This past Wednesday, I had the unique opportunity to sit down and talk with Elaina Newport, performer and co-writer for Capitol Steps, a politically inspired improvisational group of current and former Congressional staffers.
Billing themselves as “the only group in America that attempts to be funnier than the Congress,” Capitol Steps brings a humorous side to the mundanely familiar political scene with skits and satirical musical hits such as “Die Nadermouth” and “I Stuffed My Pants All Night”- a ballad set to “I Could Have Danced All Night” in tribute to former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, who walked away with classified documents from the National Archives.
The following are some excerpts from the interview.
Campus Times: How long has Capitol Steps been around?
Elaina Newport: Well, we started in 1981, and oddly enough, we started as a Senate office Christmas party act. Actually the joke that we’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of was that we hoped to put on a traditional Christmas play but we work in the Senate so we couldn’t find three wisemen or a virgin. Twenty-three years later were still at it.
CT: How did Capitol Steps start? What was its main inspiration and goal?
EN: Well, we always like to give people a good laugh. These days it’s especially important with the headlines being so serious. We turn on the TV and watch CNN and think “Oh God now I’m so depressed.”
CT: What did you do before joining the Capitol Steps, and how did you get involved with them?
EN: Well, I was working for Senator Percy from Illinois fresh out of college, and well, I guess Capitol Steps was a fairly stupid thing for me to do. Here I am six months into the job I really like and then I decide, “oh lets make fun of the boss.” But, we just did it for a lark.
CT: What roles do you play in the group and what are some of your favorite?
EN: Actually throughout the years I’ve played a cow (during the mad cow scare) and a mosquito during the West Nile scare. On the political front I’ve played Martha Stewart, Monica [Lewinsky], Hillary [Clinton] and Theresa Heines Kerry.
CT: Who writes all of yoursongs?
EN: I write about half of them. A guy named Mark Edon writes about the other half. We shoot things back and forth pretty frequently. The cast continuously contributes as well. One time a guy was playing George W. Bush in the 2000 campaign. On stage he was giving reasons he was better than past presidents (namely Clinton) and one reason was that he loved his wife very much, would never cheat on her and he was in a ‘monotonous’ relationship.
CT: What’s life like on tour?
EN: Great fun! The audiences are terrific. It’s also very exciting because we constantly have to keep our tour on update with current political news. For example, we were on tour when they announced that Edwards was going to be Kerry’s Vice President, so we came up with a song, “I Feel Pretty,” to do at our show that day.
CT: Has there ever been pressure for censorship from the government or backlash from any special interest groups?
EN: Yeah, I’m surprised John Ashcroft doesn’t have a list somewhere. But no, not really. We have performed for several presidents. Before the show the staff is always nervous. They want to know exactly what we’re going to do because they don’t want to get in trouble.
One time we were performing for former President Bush and we cut out every part that had him in it and after the show he came up to us and said that was great but, what about me? The politicians generally like it and if they don’t, they tend to ignore it.
CT: Without giving too much away, what can we expect to see from you this Friday?
EN: Well, we’re constantly updating, but definitely all the major characters – Edwards, Kerry, Cheney and Bush. Non-political things, as well, from Martha Stewart to the high price of gas. We also have about 30 songs lined up.
CT: If there’s one thing you could say about Capitol Steps to people who don’t know the group, what would you like them to know?
EN: We started on Capitol Hill, so we’re kind of laughing at ourselves.
CT: Any final words or thoughts for our readers?
EN: As election approaches no president can solve all the problems. So, vote for the one that’s funniest! Because if they’re not good, they’ll at least make you laugh.
The Capitol Steps have been featured on major networks such as ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS, and now you have the chance to see them at UR this Friday at 8 p.m. at Hoyt Auditorium. Tickets are $5 for undergraduates, $10 for graduates or staff and $15 for the general public.
Tickets may be purchased in advance at the Common Market or before the show at the door.
Aziz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.