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Capitol Steps, 2008.
|Medium||Television, Theatre, Radio, Audio Recordings|
|Subject(s)||American politics, Washington, D.C., the United States federal government|
The Capitol Steps are an American political satire group. The group has been performing since 1981 and has released over 40 albums, consisting primarily of song parodies. Originally consisting exclusively of congressional staffers performing around Washington, D.C., the troupe now primarily employs 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 while working for the Subcommittee on Energy, Nuclear Proliferation, and Government Processes of the Senate Committee of Governmental Affairs to write and sing parodies about current events. They were joined by fellow Republican Senate staffers Nancy Baskin, Barbie Granzow, and Dave Nichols. Together they decided to put on a Christmas show as their first performance, while continuing to work full-time as Congressional staffers. They chose the name "The Capitol Steps" for their group based on a sex scandal earlier that year, in which then-Congressman John Jenrette had sex with his wife, Rita, on the steps of the Capitol building.
The first show took place on December 11, 1981, at a Christmas party for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The performers deemed the show a success and performed several more times that month with the same songs. In 1982, the group expanded to include several more members, including House staffers and Democrats. Despite being predominantly Republican, they made a concerted effort to make their shows bipartisan, trying to incorporate a roughly even mix of songs targeted at Democrats and Republicans. They achieved media interest at this time but refused all interviews on the grounds that their jobs could be endangered by press coverage of their satirical antics. They were also concerned about how their behavior might reflect on the chair of Strauss and Newport's subcommittee, Senator Charles H. Percy.
In February 1983, the Capitol Steps began to do monthly performances at the Shoreham Hotel, opening themselves to publicity for the first time. They received a favorable review in the Washington Post, and their performances became highly successful. In November 1984, they performed at Senator Percy's election-night party. During the party, they learned that the senator had lost his bid for reelection, meaning that Strauss and Newport would lose their jobs working for him. Shortly after, they made the Capitol Steps a professional group. They soon recorded their first album: Capitol Steps Live! at the Shoreham.
Three years later, in 1987, the group members decided to quit their full-time jobs. At this time, the group included David Gencarelli, Richard Paul, Anne Hill, Ann Schmitt, Brian Ash, and Mike Loomis, who (except Loomis and Gencarelli) were still with the group in 2012, along with Newport. In September 1988, the group performed at the White House, for an audience that included President Ronald Reagan, his wife Nancy, and hundreds of members of Congress. Reagan, through an aide, requested that the group perform songs poking fun at him. The group obliged, and Reagan enjoyed the show immensely.
The Capitol Steps released five albums during Reagan's years in office, including "Thank God I'm A Contra Boy", "We Arm the World", and "Workin' 9 to 10".
George H. W. Bush years
With the election of George Herbert Walker Bush in 1988, the Capitol Steps expanded their repertoire of material to include international and foreign policy affairs, such as the United States invasion of Panama, as well as local gaffes, such as Bush's recognition of September 7 as Pearl Harbor Day. The group also became known for its portrayal of Vice President Dan Quayle, particularly after his famous mistake of correcting a child's spelling of "potato" by encouraging him to add a final e.
The Capitol Steps released six albums during this presidency, including Stand By Your Dan, 76 Bad Loans, and Georgie on My Mind. They performed for Bush Sr.'s White House several times. On three occasions, he accepted the group's invitations to sing songs about his minor gaffes along with them on stage.
Before the Lewinsky scandal, the Bill Clinton administration provided several scandals that turned into a multitude of new songs and albums, as well as a wide variety of personalities that were easy to exaggerate: the easy-going Clinton, his aggressive wife Hillary, the boring Al Gore, and several colorful others in the administration, including Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, who suggested that masturbation could be a useful part of a comprehensive sexual education curriculum.
In 1994, the group performed at the White House for Clinton and Gore. However, after the Lewinsky scandal broke, they were not invited to perform at the White House again, as their humor (like that of most American comedians of the time) focused on allegations of Clinton's womanizing and then covering it up. They did perform for Kenneth Starr's law firm.
The presidential election of 2000 provided plenty of fodder for humor, including a frustrated song just before the election, "I Want a Brand New Pair of Candidates", and several songs about the recount fiasco.
George W. Bush years
The popular conception of George W. Bush possessing an inferior intellect, based primarily on his frequent grammatical errors in speeches, allowed the Capitol Steps to reuse much of their Dan Quayle material.
However, after the events of September 11, 2001, jokes aimed at the president, or at American politics, no longer seemed appropriate to the general public. They cancelled most of their performances for the next few weeks but did perform an edited show at a nightclub on September 15. The show went well, and the group soon found new material that people in October 2001 would find funny, including poking fun at how much the public's opinion of President Bush had improved and at personalities that were now becoming more relevant to the American public, including New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and French President Jacques Chirac.
Soon the heightened security nationwide became a popular subject for comedians, as well as the Steps, as media reports came in that people were being interrogated in airports for having the powder from a donut on them. By the end of 2001, the Steps were once again singing songs about nearly everything, even poking fun at terrorists.
In 2002 and 2003, their material skewered SUVs and their drivers, Hans Blix, the collapse of Enron, the standoff with Saddam Hussein, Condoleezza Rice, Democratic candidates very early on in the process for the 2004 election, the capture of Saddam Hussein, same-sex weddings, the Kobe Bryant trial, and the California gubernatorial recall election, in which they quickly reused a regular parody of the Clinton years: The Wanderer redone as The Fondler but this time with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the accused.
