Capitol Steps specialize in Washington funny business

Brian Mackey

For the political-comedy singing troupe The Capitol Steps, the week before an election is kind of like the second week in April for accountants.

Elaina Newport, who co-founded the group in 1981, said she has been writing furiously to keep up with events.

“We try to predict who’s going to win and what the show looks like the day after the election. I remember in 2000, I was so proud of myself because — it was such a close election — I had written one version if Bush won and one version if Gore won,” Newport said in a recent telephone interview.

“And of course, we couldn’t do either one, because the day after the election we didn’t know who’d won. There were butterfly ballots and hanging chads, and that was something nobody had ever heard of before.”

The group quickly wrote a parody to “You Keep Me Hanging On” and performed dressed as chads made out of cardboard.

“I do this for a living; I want to stress that,” Newport said with a laugh.

The Capitol Steps are scheduled to perform Friday night at Sangamon Auditorium.

The group famously got its start at a Senate office Christmas party.

Newport said she was then a legislative assistant for Illinois Sen. Charles Percy.

“He lost in ’84 to Paul Simon — not my fault,” Newport said, again breaking into a laugh. “I just want that stressed in the article.”

Newport wrote and performed music for seven years before she gave up her day job as a Senate aide.

“Eventually they started to notice I wasn’t showing up a lot of days in my day job because we started to travel,” Newport said.

She also said she’s glad she’s not on the Hill anymore, “because I depended on those free lobby(ist) lunches. And now lobbyists — it’s ironic, because they can’t take somebody out to lunch but they can go to a $5,000 fundraiser.”

For the first 15 years, being a congressional staffer was a prerequisite to joining the Capitol Steps.

“Then in ’96, Bill Clinton had us so busy that we did add some Washington-area performers. It’s about half-and-half now,” Newport said. The group can staff as many as four shows at once, though they all do the same songs.

Newport said that in the Steps’ 27 years, the biggest changes have been wrought by the advent of 24-hour news on cable and the Internet.

“We’re chasing every little story. We don’t know what’s going to be a big story,” Newport said.

“We don’t know if Joe the Plumber is going to hang in the news or if people know about ‘lipstick on a pig.’”

Earlier this year, when Geraldine Ferraro made a comment suggesting Barack Obama had an advantage because of his race, the Steps wrote an entire song about it: “If He Weren’t a Black Man,” to the tune of “If I Were a Rich Man” from “Fiddler on the Roof.”

“It worked for about two days and then people forgot that comment,” Newport said. “But other things that you wouldn’t expect would hang in the news so much really did hang in the news. Everybody still would laugh at ‘lipstick on a pig’ because they remember that comment.”

Newport said she comes up with some ideas herself, while others come from cast members, like a song about Hillary Clinton having to campaign for Obama despite wanting the nomination herself: “Ebony and Ovaries.”

They try to come up with about one new song every week, which is about all the performers can handle, Newport said.

“They’re on the road touring and they dread opening an e-mail from me, because they know, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve gotten up at 4 a.m. to catch a flight and here’s a new song for tonight.’ But that’s also what the business is. That’s what we do.”

Recent songs lampoon the press obsession with Obama in “Obama Mia!” (set to Abba’s “Mamma Mia!”) and have Vladimir Putin singing “Midnight Raid to Georgia” (based on Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia”).

Another new song is “Monster Cash” (set to “Monster Mash”), about the bailout.

“I have to say you cannot see (Treasury) Secretary Paulson singing a pop song anywhere else in this country,” Newport said. “That and Kim Jong Il singing a show tune and the Supreme Court doing a disco all on one stage.”

State Journal-Register


When: 8 p.m. Friday

Where: Sangamon Auditorium, University of Illinois at Springfield

Tickets: $37 and $32; available at the Sangamon Auditorium ticket office, by calling 206-6160 or at


Among the Capitol Steps’ funniest bits are long soliloquies of spoonerisms known as Lirty Dies (after Dirty Lies). Founding Capitol Step Elaina Newport said this year’s Lirty Dies include Para Sailin’ and Bo Jiden. Whet your appetite with these classics from yesteryear — they’re funnier when read aloud, “just whip your flurds.”

On Al Gore and George Bush in 2000:

Bore is a pantsy-fants who says he invented the Neb and the Interwet.

He was cazing rash at a toodist bemple, with nudist buns.

But he’s a sponagamous mouse. Just ask his tife, Wipper. …

And Gush? His QI is in the dingle sigits.

He couldn’t frick pants on a wap of the murld.

He makes Quanny Dale look like a Lobel Naureate.

On Saddam Hussein:

Let me stell you the tory about the triggest bubblemaker

in the wistory of the hurld.

That ex-ictator from Diraq.

That east of the Middle Beast.

That Sadman, Maddam.

On Jesse Jackson:

Jeverend Rackson is a proudmouth leacher, a clan of the moth, and the pop of Operation Tush.

He acts all tholier than how. What a haming flippocrite.

He’s not a sponogamous mouse. He’s got pants in his ants.

On Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill:

My stext nory is about America’s cavorite fupple, Tarence Chlomas and Hanita Ill.

Chlomas is a jederal fudge — and a wite-ringer. Ill is a praw lofessor who claims she got warassed in the hurkplace. What a shirty dame!