Elaina Newport of the Capitol Steps can’t decide whether the current political climate is making her job easier or harder.
“It’s a good time to be in political satire, that’s for sure,” said Newport, one of the founders of the political comedy troupe, which will bring its songs and sketches to Olympia in a pre-election show Sunday. “They’re really working for us this year.
“We’ve been around 35 years, and this is the craziest election season ever.”
On the other hand, the level of political discourse has made it difficult to exaggerate for humorous effect.
“About eight months ago, I had written a joke about Donald Trump,” Newport said. “I had him go out and say: ‘I never kiss babies on the campaign trail. Babies are losers.’
“I thought that was an exaggeration of something Donald might say, but then he actually got into it with a baby.”
For those who missed the baby brouhaha, which happened at an August rally in Ashburn, Virginia, Trump commented about a crying baby. He said he loves babies and then a few minutes later said, “You can get that baby out of here.” In fact, The Washington Post later reported that he wasn’t actually kicking the baby out. The mother was already leaving with the baby as he spoke.
Given recent news about Trump and kissing, Newport could have taken the joke in another direction, but some aspects of the Republican candidate’s conduct wouldn’t fit into the Steps’ family-friendly show.
“The show is PG-rated,” she said, “and there are some things that Donald would say that we won’t say.”
Indeed, in a review earlier this month in The Post, Sadie Dingfelder described the show as “clever and funny while managing to be entirely inoffensive.”
“While we live in age of unprecedented partisan vitriol,” Dingfelder wrote, “the Capitol Steps exist in a kinder, gentler world — a place where Democrats and Republicans laugh and drink together, where show tunes rule the airwaves and where Vanilla Ice is considered hip-hop.”
In a phone interview earlier this week, Newport joked mostly about Trump, but the group — founded by Republican Senate staffers — is decidedly nonpartisan, finding something funny to say about every party and candidate.
“We’re down to the two very funniest candidates,” she said. “We have so much material that we resort to texting jokes to performers as they’re backstage waiting to go on.”
The quickest changes to the show might happen come Nov. 8, on Election Day. The Steps will be performing that night and the next.
“This is something we go through every four years,” Newport said. “A lot of years, we kind of know who’s going to win — you can sort of tell by the polling — but some years you don’t know.
“In 2000, we had written two shows, one to do if Gore won and one for if Bush won,” she said. “The day after the election, we couldn’t do either show because we didn’t know who’d won.
“That was stressful. I had to dress up as a chad and go out and sing, ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’ on very short notice.”
Of course, not all of the show’s humor is about the election. There are songs about the general incompetence of Congress, for example.
Foreign dignitaries aren’t spared, either.
“Vladimir Putin dances shirtless in our show,” she said, laughing. “The partial nudity helps get people out to the show.”
That seems unlikely, but something is drawing people out, even when it seems that increasing numbers just don’t want to hear any more about the presidential race.
The Olympia show is likely to sell out, said center marketing director Michael Cordier.
“So far, it’s our top-selling show of the season,” he said last week. “Given the current climate, people want to blow off some steam and have a laugh.”
Capitol Steps: What to Expect When You’re Electing
What: The comedy troupe, founded 35 years ago by current and former Congressional staffers, pokes fun at politics.
When: 5 p.m. Sunday.
Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia.
Tickets: $35-$57; $32-$47 for students, seniors and military; $18-$26 for youths.
Information: 360-753-8586, washingtoncenter.org.
Watch: Get a sample of the Capitol Steps’ humor in the sketch “Your Next President: Donald Trump” at bit.ly/2ecdB38.