Capitol Steps: poking fun at politics

Well, they certainly don’t have a problem with running out of material. The Capitol Steps comedy group has been performing political satire for students and parents at Colonial Inaugurations since 2000.

“The goal of CI is to introduce GW and city life to students and their families, and the Capitol Steps is a fun, yet informative, method of accomplishing that goal,” CI Director Renee Clement said.

Clement said that having the Capitol Steps show at CI is appropriate for incoming students because of the high level of political interest most students have.

“So many students come to GW seeking the energy of a politically engaged city like our nation’s capitol,” Clement said. “Students come here pursuing majors that include words like ‘political,’ ‘international’ and ‘policy,’ and the Capitol Steps embody some of the best, and worst, characteristics of a political city such as ours.”

The Steps have appeared at colleges throughout the country, but GW is the only school where the group performs on a consistent basis, so GW gets the group at a fraction of the regular cost. The group has traveled to 49 out of the 50 states; Wyoming, Vice President Dick Cheney’s home state, is the only one the group has not yet visited.

The Capitol Steps was formed in 1981 when three staffers working for former Sen. Charles Percy (R – Ill.) decided to perform a political satirical skit at an office Christmas party.

“We thought we’d just do it once because we would probably get fired since we were making fun of the people who employed us,” said Elaina Newport, one of the group’s founding members. She didn’t get fired, but she later quit her job on the Hill to run Capitol Steps as a full-time business.

Brian Ash and Mark Eaton, Steps cast members, also worked on Capitol Hill before moving on to the Capitol Steps. Ash spent a few years working at a legislative database before joining the Steps full-time in 1992. He usually portrays Dick Cheney, Howard Dean and Ted Kennedy in the skits.

“Playing Kennedy is fun because he’s very loose, but at the same time, being Cheney can be fun because he is the exact opposite,” Ash said.

Eaton worked on the Hill for 10 years then left to work as a lobbyist. He heard about an opening with the Steps and thought it would be a fun part-time job. In 1993 he became a full-time cast member who usually plays John Kerry, Al Gore and Ted and Patrick Kennedy. Eaton also writes for the show.

Newport, who is a producer and writer for the Steps, said that she often roots for women to get into political scandals so that she has a part to play.

Usually she plays Hillary Clinton and Martha Stewart but other memorable roles have included a cow when mad-cow disease made headlines, a chicken during the bird-flu scare, and the singer Cher.

Newport admits that it gets difficult to take politics seriously.

“As a writer, you wake up, hear about something that happened, and you don’t think about whether or not it is good or bad for the country,” she said. “You just think about how to make it work for a bit.”

Eaton added, “Everyone should be able to laugh at politics.”

-Katie Rooney contributed

to this report

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