Putting the Mock in Democracy

1116coverIn a time when it could not be more true or more timely, The Capitol Steps are coming to the Merage Jewish Community Center’s annual OC Jewish Arts Festival, just days after the presidential elections have been decided, in a self-described show that “puts the mock in democracy.”

Never before have we seen so much hype or attention around an election. The context is particularly ripe for political parody. Voters are glued to social media, publications like “The Onion” and television’s “The Daily Show” and “Saturday Night Live,” which explore politics with a lens of humor.

With the hope of bringing a little levity to these tense elections, The Capitol Steps troupe will present its own form of hilarity and irreverence, in its current show “What to Expect When You’re Electing.”

“With the craziness and tensions that surround the current presidential campaign and with how polarizing Trump and Hillary have been, The Capitol Steps could not be coming to Orange County at a more apropos time. We need this. We need the laughter and levity,” explains Capitol Steps fan and Merage JCC board member, Cindy Furst.

Over 30 years ago, the Capitol Steps began as the “Senate Staffers,” three congressional staffers working for Senator Charles Percy of Illinois, who sought to add entertainment to an office party. They dug into the headlines of the day, setting out to satirize the very people and places that employed them.

In the years that followed, many of the Capitol Steps members ignored the conventional wisdom (“Don’t quit your day job!”) and hit the road with their special brand of satirical humor delivered through parodies, songs and skits. For the first 15 years, all the troupe’s members were required to have worked on Capitol Hill. In 1996, that Hill staff requirement was relaxed and now the group is mixed half-and-half. Taken together they have 62 years of House and Senate experience and 18 Congressional offices between them. Clearly, the Capitol Steps troupe have an expansive knowledge of Washington politics.

Elaina Newport, one of the original Senate Staffers, and still a member of the troupe, shares tales of the old days: “We performed at the party and thought we might get fired or someone would tell us to stop. As neither happened, we just kept going and doing events here and there. About four years into performing, someone offered us money to play a law firm dinner. We thought it would be nice to finally be able to reimburse performers for parking, so we did it. From there, we started getting offered more jobs to play banquets and dinners that needed entertainment. We never had that moment of sitting and deciding to form a business. The Capitol Steps just grew over time.”

The Capitol Steps remain Washington DC-based, but travel widely, regularly performing on ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS. Each show consists of tasteful (appropriate for teens and older) lampooning guaranteed to leave both sides of the political spectrum laughing.

Of course, with the current political climate some jokes will write themselves while others are not as easy to come by. As one of the lead writers in the Capitol Steps, Newport spoke about how the campaign season affects the writing process,

“There are some candidates where you can just go up and say what they said and get a laugh, those aren’t the challenges. The challenges are when there is a difficult issue that you have to try and make funny. I have sort of a conflict of interest because basically what’s bad for the country is good for the Capitol Steps.”

“We have performed for a lot of politicians and did shows for all of the Presidents since Reagan, except Obama. He hasn’t invited us to perform yet. I think that now, things are different and between how partisan politics is and how everyone has a little cell phone camera, maybe they are worried that someone will catch Obama laughing at a joke about Nancy Pelosi, and put in on YouTube. I guess politicians are more cautious these days and don’t want to be caught laughing at the wrong joke.

“George Bush Sr. invited us a number of times, Reagan invited us for his final congressional picnic, we performed for Al Gore’s 48th birthday party and Bill Clinton was there. Those are the really fun moments,” Newport said.

You should expect to see prime Capitol Steps imitations of the most familiar DC names, including President Barack Obama, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, Republican candidate Donald Trump, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Joe Biden among others.

Their show is constantly changing, strenuously bi-partisan, and includes songs about the election madness, as well as other things in the news, such as “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Crimea,” “Ain’t No Pipeline, Now It’s Gone,” and “The iMpossible iWatch.” There have been hints and teases that you might see one member of Capitol Steps portraying Donald Trump singing a parody of Walk The Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” and another portraying Clinton singing an email scandal-inspired version of the Pointer Sisters’ “I’m So Excited” called “I’m Un-Indicted.”

When the Capitol Steps performed at the Merage JCC in 2012, the show sold out quickly. This new show is expected to be even more popular, due to the overabundance of comedy gold to be mined from the current presidential campaign, so don’t hesitate to purchase your tickets and get in on the fun.

No politician is safe from the witty antics of the Capitol Steps, the troupe set on satirizing both sides of the political spectrum and providing some much-needed comic relief.

The Capitol Steps are being presented as a feature of the Orange County Jewish Arts Festival 2016. This will be a single performance Saturday evening show, November 19, 7:00 p.m., at the Merage Jewish Community Center’s Myers Theatre. So mark your calendars and enjoy an outrageously funny evening of political humor and laugh-out-loud fun with Capitol Steps. If you’ve never seen Barack Obama sing a showtune, Nancy Pelosi sing a rock song or New Jersey Governor Chris Christie do a classical ballet, this might just be the show for you. And who could forget, this being a presidential election year, the audience is sure to be entertained by The Donald and Hillary! And, maybe Bernie will show up, too. For information and tickets, visit www.JCCOC.org.

Orange County Jewish Arts Festival 2016 Line-Up

Tovah Feldshuh
Sunday, Oct. 30, 4:00 p.m.

Author event
Janice Kaplan,
“The Gratitude Diaries”
Wednesday, Nov. 2, 11:00 a.m. 

FILM event
Orchestra of Exiles
Thursday, Nov. 3, 7:00 p.m. 

FILM event
“Dough”
Saturday, Nov. 5, 7:00 p.m. 

Author event
M.A. Richards, “Choice of Enemies”
Monday, Nov. 7, 7:00 p.m. 

Author event
Sarit Yishai-Levi,
“The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem”
Thursday, Nov. 10, 12:00 p.m. 

FILM event
“The Prime Ministers 2:
Soldiers and Peacemakers”
Wednesday, Nov. 16, 7:00 p.m.

Author event
Joyce Goldstein,
“The New Mediterranean Jewish Table,” includes lunch
Thursday, Nov. 17,
12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.

Capitol Steps
Saturday, Nov. 19,
7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Author event
Sylvia Rouss, children’s author of the “Sammy Spider” series
Sunday, Nov. 20, 10:00 a.m.

For the schedule and tickets, visit the OC Jewish Arts Festival 2016 at www.JCCOC.org.

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