowd.”

There’s also the promise of a topless Vladimir Putin singing, “I’ll be watching you.”

“Putin never wears a shirt through the entire show,” Newport said. “So it’s worth it for the partial nudity alone.”

THE CAPITOL STEPS
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 19
WHERE: Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox
COST: $43; WUWF Members receive 10 percent off
DETAILS: pensacolasaenger.com