The Capitol Steps are a side-splitting political satire group. They breezed through Minneapolis last week with an under-promoted one-night performance at the Orpheum Theatre. Most political satire getting attention today is on Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, or The Colbert Report. However, the Capitol Steps have been doing send-ups of politicians almost as long as SNL and hit the mark more consistently than the other shows.
The Capitol Steps began at a Christmas party when a group of Senate staffers performed rewritten versions of popular songs that made fun of politicians for whom they worked. Some of the staffers quit their day job on the Hill to begin the comedy troupe. They regularly perform at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center Amphitheatre in Washington, D.C. Their musical satire is reminiscent of the routines by Mark Russell. Their show is similar in style to Forbidden Broadway, but the wit is sharper.
The ensemble operate with a minimal set, just the backdrop with the troupe’s name, four microphones, and a pianist. The jokes and puns were rapid-fire, and I was laughing so hard at each of the scenes that it’s hard to pick out my favorites. But some of the more memorable ones include: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Sonia Sotomayer singing about their mutual crush on Justice Scalia (to the tune of “Maria”); the ending of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” with the “Ballad of the Queen Berets”; the current political crises in the Middle East with “March Like an Egyptian” (to the tune of “Walk like an Egyptian”); and a tribute to a recent Southwest Airlines flight with the ditty “Hole in the Middle of the Plane” (to the tune of the children’s song “There’s a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea”).
All of the performers were in top form at Thursday’s performance, but two merit special note. Corey Harris’s impression of President Obama is the best I have seen. Harris not only has the voice and manner of Obama’s speaking style down pat, he also does a great job with Obama’s physical gestures. Kevin Corbett does a hilarious bit with his tongue-twisting “Spoonerisms.” He tells an innocuous story but switches the first letters of adjoining words creating nonsensical phrases whose biting satires is recognizable. For example, Sarah Palin becomes Para-Sailin’, the Tea Party becomes the Pee-Tarty, and Christine O’Connell use to “wee into Bitchcraft.”
Although the troupe lampoons both Democrats and Republicans with equal zest, the somewhat older audience clearly had a liberal bent. Disappointingly, the Sarah Palin jokes seemed stale and there were no spoofs of Michele Bachman,. However, the mere mention of Bachmann’s name drew immediate boos from the audience. The jokes about the lack of action in the Clintons’ bedroom were also long in the tooth; this joke has been running since I first saw the troupe.
When I lived out in the D.C. area in the mid-1990s, I attended the Capitol Steps’ performances whenever I could. Since returning to Minnesota, last week was only the second time I have seen them perform in the Twin Cities. One thing that makes an evening with Capitol Steps so expensive is that I feel compelled to stock up on all of their available CDs after the show, since I know it may be years before I see them again. If you like your wit sharp and your humor fast, catch this troupe the next time they come to town.