Here in Texas, our preachers and politicians and penchant for hyperbole are ripe for satire and parody. Capitol Steps thanks us for being so supportive of comedians with not one but two shows at the ATT Performing Arts Center's Wyly Theatre this weekend.
"You've been such a great source of material over the years," said Elaina Newport, co-founder of the Washington, D.C.-based Capitol Steps. "Different states become funny. For a while Florida was by far the funniest state. Then there was Alaska. But Texas has been just steady over the years."
Politics is perennial. But so are pill-pushing doctors, grabby TSA screeners, paranoid preachers, pot smokers and philandering husbands. Capitol Steps covers society and pop culture as much as politics, sometimes both in the same number, explained Newport, "like a comparison between John Boehner and Snooki, because they have the same color tan. We think she's a love child of some kind, we're not sure." With 17,000 results for the phrase "John Boehner and Snooki," the Steps musically articulate what's already on everyone's minds.
"We'll tackle anything in the headlines and we do try to get everybody, equal opportunity offenders and all that. We try to skewer Democrats and Republicans, but we also go after the environmentalists, airport security, health care reform, Occupy Wall Street," said Newport. "It's hard to do financial humor, but we've turned the musical Grease into a musical about Greece." Swarthy guys and all, it's a great example of a Capitol Steps song concept that makes you gasp "Of course, that's perfect!"
The Capitol Steps are now in their 30th year of existence and the current show concludes with a take-no-prisoners finale of "We Didn't Start Satire" to Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire." In this exercise of nostalgia run cathartically amok, explained Newport, "the song attempts to summarize 30 years of scandals in three minutes. We have to end the show with it because there's all this carnage left on stage with props flying around like Monica Lewinsky's beret and Ted Kennedy's underwear. It has to be our last song because we couldn't clean up after it. It's rarely done without at least some minor injuries."
Capitol Steps' song parodies and satires cover a breathtaking spread of 50 years of musical styles. "Right now you can see Mitt Romney do a rap song 'I Like Big Bucks and I Cannot Lie,' " explained Newport of another gaspingly perfect parody. "Then we've got things going back to Fiddler on the Roof, with Barack Obama singing 'If I Tax a Rich Man.' I think our show is the only place you'll hear Herman Cain do a rock song and Joe Biden do a country tune and Newt Gingrich doing classical ballet. It might be a good thing you don't see that anywhere else."
Scandals come and scandals go. Because the Capitol Steps must not only write the material, but set it to music and choreograph it, too, they must move quickly when choice headlines arise. "Last summer at this time, it was Anthony Weiner and boy did we love Anthony Weiner. But after he resigned, it just wasn't that hot," lamented Newport. Still, the scandal had enough mojo to spawn "Weiner Wonderland," a 2012 holiday favorite that prompts outlandish mental imagery of taut tighty whities on parade.
Acerbic, cynical and sardonic, irreverent, witty and wry, the Capitol Steps continue to steamroll through history, recording politics and popular culture with the bemused detachment of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Keeping up with the neverending insanity can be exhausting, said Newport, "but once in a while we get lucky. For a long time we thought that Kim Jong-Il was never going to die. We had a song 'How Do You Solve a Problem Like Korea' that we did for nearly five years because he just kept hanging in there."
Here's a recent Capitol Steps video of Mitt Romney doing "Help Me Fake It To the Right"