In Step with The Capitol Steps

There are a whole list of things that I as a Washingtonian should have done over the nearly thirty years I have lived here but have not done. Tourists often imagine Washingtonians as constantly down on the Mall or attending concerts at the Kennedy Center. The truth is few of us have that kind of money. In addition, most of us live far enough away from the center of the city where it is rarely worth either the cost or hassle to beat the traffic into the city, unless it is on the weekend. Moreover, since many of us work in the city during the week, the last thing we want to do on the weekend is drive back into it.

Therefore, I miss lots of fabulous Smithsonian exhibitions and concerts. By this time, I should have taken a White House tour. It remains on my list of nebulous things to do. I have been to the top of the Washington Monument twice, but only once as a Washingtonian. (The first visit was in 1967, when I visited as a boy scout.) Shear Madness has been playing forever in the Kennedy Center’s Theater Lab. I could never could be bothered. Mark Russell plays regularly at the Omni Shoreham on Calvert Street N.W. I have only seen him on Public TV during membership weeks. Ah, but The Capitol Steps; I can finally cross them off my list.

The Capitol Steps are loosely to Washington D.C. what The Rockettes are to New York City. In 1981, for Senator Charles Percy’s Christmas party three staffers decided to create parody songs and skits based on the topical political headlines of the day. They must have been good because they kept being asked to do other gigs. At some point, they gave up their day jobs and became part of the Washington kudzu. Now, twenty-seven years later it is hard to imagine a time when they were not around. Whereas there used to be just three founding members, now there are thirty of them. Whereas they used to do one gig at a time, now they travel in groups of five or six and do multiple gigs at the same time. They even travel the country trying to meet demand. Political singing and skits now provide them with a steady income. I bet they have 401-Ks and health insurance like the rest of us. Moreover, I would not be surprised if they belonged to a local actor’s union.

I am not sure how the performers who came out to Reston on Sunday night compared with the rest of the troupe. (If they are not being hosted locally, you can find them Friday and Saturday nights at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. That’s at the Federal Triangle metro station.) However, they come out to Reston, Virginia once a year for an annual benefit for Reston Interfaith. Since I give money to the charity, live three miles away and the Unitarian Universalist Church I attend has a member who makes getting tickets easy, I felt I had no more reason to procrastinate.

I probably would have enjoyed the show more if we had not been at a table in a far corner of the Hyatt Regency’s ballroom. Our tickets, $75 each, did not get us stellar seating. The premier tables, sponsored by local IT companies, got a much better view. Nevertheless, I did not feel too put out. My view was reasonably clear and the acoustics in the ballroom were okay. A fancy dessert and all the wine we could guzzle came with admission. Also present were a host of Fairfax County luminaries who hitherto I had rarely seen outside of newspaper photos, including two supervisors, our state senator and the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, Gerry Connolly.

Even though attending a regular show of The Capitol Steps costs $35, I felt like we definitely got our money’s worth. The Capitol Steps of course exist to skewer politicians. Politicians were not only skewered, but also roasted over a rotisserie for long periods. The predictable results are many hilarious sketches and song parodies like this one, which skewers poor Senator Larry Craig and who by this time must be riddled with political buckshot.

Our particular show was fast paced. I do not know how long our show was compared to most of their shows. We got about ninety minutes of material, which was padded out to a bit more than two hours with an intermission and a benefit raffle. Virtually every presidential candidate was lampooned, often multiple times. A number of sketches would not work well outside the Beltway simply because the political figures (like Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert) are not names that trip off the tongue of most Americans. Yet he was one of many foreign politicians also stepped on by The Capitol Steps.

The humor of course must be topical and lowbrow. Sometimes the tunes they choose to parody are a little obscure. (I doubt that many Americans are that familiar with Springtime for Hitler.) The Steps assume though that if you are going to fork over $35 to see them, you must be politically savvy. Consequently, while the Steps will probably never appear on Broadway, they earn their money. Their songs and skits must constantly be created and reworked to keep up with current events. One of their signatures is their “Lirty Dies” segment where they do a backwards talk. This gives them a convenient way to say things you generally cannot say in polite company. You may find as I did that sometimes you cannot translate their backwards talk fast enough to laugh along.

The Capitol Steps were good enough for me to want to see them again some year. Perhaps someday I can drag a politically savvy sibling or friend into D.C. to see one of their regular shows. While I have yet to see Shear Pleasure, our perennial local lowbrow comedy, I strongly suspect The Capitol Steps are equally as lowbrow, but funnier.

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