“I am the most presidential person you will ever see,” says a man in a dark suit and red tie, sounding much like President Donald Trump. He's sporting Trump's characteristic hairdo, but exaggerated, resembling more of the teased bouffant style popular in the 1960s.
The audience at this performance in Washington laughs at this “fake” Trump, who adds, “Millions of women marched after my inauguration, one day in office, and I have already managed to get more middle aged women off the couch than Michelle’s (Obama) ‘get up and move’ campaign did in 8 years!”He looks at his cellphone as two women beside him sing, “tweet, tweet.”
These are the Capitol Steps, a Washington political satire comedy group, which for 35 years has been poking fun at political officials, including 5 past presidents.And now, with a new chief executive in town, the group has created fresh skits and songs for their performances, which are held mostly in Washington.
“We take an existing song and put new words to it,” explains Elaina Newport, a founding member of the group, who helps write the material.“We’ll try to have a good pun and find something that makes fun of the politician.”
Seeking the spotlight
Instead of being offended, Newport says most politicians “think it’s funny, and want to show the public they have a good sense of humor.”
She recalls that George H.W. Bush, president from 1989-1993, was an especially good sport. “We went to the White House to perform and we were being careful not to do anything that would offend him,” Newport says.“After the show he came up on stage and said ‘I know you have more songs about me.I want to see them.’”Another time, she says, he “got on stage and sang with us.”
But one U.S. senator actually got mad, she says and laughs, “because we didn’t have any songs about him in the show.”
Newport points out that the jokes are not meant to be mean.
“We could do most of the songs “right in front of the person that they’re about,” she says. “We’ve always had a tradition of being bi-partisan, getting everybody.”
That includes Hillary Clinton, whose Capitol Steps portrayal responds to her email scandal by singing, “I’m not indicted and I’m so excited,” to the catchy music of the 1982 Pointer Sisters hit, “I’m So Excited.” Former president Bill Clinton is depicted wearing a hat and dark sunglasses, and saying he never asked for wife’s email “because I was too afraid that she’d ask me for mine.”
A confident, bare-chested Russian president, Vladimir Putin, dances across the stage singing “Putin on a Blitz,” instead of “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”
Laughter and applause
The political humor found a receptive audience.
“I think that we just need to sit back and laugh about it every now and then,” says Mary Tomei, a high school student from New York.
“A little more irreverence would do the country good. It helps to laugh at yourself,” agrees Bob McCunney from Boston.
Besides giving audiences a good laugh, Newport hopes the Capitol Steps can help ease tensions in a very politically divided America. "I think political satire can make us all relax and get along better, and even if you disagree with the person sitting next to you at the show, you can laugh at the same jokes.”