Elaina Newport’s career as a Congressional staffer didn’t last long, but she’s managed to make a living for more than 30 years in the crazy (and getting crazier) world of politics.
In 1981, while working for a Senator in Washington, D.C., she and five colleagues wrote some political song parodies for an office Christmas party. They had so much fun they kept at it through the next year, billing themselves as the “Capitol Steps” and writing new songs about current events. By 1983, they were performing once a month at the famed Shoreham Hotel and getting glowing reviews in The Washington Post. In 1984, when Newport’s boss lost his re-election bid, she decided to pursue performing full-time.
In the meantime, four Presidents have come and gone—and Barack Obama will soon make it five—but the Capitol Steps are still in D.C., still churning out topical songs like “We Arm The World,” “Stand By Your Dan” and “Brian-Mouth Connection.”
While they still have a resident show in D.C., the cast is large enough now to support multiple tours—especially during the “shenanigans” of election season. One of those touring groups will stop in Norfolk on Thursday night, just five days before the 2016 election.
Newport, who started college as a piano major before switching to business and landing a job in politics, reminisced about the Capitol Steps’ early days last week in a phone interview with AltDaily.
“A couple things have happened since we started this troupe,” she said. “Back when we first started, I worked for a moderate Republican. That tells you something. You don’t find those in the wild anymore! We actually used to do bills that Democrats and Republicans would cosponsor. So think back to those days. It was a more genial time—a more bipartisan time. Even though it was the early days of Reagan with his clear-cut conservative agenda and all that, Reagan and Tip O’Neill were great friends, and there was sort of a different atmosphere.
“The other thing that has changed,” she explained, “is the news cycle is so fast. Back then when we first started, we might have a week to put together a song about Iran Contra or whatever. Now if Anthony Weiner tweets his underwear, everybody knows about it within an hour. So we are sometimes texting jokes to performers backstage as they wait to go on. It’s probably a more terrifying experience to be a performer with the Capitol Steps, but—then again—it’s fun in that moment where you cover something that just happened. You go out and you do a ‘nasty woman’ joke the day after the debate, and everybody appreciates it because it’s so topical.”
The 2016 show, dubbed “What To Expect When You’re Electing,” includes all-new songs like “Deleter of the Facts,” “Trump Acres” and “Shut Up and Vote for Me.” Newport said the show also features a “Vanilla Nice” send-up of vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine.
One of the perennial highlights of the show is “Lirty Dies,” a monologue of “spoonerisms”—puns created by switching the consonant sounds in consecutive words. Weiner taking a “poto of his phenis” is just one example.
Harking back to one of the troupe’s earliest positive reviews, The Washington Post recently reported: “‘Lirty Dies’ encapsulates the genius of the Capitol Steps: They are clever and funny while managing to be entirely inoffensive. It’s a performance style that contrasts sharply with the current political-comedy zeitgeist, embodied by passionate partisans like John Oliver and Samantha Bee. But perhaps, in these polarized times, this little band of kindhearted performers is exactly what we need: comedy that crosses the aisle to remind us of our shared humanity—and Anthony Weiner’s wiener.”
The Capitol Steps will perform at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Ted Constant Convocation Center in Norfolk. Ticket prices start at $28. For more information, visit: constantcenter.com.