A story about a U.S. senator tangled up in an airport sex scandal is interesting and important. But for a group called Capitol Steps that turns political controversy into laughs, the story is rich with material for new song parodies.
A story about a U.S. senator tangled up in an airport sex scandal is interesting and important.
But for a group called Capitol Steps that turns political controversy into laughs, the story is rich with material for new song parodies.
The Washington, D.C.-based musical and political satire group began in 1981 when a few Senate staffers wrote skits and parodies to lighten up a Christmas party. They took their name from one of the first scandals to make the cut, the story of a congressman and his wife who used the “Capitol steps” as the site for a romantic tryst.
The group’s performances were an instant hit, and fans kept asking the musical act for more. Today, Capitol Steps travels around the country performing up to 600 shows a year.
Mark Eaton, a “Stepper” since 1993, said he and other group members began performing part time in addition to their regular jobs at Capitol Hill. Eaton spent 10 years working for Sen. Paul Trible of Virginia and Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina before committing to the group full time.
“Unfortunately, our bosses started noticing that we weren’t showing up for work,” Eaton said, joking.
Today, Capitol Steps includes 25 performers. About seven years ago, the group started using trained singers, actors and comedians – in addition to Capitol Hill staffers with a sense of humor.
Performers travel in groups of five (usually three men and two women) to perform 90-minute shows with about 30 political song parodies and skits. The diversity of the cast allows the troupe to portray any of the characters they pick on.
“The guys might play Bush, Cheney, Gore or Obama, and the women play Pelosi, Hillary or whoever else might come along,” Eaton said. “We’re not in the business of being lookalikes; we use wigs and props. But once the audience buys into what we’re doing, they have a great time.”
The group welcomes performers from the far left to the far right. What’s most important is that they have a sense of humor about their views.
“We are equal opportunity offenders,” Eaton said. “If you are a Republican who is offended by something we say, just stick around because we will go after the Democrats next, and vice versa.”
He stresses that the cast is made up of what he calls “a cross section of the nation.”
“We have folks from the extreme left and right of the spectrum,” he said. “There’s an even split between Democrats, Republicans, moderates, liberals, conservatives and independents. It’s a mixed bag.”
Fortunately for Eaton and his comrades, the political stage provides a never-ending stream of material for their musical stage. Politicians consistently tip off scandals, trip over their words and contradict themselves.
“Whenever we feel like we are running out of material, there is always an election year right around the corner,” Eaton said. “We encourage all voters, when in doubt, vote for the funniest candidate.”
Here are a few examples of the group’s most popular offerings:
“Tap Three Times” is sung to the tune of “Tony Orlando’s “Knock Three Times.” It lampoons Idaho Sen. Larry Craig’s recent interlude with an undercover police officer in a Minneapolis Airport restroom, and features a portable stall.
George Bush sings “Brain-Mouth Connection,” a lament to his penchant for skewering the English language.
“Springtime For Liberals” (which is also the name of the group’s most recent album) features Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi and Ted Kennedy celebrating their rejuvenation since the last election.
John Edwards celebrates his boyish head of hair and expensive haircuts while singing “I Feel Pretty.”
Bill and Hillary Clinton sing a Shakespearean-inspired piece called “Shamalot.”
Eaton promises that the group doesn’t set out to offend its audience – or even politicians it spoofs.
He allows that Sen. Craig may have a different view.
“We’re not out to be vicious to anyone. We want it to be good-natured fun. Let’s face it, if you don’t laugh at these guys and have fun with the issues of the day, they will drive you absolutely crazy.”
The Capitol Steps
At Plymouth Memorial Hall, 83 Court St., 8 p.m., Friday. Tickets $30-$40 at 508-747-1340 or at the box office.