Debates bring humor for Capitol Steps

Elaina Newport wasn’t running out of things to write about, but as head writer of the comedy troupe

Elaina Newport wasn’t running out of things to write about, but as head writer of the comedy troupe “Capitol Steps” her work certainly wasn’t getting any easier.

Then, the Republican presidential debates came along.

“They are a lot of fun,” said Newport, who co-founded “Capitol Steps” back in 1981 with fellow Washington legislative staffer Bill Strauss. “Trying to figure out which candidate was going to be the story from week to week is tough. We’re holding out . . . hope that Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin will be the Republican ticket, but I doubt that’s going to happen.”

Saturday night at 8 at Proctors, “Capitol Steps” will bring its irreverent display of political humor to the Capital Region for the fifth consecutive year. Through song and dance, the group takes potshots at just about every political leader, from Barack Obama to his predecessor in the oval office, George W. Bush.

“If we don’t get the guy you like in the first song, we’ll get him in the second one,” said Newport. “Obama is not as funny as Bush, but then he picked Joe Biden and that helped a lot. And now, we have George Bush back in the act introducing Rick Perry. We like to point out, ‘What could go wrong with electing a Texas governor to the presidency?’”

‘Capitol Steps’

WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday

HOW MUCH: $45-$20

MORE INFO: 346-6204 or

Watching and writing

“Capitol Steps” is made up of a pool of 25 performers. When a group goes out on the road, it usually comprises five or six people. Newport says she doesn’t have the time to travel and perform much anymore because she’s too busy reading and watching the news, and then rewriting skits for her performers. She will not be part of the act at Proctors other than producing the script. The five performers will be Bari Brien, Morgan Duncan, Mike Thornton, Mike Tilford and Janet Gordon. Dave Kane is the pianist.

“Dave is the hardest-working guy of the bunch, but we do have five other performers going to Schenectady, and that means we can’t get all of the Republican candidates on the stage at once,” said Newport. “So, we have a lot of costume changes, more than you see at a Cher concert, and the person playing Michele Bachmann will probably have to change real quick and also play Hillary [Clinton], Nancy Pelosi and Janet Napolitano. Our guy who plays Obama also has to play Herman Cain. Fortunately Morgan Duncan looks freakishly like Obama, but then when he has to play Cain he has to switch parties and we give him a mustache, glasses and some pizza slices to dance with.”

While Newport is as tuned in to the presidential debates as anyone, she has no idea who will be the eventual Republican candidate.

“I’m a terrible predictor,” she said. “If I was better at it, it would make my job a lot easier. I wouldn’t have written all those Rudy Giuliani songs four years ago. We thought we were going to have Rudy running against Hillary. We thought McCain had blown it. I had a song, ‘McCain went strictly down the drain.’ We were wrong.

“Then, when Rick Perry came in this year he was supposed to save the Republicans, but that hasn’t exactly worked out,” said Newport. “I don’t know who’s going to win. It will probably be Romney, but he’s not particularly funny so we’re pulling for the underdogs.”

Not just politics

Politics isn’t the only thing made funny by “Capitol Steps.” Any breaking news item is quickly put to song and added to the show.

“We’ll cover anything from airline security to the environment to ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,’ ” said Newport. “We had a song about Gadhafi ready to go the day after he was captured and killed.”

Newport said the audience for “Capitol Steps” is “kind of an NPR [National Public Radio] crowd,” which is how the group started gaining nationwide attention back in the 1990s. They expect both Republicans and Democrats to be targeted with equal vigor.

“I am a moderate, and I used to call myself an extreme moderate,” said Newport. “I kind of meant it as a joke, but there were people at certain points in history who were passionate about their moderation, who really felt it was important to be moderate.”

Voices of reason

Newport worked for one of them back in the 1980s; a U.S. senator from Illinois, Charles Percy, a Republican who served from 1966-85. Percy died on Sept. 17 at the age of 91.

“You don’t see them anymore; people like Charles Percy and Nancy Kassebaum [a Republican senator from Kansas from 1978-97], who were always willing to work with people,” said Newport. “Occasionally, one of them pops up, but most of the time moderates feel like they have to hide. We feel like Mitt Romney might be a closet moderate, but he certainly can’t say that.”

Along with touring and doing radio segments, “Capitol Steps” have recorded more than 30 albums, including their latest, “Desperate Housemembers.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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