Capitol Steps, still funny and fresh after all these years (review)

I have to admit straight out of the gate that being asked to review “The Capitol Steps” was a bit befuddling. After more than 30 years delivering laughs in the nation’s capital, the comedy troupe has taken its place as a DC institution.

In fact, when I told people I was seeing the Steps, they looked at me like I told them I was going down to the FDR Memorial to quietly ponder the nature of inclusive governance and our Democratic roots.

“Sure,” they seemed to say. “But why? Did you just move here or something?”

Well, I didn’t, and reviewing the Capitol Steps seemed a bit like trying to review a tour of the Capitol, because it’s kinda just something that you do when you visit Washington. Right?

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For the uninitiated, The Capitol Steps is a political comedy show that offers a mix of song and standup, lampooning modern political leaders and taking on the major issues of the day. The show is heavy on puns and impressions, with an “aw, dad!” sense of humor that’s good for all ages… assuming those ages are read up on gas prices, Greek debt, and Middle Eastern affairs.

And that’s no joke – The Capitol Steps demand that you keep up. The show is a machine gun of comedy, firing one joke after another.

Of course not every act hits a bullseye, but if a moment falls flat for you, well, just take a deep breath – they’ll wrap this one up in a moment, with another just around the corner to cleanse your palate.

And let’s face it: in this Presidential season of “NeverTrump” and “BernieOrBust” hashtags, The Steps may be a little palate cleanser and just what America needs.

We asked Steps writer Elaina Newport – Who’s funnier – Republicans or Democrats? 

Let’s just hope political humor is your thing, because the Capitol Steps have that in spades.

Perhaps the best part are the spot-on impressions, not least of which is a Donald Trump (played by Kevin Corbett the night I attended) that hits a home run. “Believe me,” Donald says to punctuate nearly every half-baked thought, he’s had plenty of good advice from his “advisor in the mirror,” and he’s ready to lead.

Trump purses his lips and aggressively calls for the audience to “keep clapping” when the adoration of his “silent majority” simply wasn’t enough. Donald then parodies Walk the Moon’s biggest hit by demanding that his detractors “Shut Up and Vote for Me.”

Perfecto.

The good impressions didn’t stop there, from Bernie Sanders’ (Mike Carruthers) accent to Hillary Clinton’s (Janet Davidson Gordon’s) classic audience finger-point.

But what impressed me even more than the impressions was the fact that this thirty-plus year-old show was so refreshingly up-to-date.

If you’re a political junkie, you’ll get a healthy dose of the daily news served spit-roasted and heavily mocked.

Clinton’s email scandal? Check. Those Super PAC ads demagogueing Milania Trump? They’re in there. Heck, even the safety message telling us where to find the fire exits had a reference to Steve Harvey’s Miss Universe misfire. That’s a deep cut!

Now, that’s not to say there weren’t some dated references. When Bob Dylan (Mike Carruthers) was trotted out on stage to play the role of the activist singing “We are the World,” it transported all of us back to a world of scrunchies and roller-rinks, or maybe even bell-bottoms and DayGlo paint if you remember that far back.

Timely? Not exactly. But Dylan’s mumblings were still a hit, and worth a laugh at any age.

Even better was Capitol Steps’ parody of Simon and Garfunkle’s hit “The Boxer.” Again, it wasn’t the most up-to-date reference. But Dick Cheney (Kevin Corbett) defending his record on torture by signing the “lie lie lies” was hands down my favorite moment of the night.

Setting the specifics aside for a moment (like any good politician), the challenge that’s set before the Capitol Steps is monumental. They’re tasked with writing jokes that are good for all audiences: young and old, locals and tourists, Democrats and Republicans. And that isn’t easy.

The result is that not every joke will hit every ear the same way. The politically sensitive Democrat probably won’t appreciate the Hillary Clinton’s (Janet Davidson Gordon’s) parody on her ongoing email scandal, “Deleter of the Pack.”

The same goes for the hardnosed Republican, who won’t think much of George Bush (Kevin Corbett) and Barack Obama (Jon Bell) dredging up the former’s shortcomings in the Middle East.

Likewise, the result of humor aimed between middle-American tourists and Georgetown socialites (trust me, I saw plenty of both in the audience) is a series of jokes that are straight from the crib notes of politically-minded father at the Thanksgiving dinner table. One “dad joke” after another.

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THE CAPITOL STEPS
4stars

Ongoing
Ronald Reagan Building
1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC  20004
2 hours, 15 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $40
Fridays and Saturdays
Details and Tickets
Check for discounts
or call (202) 397-SEAT

———————

A quick example: The Capitol Steps’ take on Indian call-center workers sounds…well, exactly the way you think it will, which is worth a cringe. And put me down for another after Bernie Sanders, the only Jewish candidate running for President this season, was handed a parody of Fiddler on the Roof  “If There Were No Rich Men” for his only appearance.

But then again, there are two ways to look at every joke. When Bernie Sanders refers to Rachel Maddow (Bari Biern) as “young man,” you might be tempted to see a lame joke about the famous journalist’s appearance.

Or, you might see a joke about out-of-touch old folks’ understanding of gender and sexuality. The beauty of that one is definitely in the eye of the beholder.

My best guess is there’s no getting an audience split between Democrats and Republicans to agree on that one. But the (skewed slightly-older) audience I was a part of laughed from start to finish, with a standing ovation at the end.

That included plenty of tourists, and more than a few locals as well.

So, is it a must see? Maybe. Maybe not. But DC-locals might find that a visit to The Capitol Steps can help to shake off some of the dust that clings to all the cynics who commute through the narrow streets of Washington.

And if you can’t bring yourself to go on your own, then print out a brochure and stick it in the guest room for those out-of-town visitors you have swinging through. They might just convince you to go with them, and you’ll probably leave smiling one way or another.

Besides — it beats the hell out of a fourteenth trip to the Air and Space Museum, right?

Jon Boughtin About Jon Boughtin

Jon Boughtin is a seasoned press flack and political hack who recently set aside the rigors of Capitol Hill to make his millions as a freelance writer and real estate agent. Shrewd! Jon is a proud theater fiance who learned the ins-and-outs of DC theater through his fiance and local actor, Heather. Now hooked, Jon is thrilled to spend another summer under DC's hottest tent. When not writing, parenting or hawking homes, Jon can be found on the ultimate frisbee field attempting to defy the aging process. Jon is a native Upstate New Yorker and longtime Tennessean with a BS from Vanderbilt University.

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