On Jan. 31, Florida voters will head to the polls to help decide the Republican candidate for the 2012 Presidential election. Just a few days prior, however, on Jan. 28, political junkies—and those in the mood for a good laugh—will be going to the Saenger Theatre to see The Capitol Steps perform their unique brand of political satire. The Capitol Steps, a bi-partisan group of performers and former Capitol Hill staffers that sets out to put the “mock in Democracy,” will be providing plenty of song parodies and skits skewering the latest hot-button political issues and candidates on both ends of the political spectrum.
“From the beginning, The Capitol Steps made a commitment to be bi-partisan—partly because it gives us twice as many jokes,” said Elaina Newport, producer for the Capitol Steps. “We’ve had songs like “Don’t Go Faking You’re Smart,” which was our song about Sarah Palin, and “You Can’t Hide This Biden Guy,” and Herman Cain singing “Love Potion Number 9-9-9.” The party in power is generally funnier, but right now we also have the Republican candidates, and all of those make an appearance in the show.”
The Washington D.C.-based group was formed in 1981. Newport, who also serves as one of the writers, Jim Aidala and the late Bill Strauss were staging a Christmas play while working as staffers for the late Republican Senator Charles Percy. It was then they decided to create song parodies and skits mocking the seriousness of Capitol Hill. The group has released over 30 albums since, and toured the nation lampooning the political climate.
Newport says that the group’s eclectic political make-up insures that they are “equal-opportunity offenders” eager to mock any and all politician whose gaffes and scandals make them headline news. Acknowledging that sometimes it is a challenge finding a song parody that works, Newport says that sometimes a scandal or politician comes along that makes picking the right song to parody awfully easy.
“The writing is a constant challenge, and picking the right song is essential—a rhyming dictionary really helps,” she said. “That’s why The Capitol Steps love politicians named ‘Perry’ or ‘McCain.’ Sometimes a scandal is perfect, like when the South Carolina Governor [Mark Sanford] happened to have a scandal involving Argentina and we got to use “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” or Tiger Woods for “The Lie of the Tiger.” And sometimes a song is perfect for both the feel of the original and the feel of the subject you’re covering. For example, when we were thinking of Hillary and Barack working together it reminded us of “Ebony and Ivory,” but we gave it a little twist and it became “Ebony and Ovaries.””
Newport says that the fast-paced political climate of today forces the performance to constantly be updated to focus on the latest headlines.
“One of the terrifying things about being a Capitol Steps performer is that you might have to perform a song on very short notice,” she noted. “When Rick Santorum came in second in Iowa, suddenly he was a candidate who needed a song.
And we had one the next day. And I will freely admit that sometimes, under these circumstances, the performers might go blank on a lyric. Once, when this happened, the performer turned to the audience and said, ‘You think this is easy? I just got this song two hours ago.’ And of course the audience loved that, because they knew it was something that had just happened in the news.”
In today’s heated political climate, Newport says, having a group that sets out to defuse some of the tension across party lines is beneficial. With more and more young people looking for more non-traditional, humorous news sources—like “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report”—to get their political news, Newport suggests that a group like the Capitol Steps can entertain as well as inform the audience.
“For example, we have a song about Arizona’s tough immigration laws. The law enforcement character in our song pulls over someone whose skin looks dark…only to discover that he is a Native American. So, that’s a guy who’s fought illegal immigrants, too—since 1492,” Newport said.
Capitol Steps is being brought to Pensacola by WUWF Public Media. Lynn Marshall, director of promotions and outreach for WUWF Public Media, says that the group has proved popular with Pensacola Democrats and Republicans alike.
“They are a great fundraiser for WUWF, since public radio listeners are familiar with their special “Politics Takes a Holiday” broadcasts,” said Marshall. “They appeal to everyone’s sense of humor—Democrat, Republican, Independent or any other flavor. I think sometimes people despair of being able to change all the things that go awry in our culture and political system. The Steps let us laugh a bit and maybe gain a little humorous insight into our own country’s workings and into our culture, ideas, and beliefs—maybe even into ways to contribute to positive change.”
THE CAPITOL STEPS
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28
WHERE: Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox