Capitol Steps: Wikis

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Capitol Steps
CapStepsatCUA 3310.jpg
Capitol Steps, 2008.
Medium Television, Theatre, Radio, Audio Recordings
Nationality American
Years active 1981-present
Genres Satire
Subject(s) American politics, Washington, D.C., the United States federal government
Members 25+
Website CapSteps

The Capitol Steps is an American political satire group. It has been performing since 1981, and has released approximately thirty 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 various small- and medium-sized venues around the United States.

Contents

History

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The Reagan years

In 1981, three Republican Congressional staffers, Bill Strauss, Elaina Newport, and Jim Aidala used their spare time while working for the Senate Subcommittee on Energy, Nuclear Proliferation, and Government Processes for the Senate Committee of Governmental Affairs to sing song parodies about current events. They were joined by other 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 Foreign Relations Committee. They 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 Democratic and Republican songs. 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 of 1984, they performed at Senator Percy's election night party. During the party, they learned that the senator had lost, meaning that Strauss and Newport would lose their jobs working for him. Shortly after, they decided to make the Capitol Steps a professional group. They soon recorded their first album: The Capitol Steps--Live! at the Shoreham.

Three years later, in 1987, the group members finally 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, all of whom (except Gencarelli) are still with the group, along with Strauss and Newport, as of 2006. In September of 1988, the group performed at the White House, in front of an audience that included President Ronald Reagan, his wife Nancy, and hundreds of members of Congress. Reagan, through an aide, requested that the group only perform songs poking fun at him. The group obliged, and Reagan enjoyed the show immensely.

The Capitol Steps released a total of five albums during Reagan's years in office. In 1988, they sang a song entitled "76 Unknowns" about the vast and, in their opinion, lackluster variety of candidates for the presidential election. This was accompanied by an album entitled "76 Bad Loans".

The George H. W. Bush years

Capitol Steps skit at Catholic University, 2008

With the election of George Herbert Walker Bush in 1988, the Capitol Steps expanded their repertoire of material to include new foreign policy, such as the United States invasion of Panama, as well as local gaffes, such as Bush's declaration of September 7 as Pearl Harbor Day. The group also achieved notoriety for their portrayal of Vice President Dan Quayle, particularly after his famous mistake of correcting a child's spelling of "potato" by encouraging him to add an e.

The Capitol Steps released six albums during this presidency. They also 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.

The Clinton years

Prior to 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 recommended that masturbation be mentioned in schools as a means of suppressing teen pregnancy.

In 1994, the group performed at the White House in front of both 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, however, 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.

The 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. Additionally, they enjoyed exaggerating his right-wing tendencies, and the perceived sinisterness of much of his administration, including Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

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 of 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 extremely heightened security nationwide also 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 Arab 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.

Routines

Capitol Steps (2008)

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 numerous innuendos.

The Steps do not have to get permission or pay royalties for the parodies of copyrighted songs that they perform, due to the Supreme Court's unanimous ruling in 1993 on the case of Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., which established that political parody qualifies as fair use, even if the parodies are profitable. Thus, the Capitol Steps are under no financial pressure to reduce the percentage of copyrighted song parodies in their acts. In fact, the Capitol Steps submitted an amicus curiae brief for the case, as well as a cassette tape explaining the history of political parody in America. This was mentioned in the book Sixteen Scandals.

Current status

A skit lampooning Oprah Winfrey with cast member Mark Irwin

As of 2008, 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 weekend.

On December 18, 2007, one of the Capitol Steps co-founders, Bill Strauss, died at his home in McLean, Virginia of pancreatic cancer.

Recordings

Since their first album in 1984, the Steps have released a new recording of their songs/parodies/sketches at a rate of at least one per year, usually in the late spring, but have also been known to create and release 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 also 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) also included a CD retrospective of their songs/parodies/sketches. As of their 2008 release (Campaign and Suffering), this makes 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.[1]

The Capitol Steps also perform holiday specials on New Year's Eve, April Fool's Day, Independence Day and Halloween to live audiences, which are broadcast live on National Public Radio stations.[2]

Discography

  1. Barackin' Around the Christmas Tree (Songs of 2009 Holiday Release)
  2. Obama Mia! (Songs of 2009)
  3. Campaign and Suffering (Songs of 2008)
  4. Springtime for Liberals (Songs of 2007)
  5. O Christmas Bush (Songs of 2006 Holiday Release)
  6. I'm So Indicted (Songs of 2006)
  7. Four More Years in the Bush Leagues (Songs of 2005)
  8. Papa's Got a Brand New Baghdad (Songs of 2004)
  9. Between Iraq and a Hard Place (Songs of 2003)
  10. When Bush Comes to Shove (Songs of 2002)
  11. One Bush, Two Bush, Old Bush, New Bush (Songs of 2001)
  12. I Want It Dad's Way (Special High School Release) (Songs of 2001, revised and re-released in 2005)
  13. It's Not Over 'Til The First Lady Sings (Songs of 2000)
  14. First Lady And The Tramp (Songs of 1999)
  15. Unzippin' My Doo-dah (Songs of 1998)
  16. Sixteen Scandals (Songs of 1997)
  17. Return To Center (Songs of 1996)
  18. A Whole Newt World (Songs of 1995)
  19. Lord Of The Fries (Songs of 1994)
  20. All I Want For Christmas Is A Tax Increase (Songs of 1993 Holiday Release)
  21. The Joy Of Sax (Songs of 1993)
  22. Fools On The Hill (Songs of 1992)
  23. 76 Bad Loans (Songs of 1991)
  24. Sheik, Rattle and Roll (Songs of 1990)
  25. Georgie On My Mind (Songs of 1989 and 1990)
  26. Stand By Your Dan (Songs of 1989)
  27. Shamlet (Songs of 1988)
  28. Danny's First Noel (Songs of 1989 Holiday Release)
  29. Workin' 9 To 10 (Songs of 1987)
  30. Thank God I'm A Contra Boy (Songs of 1986)
  31. We Arm The World (Songs of 1985)
  32. The Capitol Steps Live (Songs of 1984)

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

A skit on the Obama campaign with cast member Felicia Curry.

The Capitol Steps have recently won:

  • 2006 WUSA A-List for Best Comedy Club 2006.[3]
  • Washington Post Best Bets Readers' Choice Award for Best Live Theater 2005.[3]

The Capitol Steps also republish reviews from US newspapers such as the Boston Globe, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post on their website.[3]

References

  1. ^ Capitol Steps' webpage for the "High School Special CD"
  2. ^ Capitol Steps webpage for their radio broadcasts
  3. ^ a b c 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

See also

External links


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