Political Parody Keeps Audiences Rolling in the Aisles – Not the Senate Ones

February 13, 2018
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The Capitol Steps, a comedy troupe appearing at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center Feb. 17, has poked fun at contemporary American politics through sketches and parody songs since the 1980s. Photo by Mike Reyna

By Mary Ann Bourbeau

DEAL PARK – In 1981, a group of senate staffers for Sen. Charles Percy of Illinois decided to satirize their profession at a Christmas party. They were going to stage a nativity play, but as the story goes, they realized they couldn’t find three wise men or a virgin in the entire Congress. Instead, they created song parodies and skits pertaining to the headlines of the day.

The performance was a hit and before long, there were requests for them to do more. After about four years, the group was offered money to do a show. The offers kept coming in, and thus The Capitol Steps was formed.

“We wake up in the morning and thank all the politicians,” said Elaina Newport, one of the group’s founding members.

The Capitol Steps will be returning to the Axelrod Performing Arts Center on Saturday, Feb. 17 – Presidents’ Day weekend – with their latest show, “Orange is the New Barack.”

“Donald Trump is very good for comedians,” said Newport. “Comedy is based on exaggerations, but sometimes it’s hard to exaggerate this guy.”

Like the time they had a Trump impersonator say he would never kiss babies on the campaign trail because babies are losers and they should get a job.

“Then Trump really kicked a baby out of a rally,” said Newport. “It’s somewhat reminiscent of the Clinton days, stories you can’t make up.”

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Newport had been working for Sen. Percy for three years. When he lost the next election, she went to work for Sen. Alfonse D’Amato of New York. Four years later, D’Amato also lost his re-election bid. Considering the lack of job stability, Newport decided to turn her attention to the Capitol Steps full time.

“When you work on Capitol Hill, you could lose your job every two to six years,” she said. “Making fun of politicians pretty much makes for a lifetime guarantee of employment. So I decided to run off and join the circus. It’s definitely more respectable than working on Capitol Hill.”

Each show has about 30 songs and skits performed by three men and two women, and the women are kept especially busy during the show, portraying everyone from Melania Trump to Betsy DeVos, Nancy Pelosi and Angela Merkel.

“They run on and off the stage to change wigs and accents a dozen times,” said Newport. “They make more costume changes during a show than Cher.”

The comedy troupe now has about 20 performers, so they are able to do hundreds of shows each year. In “Orange is the New Barack,” they don’t miss any chances to skewer Donald Trump, but they strive to be equal opportunity comedians.

“Thank goodness the Democrats aren’t keeping quiet,” said Newport. “We have people portraying Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer. We do get both sides, even though the party in power is a little funnier.”

Occasionally a parody will fall flat, as it did when the Capitol Steps attempted a skit about then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney. It was revealed that 25 years earlier, the Romney family drove 12 hours on a family vacation with their dog, Seamus, strapped into a carrier on the roof.

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“We thought it would be funny to dress a guy in a dog costume and have him sing “Up On The Roof,” said Newport. “We thought it couldn’t miss. But the audience sat there and kind of looked at us. We learned that you can mess with war and politics, but don’t mess with dogs. We had to let that one go.”

Though there won’t be any dog jokes, the audience may hear “Small Hands” by Melania Trump, “Wake Me Up in Mar-a-Lago” and “Rockin’ Robin (Tweet Tweet)” by Donald Trump, “Don’t Know Much About History” by Betsy DeVos and “Putin on the Blitz” by the Russian president.

“You’ll see Donald Trump singing rock, Bernie Sanders belting out show tunes and Vladimir Putin dancing shirtless,” said Newport. “If you feel like throwing a shoe at the TV when you watch the news, come to our show instead.”

The Capitol Steps will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17. Tickets are $36 to $56. For more information, visit www.axelrodartscenter.com.

Arts and Entertainment writer Mary Ann Bourbeau can be reached at mbourbeau@tworivertimes.com.

This article was first published in the Feb. 8-15, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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