Since 2004, the Steps have remained topical with their parodies, releasing songs about such topics as the marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, U.S. immigration reform law proposals, scandals involving Tom DeLay, and others.
On December 18, 2007, one of the Capitol Steps co-founders, Bill Strauss, died at his home in McLean, Virginia of pancreatic cancer.
The bulk of the Capitol Steps' material is in the form of parodies of well-known songs from the past several decades, usually introduced with a short skit. These songs are interspersed with other routines, including a spoonerism routine entitled "Lirty Dies" that the group generally includes near the end of each performance, running through recent scandals while making innuendos.
As of 2015[update], the Steps consist of 26 cast members and five pianists. They perform public and private shows year round all over the country. They also appear at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center in Washington, DC every Friday and Saturday year round.
Their show is constantly updated and they released several albums under 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 Steps have released a new recording of their songs/parodies/sketches at least once a year, usually in the late spring, They also create a second recording as a "holiday release" and have done so in 1989, 1993 and 2006. (Georgie on my Mind is officially considered 'Songs of 1989 and 1990' and not a "Holiday Release.") There was a "special high school release" in 2001, revised and re-released in 2005, made up of songs written originally for high school groups during these groups' tours of Washington, DC. Their 20th anniversary book (see below) included a CD retrospective of their songs/parodies/sketches. Their 2008 release (Campaign and Suffering) marked 30 released albums (plus the book/CD combination and both versions of the "High School Release"). The latter is geared as an album for participants of the National Young Leaders Conference, held in Washington, D.C. and for which the Steps have been known to perform.
The Capitol Steps perform holiday specials on New Year's Eve and Independence Day to live audiences, which are recorded live in front of an audience at their home at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC and broadcast on National Public Radio stations.
- Capitol Steps Live! at the Shoreham (songs of 1984)
- We Arm The World (songs of 1985)
- Thank God I'm A Contra Boy (songs of 1986)
- Workin' 9 To 10 (songs of 1987)
- Danny's First Noel (songs of 1989 Holiday Release)
- Shamlet (songs of 1988)
- Stand By Your Dan (songs of 1989)
- Georgie On My Mind (songs of 1989 and 1990)
- Sheik, Rattle and Roll (songs of 1990)
- 76 Bad Loans (songs of 1991)
- Fools On The Hill (songs of 1992)
- The Joy Of Sax (songs of 1993)
- All I Want For Christmas Is A Tax Increase (songs of 1993 Holiday Release)
- Lord Of The Fries (songs of 1994)
- A Whole Newt World (songs of 1995)
- Return To Center (songs of 1996)
- Sixteen Scandals (songs of 1997)
- Unzippin' My Doo-dah (songs of 1998)
- First Lady And The Tramp (songs of 1999)
- It's Not Over 'Til The First Lady Sings (songs of 2000)
- I Want It Dad's Way (Special High School Release) (songs of 2001, revised and re-released in 2005)
- One Bush, Two Bush, Old Bush, New Bush (songs of 2001)
- When Bush Comes to Shove (songs of 2002)
- Between Iraq and a Hard Place (songs of 2003)
- Papa's Got a Brand New Baghdad (songs of 2004)
- Four More Years in the Bush Leagues (songs of 2005)
- I'm So Indicted (songs of 2006)
- O Christmas Bush (songs of 2006 Holiday Release)
- Springtime for Liberals (songs of 2007)
- Campaign and Suffering (songs of 2008)
- Obama Mia! (songs of 2009)
- Barackin' Around the Christmas Tree (songs of 2009 Holiday Release)
- Liberal Shop of Horrors (songs of 2010)
- Desperate House Members (songs of 2011)
- Weiner Wonderland (songs of 2011 Holiday Release)
- Take the Money and Run for President (songs of 2012)
- Fiscal Shades of Grey (songs of 2013)
- How to Succeed in Congress Without Really Lying (songs of 2014)
- Mock the Vote (songs of 2015)
- What To Expect When You're Electing (songs of 2016)
Additionally, the Capitol Steps released Ronald the Red-Faced Reagan in 1987 as a holiday release 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 have recently won:
- 2013 & 2014 Washington City Paper Readers' Poll for "Best Place to Take an Out-of-Towner"
- 2009, 2010, and 2011 Washington Area Music Awards Cabaret/Musical Theater Artist Award
- 2006 WUSA A-List for Best Comedy Club 2006
- Washington Post Best Bets Readers' Choice Award for Best Live Theater 2005.
- "Capitol Steps Go Into Comedy Overdrive During Government Shutdown". The Washington Post. October 3, 2013.
- 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.
Sixteen Scandals: 20 Years of Sex, Lies and Other Habits of Our Great Leaders (Book with CD) by William (Bill) Strauss and Elaina Newport, published in 2002 by Sourcebooks MediaFusion, Naperville, Illinois. ISBN 1-57071-890-3
Fools on the Hill: Everything You Need to Know About Politics You Can Learn from the Capitol Steps by Strauss and Newport, published in 1992 by Longmeadow Press, Stamford, Connecticut. ISBN 0-681-41676-9