Ready, aim ... fire

Comedy troupe targets both sides of political aisle

Thursday, November 18, 2004

The night after the 2000 presidential election, the Capitol Steps comedy troupe walked onstage at Wichita State University and made an announcement.

They had two shows planned -- one if George W. Bush won, the other if Al Gore won.

Trouble was, they had no clue which one to use. So they sang songs from both.

This election, things are different. There's a clear winner. And Elaina Newport, Capitol Steps' co-founder and lead writer, is breathing a sigh of relief.

"We did the same thing this time," Newport said. "We had two shows planned, and to tell you the truth, we just prayed one of them would work. We really didn't know what was going to rhyme with 'provisional ballot.'"

The election results mean plenty of Bush administration jokes will remain in the lineup when the longtime Washington, D.C., act comes to the Lied Center for an 8 p.m. show Sunday. But -- like always -- anybody will be fair game as a target for the group's parody songs.

"We like to think of ourselves as equal opportunity offenders," Newport said. "We get everybody."

The troupe was founded in 1981 by a handful of Congressional staffers looking for a creative outlet. Twenty-three years later, it has 25 performers, has recorded 23 albums and has performed for five presidents.

Recent tunes include "Hang Down Your Head Tom Daschle" (about the senator's election defeat), "I Work Hard for the Country" (sung by Bush to "She Works Hard for the Money,") and "Fakey Purple Heart" (sung by John Kerry to "Achy Breaky Heart").

By Sunday, the repertoire likely will include new songs from the week, as writers stay on their toes to keep up with current events. One week, the troupe is singing about Yasser Arafat and John Ashcroft. The next, Arafat and Ashcroft are old news.

Newport said the performers coming to Lawrence -- there will be five singers and a pianist -- likely will dust off "It's Not Easy Being Mean," a song about Bob Dole sung to "It's Not Easy Being Green." The troupe's appearance is part of Political Humor Month at the Dole Institute of Politics, which houses the former senator's papers.

The Capitol Steps actually were rooting for Dole in the 1996 election, Newport said. They were tired of making jokes about Bill Clinton's fast-food eating habits in the pre-Monica era of his tenure.

"We were thinking Bob Dole seemed very funny," she said. "He refers to himself in the third person. He's got this dark sense of humor. I was thinking from a comedy standpoint, maybe we should root for Dole in '96. Well, boy was I wrong from a comedy standpoint. Bill Clinton turned out to be the golden age of satire."

For this election, Newport was torn.

"I have no idea in this case who was the funnier candidate," she said. "I don't want to be ungrateful to George Bush. He's been very funny. But a change of administration would have given us a whole new cast of characters, too."

The bottom line, she said, is the Capitol Steps will keep swinging in all directions -- no matter who's in office.

"We always win," she said.