Homer Alaska - Arts

Story last updated at 5:41 PM on Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Capitol Steps keep mocking politicos



By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer


 

Photo by Bill Hurd

Photo by Bill Hurd, Capitol Steps Some of the members of the Capitol Steps pose for a publicity shot.

Long before the Onion and way before Jon Stewart, a group of congressional staffers pioneered what now seems an obvious form of political humor. Take the current political events of the day. Choose a popular tune. Shake and stir and you have, say, Herman Cain extolling the virtues of his tax plan in "Love Potion Number 9-9-9."

That's the basic format of the Capitol Steps, a Washington, D.C., homegrown comedy troupe that found success in its equal-opportunity, bipartisan humor.

Sunday at 7 p.m. in the Homer High School Mariner Theatre, the Capitol Steps perform. Tickets are $35 for Homer Council on the Arts members and $40 general admission.

Taking its name from a 1981 scandal involving former Rep. John Jenrette, D-S.C., and his wife Rita, who allegedly had sex on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, the Capitol Steps started as a Christmas party skit by some congressional staffers, said Elaina Newport, the producer, co-writer and a co-founder of the group. Newport worked as a staffer with Sen. Charles Percy, R-Illinois.

"We figured we'd do it once and we'll go back to our jobs," Newport said in a phone interview last week. "Nobody told us to stop, and here we are 30 years later."

About half of the current cast has experience as congressional aides, with only one member still working full-time in Congress. One member, Richard Paul, was former Sen. Frank Murkowski's national affairs press secretary. The group started in the early days of the Ronald Reagan presidential administration.

"It was kind of a fun time for comedy," Newport said. "He'd come from show biz to politics. We thought we'd balance it out and go from politics to show biz."

The challenge and success of the Capitol Steps is keeping the humor fresh and topical. Last year, while former Gov. Sarah Palin kept people guessing if she would run for U.S. President or not, the Capitol Steps included skits like Palin reciting "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere," with her own historical modifications. That number won't be in the Homer performance, Newport said.

Capitol Steps

WHEN 7 p.m. Sunday

Homer High School Mariner Theatre

Cost

$35 Homer Council on the Arts members

$40 General admission

Cast Mike Carruthers, Jon Bell, Mike Tilford, Bari Biern and Janet Gordon, performers

Marc Irwin, pianist

"That's the last we'll have of her in the show until she comes back with a vengeance," Newport said.

The Republican Party presidential campaign has offered rich fodder for the Capitol Steps. With front runners shifting weekly and others dropping out, the writers and singers have to stay on their toes. Say a scandal breaks or a shocking revelation comes out.

"We try to get something in the next show, even if it's a joke or two," Newport said. "That's one of the terrifying things about the Capitol Steps. We get an email saying 'Throw this in the show.'"

The Homer show, for example, will have a song about former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, the current GOP front runner, and his three wives. One challenge is that the touring company has three men and two women, so they have to choose the prettiest guy in the show to play the third wife, Newport said. With 30 songs and numerous characters, the cast is kept jumping changing costumes and wigs.


 

Lawrence Luk

Elaina Newport, cofounder of Capitol Steps

"It's more changes than a Cher concert," Newport said.

Congressman Ron Paul also gets a song, even though he's placing third or fourth in the pack. That song, "You Do Run Ron, You Do Run Ron," debuts in Alaska.

"He's not going anywhere," Newport said. "He doesn't care. He wants to be there to yell. He doesn't quit."

Although Republicans get a lot of teasing because of the contentious presidential primaries, the Capitol Steps pokes fun at both parties — well, all parties, including the Tea Party.

"It's bipartisan. We made an effort to do that from early on. It was part of a way of saving our own necks when we were working in politics," Newport said. "We also learned it gave us twice as many jokes."

Politicians only get offended when the Capitol Steps doesn't make a joke about them. One true story was of a senator who made a scene because he wasn't parodied. The Capitol Steps have performed for the last five presidents, but not yet for President Barack Obama. Obama has been hard to parody, but not Vice President Joe Biden.

"It's kind of like Barack knew he wasn't going to be as funny as George Jr.," Newport said. "He threw us a bone there."

The Capitol Steps also just released its 30th album, "Desperate Housemembers," available on its website at www.capsteps.com. Some song previews are available there and at its YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJ70OFLagq8&lr=1.

Newport said she doesn't expect she'll run out of writing material.

"As long as the politicians keep messing up, we're in business she said. "Our worst fear is a competent politician."

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael. armstrong@homernews.com.

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