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A 2008 performance
|Medium||Television, theatre, radio, audio ecordings|
|Subject(s)||American politics, Washington, D.C., the U.S. federal government|
The Capitol Steps are an American political-satire group which has been performing since 1981. They have released over 40 albums, primarily song parodies. Originally consisting of congressional staffers who performed around Washington, D.C., the troupe is now primarily made up of professional actors and singers. The Capitol Steps have performed on PBS, public radio and in small- and medium-size venues around the United States.
In 1981, three Republican congressional staffers (Bill Strauss, Elaina Newport, and Jim Aidala) used their spare time at the Subcommittee on Energy, Nuclear Proliferation, and Government Processes of the Senate Committee of Governmental Affairs to write and sing parodies of current events. Joined by fellow Republican Senate staffers Nancy Baskin, Barbie Granzow and Dave Nichols, they decided on a Christmas show as their first performance while continuing to work full-time as congressional staffers. They chose "The Capitol Steps" as their group name because of a sex scandal earlier that year in which Congressman John Jenrette had sex with his wife, Rita, on the steps of the Capitol Building.
Their first show was a December 11, 1981 Christmas party for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The performers, considering the show a success, performed the same songs several more times that month. In 1982, the group expanded to include House staffers and Democrats. Despite being predominantly Republican, they tried to make their shows bipartisan with a roughly-even mix of songs lampooning Democrats and Republicans. Although the group attracted media interest at the time, they refused interview requests out of concern that their jobs could be endangered by press coverage and their behavior might affect Strauss and Newport's subcommittee chair Charles H. Percy.
In February 1983, the Capitol Steps began to perform monthly at the Shoreham Hotel and became open to publicity for the first time. They received a favorable review in the Washington Post, and their performances were successful. In November 1984, they performed at Percy's election-night party; during the party they learned that the senator had lost the election, and Strauss and Newport would lose their jobs with him. Shortly afterwards, the Capitol Steps became a professional group and recorded their first album: Capitol Steps Live! at the Shoreham. In the fall of 1986 the Capitol Steps began performing on a regular basis at Chelsea's Cabaret in the Georgetown area.
Three years later, the group decided to quit their full-time jobs. At this time, they included David Gencarelli, Richard Paul, Anne Hill, Ann Schmitt, Brian Ash, and Mike Loomis; all except Loomis and Gencarelli were still with the group in 2012 with Newport. In September 1988, the Capitol Steps performed at the White House for an audience which included President Ronald Reagan, his wife Nancy, and hundreds of members of Congress. Through an aide, Reagan asked the group to perform songs poking fun at him; they obliged, and the president enjoyed the show. The Capitol Steps released five albums during Reagan's two presidential terms, including Thank God I'm A Contra Boy, We Arm the World, and Workin' 9 to 10.
George H. W. Bush years
The Capitol Steps expanded their repertoire of material to include international and foreign policy affairs (such as the United States invasion of Panama) and local gaffes (such as George Herbert Walker Bush's recognition of September 7 as Pearl Harbor Day) after Bush's 1988 election. The group became known for parodying Vice President Dan Quayle, particularly after Quayle's infamous correction of a child's spelling of "potato" by telling him to add a final -e.
The Capitol Steps released six albums during the elder Bush's presidency, including Stand By Your Dan, 76 Bad Loans, and Georgie on My Mind, and performed several times at the White House. On three occasions, the president accepted the group's invitation to sing songs poking fun at himself with them onstage.
Before the Lewinsky scandal, Bill Clinton's administration provided fodder for new songs and albums and a variety of personalities who were easy to exaggerate: the easygoing Clinton and the First Lady, Hillary, Vice-President Al Gore and several Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, who had suggested that masturbation could be a useful part of a comprehensive sex-education curriculum.
In 1994, the Capitol Steps performed at the White House for Clinton and Gore. After the Lewinsky scandal became public they were not invited to perform at the White House again, since their humor (like that of most American comedians of the time) focused on the allegations of Clinton's womanizing and coverups. The group performed for Kenneth Starr's law firm. The 2000 presidential election yielded the pre-election "I Want a Brand New Pair of Candidates" and several other songs about the aborted recount.
George W. Bush years
The popular impression of George W. Bush's intellect, fed by his frequent grammatical errors in speeches, allowed the Capitol Steps to reuse much Dan Quayle material. After the events of September 11, 2001, jokes aimed at the president or American politics no longer seemed appropriate to the general public. The group cancelled most of their performances for the next several weeks, performing an edited show at a nightclub on September 15. It was successful, and they soon found new material that people would find funny in October 2001. The group poked fun at the improved national view of Bush and at figures who were becoming more relevant to the American public, including New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and French President Jacques Chirac.
Heightened security nationwide soon became a popular subject for the Capitol Steps and other comedians in the wake of media reports that travelers were being questioned in airports for having powdered sugar from a donut on their clothing. By the end of the year, the group was poking fun at terrorists.
