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Marquette Wire

The Capitol Steps deliver political humor straight from the Hill

Photo courtesy of The Capitol Steps
Photo courtesy of The Capitol Steps

Special to the Tribune

Wisconsin residents are no strangers to contentious and heated political issues. What better way to smother the increasing political heat than with a comedy show?

Political satire group the Capitol Steps will be returning to the Pabst Theater for the tenth consecutive year Sept. 27 as part of an ongoing national tour.

“The Steps,” as they affectionately call themselves, base their jokes on current political headlines. Using familiar tunes such as “The Boxer,” “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” and “Take Care of My Baby”, the Capitol Steps create original songs based on current events like the Benghazi scandal and Obamacare. A typical 90-minute show will use about thirty of these songs and skits.

One of their most famous skits, “Lirty Dies: Load to the Erection 2012 – What a Lunch of Boozers!” mocks national scandals by jumbling the script to create innuendos and alliterations.

“Jadies and Letlemen, for yurty thears now the Stapitol Ceps have essentially floried in the gloibles of the poo-tarty American solitical pisstem. But now there bite me pee thrarties. So, bitch is wetter?” is just an example of the ridiculous nature of their political satire.

While the troupe loves using national headlines as basis for their material, they do base some jokes on the political climate of each city.

“We’ll throw a [Gov. Scott Walker] joke in there somewhere,” said Mark Eaton, actor and co-writer for the Steps. Eaton joined the Steps in 1993 after working for 10 years on Capitol Hill as a lobbyist. He writes a majority of the material, with help from Elaina Newport, one of the troupe’s founders.

Although Eaton promises a joke on Gov. Walker, he said the Steps go after both sides of the political spectrum, changing jokes as they go from red state to blue state.

“We go after both parties as best we can,” Eaton said. “Politicians are only insulted if they are not acknowledged during the show.”

The group isn’t afraid to make fun of Presidents, either. They have performed for five different Presidents, and claim none have been offended.

Members of Capitol Steps performing as Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama. Photo by Jenny Abreu
Members of Capitol Steps performing as Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama.
Photo by Jenny Abreu

Jokes that insult both sides of the aisle come from the fact that each cast member watches the news differently, and perceives stories in different ways.Often, the Steps attempts “try to find the light in even the most serious situations,” Eaton said. The writers recently used Obama and Putin’s differing responses on the chemical weapons attack in Syria for their skit, “Putin on the Blitz.”While the Capitol Steps may be all fun and games now, their origins stem from a life of hard work on the Hill.

Founded in 1981, the Capitol Steps began as a group of Senate staffers wanting to poke fun at the people and places that employed them. The story goes that while planning entertainment for a Christmas party, staffers for Sen. Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.) wanted to host a nativity play, “but couldn’t find three wise men or a virgin in all of Congress.”

Thirty years after its inception, the Capitol Steps still requires excellent timing that combines politics and comedy to stay on top of the latest news and political scandals.

Just as the Capitol Steps rip their jokes from the headlines, they decided to choose a name in a similar fashion. The Capitol Steps has its origins in a political sex scandal in the early 1980s. The wife of Rep. John Jenrette (D-S.C.) admitted in an interview with “Playboy” that at the time, she and her husband had had sex on the Capitol steps during a break in an all-night House session.

Not all of the current members of the Steps are former Congressional staffers. But the performers have worked in a total of 18 Congressional offices and represent 62 years of collective House and Senate experience.

The Steps performs every Friday and Saturday night in the nation’s capitol. The troupe travels to various cities around the country each year, having performed in all 50 states and half-dozen countries. In the late 1990s, the Steps graced the off-Broadway stages for five consecutive summers. They honor this five-year stint by returning to New York each spring for one show.

The Capitol Steps is one group that, as their slogan proclaims, really put “the mock in democracy.”

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