Accessibility links

Poking Fun at Politics

  • Roger Hsu

Every Friday and Saturday night in downtown Washington, DC, you can catch a performance at the Ronald Reagan building that many describe as a quintessentially "Washingtonian" experience. The only prerequisite is some basic knowledge of current events and who are Washington's current "movers and shakers." VOA's Roger Hsu was there and prepared the following report, narrated by Paul Miller.

The group, "Capitol Steps" was founded in 1981. Many of the performers have had first-hand experience working behind the scenes in Washington DC.

Brian Ash is a Capitol Steps actor and former political staffer. "Capital steps is an organization made up of current and former Capitol Hill staff members that does musical, political comedy. We have a couple that work for committees; we have some that work for public relations; we have some that work directly for the members themselves. It's a real wide range of people."

Group members fuse popular music with satirical lyrics about political life in the nation's capital.

In the broadway show, My Fair Lady, there's a song called "Wouldn't it be Loverly?" -- a song transformed by the Capitol Steps to describe the political aspirations of the nation's former first lady, Hillary Clinton.

Even the story of the group's founding has become a bit of a joke.

Mr. Ash says, "It literally got started as part of the entertainment for a Christmas party up on Capitol Hill back in 1981. The story is that they wanted to put on a traditional Nativity play, but in all the Congress they couldn't find 3 wise men or a virgin, so they had to do something else."

The Capitol Steps' popularity has snowballed. What once was a novelty act has become a full-blown professional performing troupe, drawing larger crowds each year.

Member, Kevin Corbett says, "Actually, before I joined the Capitol Steps, I had zero interest in politics at all, I think."

He joined the Capitol Steps five years ago. He portrays both President George W. Bush and former President Bill Clinton. To him, the secret of the Capitol Steps' longevity is their fairness in making fun of both sides of the political spectrum. "I think the Capital Steps try to be an equal-opportunity offender. I think that it's important not only to the audience, but to us too, that people don't think that we are up here just Bush-bashing. We make fun of anybody that has, well, if they have a blind side, we'll find it, expose it and make fun of it."

One of the main ingredients of the Capitol Steps' success is their timeliness. From the Iraq War to the presidential elections, the group constantly has to keep up with the changing headlines. Sometimes this means adding material at the last minute. If a big story breaks in the news, the group will bring it to the stage that very night.

Mr. Ash on how prepared the members are: "As a performer, you've got about a day, a day and a half to learn a song, sometimes less. Sometimes you have a show at 9 o'clock at night and at 5 o'clock you get an e-mail or a fax saying, 'Here, try to do this tonight.'"

An hour before the show, the Capitol Steps are rehearsing a new song, "He Works Hard for the Country," a parody of a 1980s popular song, "She Works Hard for the Money." The new version of the song was written as a response to Mr. Bush's campaign promises.

But why would audiences come from all over the country to watch elected officials be ridiculed?

In a city that takes itself very seriously, the Capitol Steps are among the few who work just for laughs.

XS
SM
MD
LG