In 2002 and 2003, their material lampooned SUVs and their drivers, Hans Blix, the collapse of Enron, the standoff with Saddam Hussein, Condoleezza Rice, Democratic hopefuls for the 2004 presidential nomination, the capture of Saddam Hussein, same-sex weddings, the Kobe Bryant trial, and the California gubernatorial recall election (in which they reused "The Fondler"—a Clinton-era parody of "The Wanderer"—with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the target). Since 2004 the Capitol Steps have remained topical with their parodies, releasing songs about the marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, U.S. immigration-reform-law proposals, and the Tom DeLay scandals. On December 18, 2007, group co-founder Bill Strauss died at his home in McLean, Virginia of pancreatic cancer.
Most of the Capitol Steps' material parodies well-known contemporary songs, usually introduced with a short skit. The songs are interspersed with other routines, including a spoonerism routine ("Lirty Dies") near the end of each performance with innuendoes about recent scandals.
In 2015, the Capitol Steps had 26 cast members and five pianists. The group performs public and private shows throughout the country, and appears at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center in Washington, D.C. every Friday and Saturday year-round. Their show is frequently updated; they released several albums during the Obama administration, including Mock the Vote, How to Succeed in Congress without Really Lying, Fiscal Shades of Gray, Take the Money and Run for President, Desperate Housemembers, Liberal Shop of Horrors, and Obama Mia.
Since their first album in 1984, the Capitol Steps have released a new recording of their songs, parodies, and sketches at least once a year (usually in the late spring). The group has also released holiday recordings in 1989, 1993 and 2006. A 2001 "special high school release", revised and re-released in 2005, is made up of songs written for participants of the National Young Leaders Conference in Washington, at which the group has performed. Their 20th-anniversary book included a CD retrospective of their work. Their 2008 release (Campaign and Suffering) was the 30th released album (plus the book-CD combination and both versions of the "high-school release"). The Capitol Steps perform live on New Year's Eve and Independence Day at their home at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, and the performances are broadcast on National Public Radio stations.
- Capitol Steps Live! at the Shoreham (1984)
- We Arm The World (1985)
- Thank God I'm A Contra Boy (1986)
- Workin' 9 To 10 (1987)
- Shamlet (1988)
- Stand By Your Dan (1989)
- Danny's First Noel (1989 holiday release)
- Georgie On My Mind (1989–1990)
- Sheik, Rattle and Roll (1990)
- 76 Bad Loans (1991)
- Fools On The Hill (1992)
- The Joy Of Sax (1993)
- All I Want For Christmas Is A Tax Increase (1993 holiday release)
- Lord Of The Fries (1994)
- A Whole Newt World (1995)
- Return To Center (1996)
- Sixteen Scandals (1997)
- Unzippin' My Doo-dah (1998)
- First Lady And The Tramp (1999)
- It's Not Over 'Til The First Lady Sings (2000)
- I Want It Dad's Way (2001 high-school release, revised and re-released in 2005)
- One Bush, Two Bush, Old Bush, New Bush (2001)
- When Bush Comes to Shove (2002)
- Between Iraq and a Hard Place (2003)
- Papa's Got a Brand New Baghdad (2004)
- Four More Years in the Bush Leagues (2005)
- I'm So Indicted (2006)
- O Christmas Bush (2006 holiday release)
- Springtime for Liberals (2007)
- Campaign and Suffering (2008)
- Obama Mia! (2009)
- Barackin' Around the Christmas Tree (2009 holiday release)
- Liberal Shop of Horrors (2010)
- Desperate House Members (2011)
- Weiner Wonderland (2011 holiday release)
- Take the Money and Run for President (2012)
- Fiscal Shades of Grey (2013)
- How to Succeed in Congress Without Really Lying (2014)
- Mock the Vote (2015)
- What To Expect When You're Electing (2016)
The group released Ronald the Red-Faced Reagan for the 1987 holidays and From Yankee Doodle to Pander Bear, a history of American political satire, early in Bill Clinton's first term.
Reviews and awards
The Capitol Steps won the Washington Post Best Bets Readers' Choice Award for Best Live Theater in 2005; made the 2006 WUSA A-List for Best Comedy Club, and won the 2009, 2010, and 2011 Washington Area Music Awards Cabaret/Musical Theater Artist Award and the 2013 and 2014 Washington City Paper readers' polls for Best Place to Take an Out-of-Towner. Reviews from the Boston Globe, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post are posted on the group's website.
- "Capitol Steps Go Into Comedy Overdrive During Government Shutdown". The Washington Post. October 3, 2013.
- Lonnae O'Neal Parker (December 28, 2011). "Capitol Steps turn 30". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 13, 2017.
- Capitol Steps' webpage for the "High School Special CD"
- Capitol Steps webpage for their radio broadcasts
- Bookings, Press Clips, Awards and Quotes page at capsteps.com. Accessed 28 December 2006.
- Strauss, Bill; Newport, Elaina (1992). Fools on the Hill: Everything You Need to Know About Politics You Can Learn from the Capitol Steps. Stamford, Connecticut: Longmeadow Press. ISBN 0-681-41676-9.
- Strauss, Bill; Newport, Elaina (2002). Sixteen Scandals: 20 Years of Sex, Lies and Other Habits of Our Great Leaders. Naperville, Illinois: Sourcebooks MediaFusion. ISBN 1-57071-890-3.