Getting big laughs out of a big election with the Capitol Steps

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By Keith Loria
   With Election Day on the horizon, the Princeton Senior Resource Center is holding a benefit featuring the political satire troupe, Capitol Steps, 7:30 p.m., Sept. 30 at Princeton University’s Richardson Auditorium at Alexander Hall.
   And with presidential nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton providing fodder for the jokes pretty much on a daily basis, now is the perfect time to see the D.C.-based troupe perform.
   ”We’ve hosted the Capitol Steps before and when they were last here three years ago, we knew we would want to get them back for this election year,” says Susan W. Hoskins, Princeton Senior Resource Center’s executive director. “Of course, we didn’t know then how much material they were going to be given.”
   What makes a performance so enthralling, Hoskins says, is that Capitol Steps pokes fun at politicians from both parties, and the show appeals across different age groups, and has loads of fun.
   ”We want people to enjoy living and have social opportunities and things that challenge the mind,” Ms. Hoskins says. “Our benefit is about having fun and one of the delightful things of doing this at Richardson Hall is being able to have a larger audience.”
   It was back in 1982 when a group of Senate staffers thought it would be fun to satirize the very people who employed them, and they performed at a Christmas party for Senator Charles Percy, a republican senator from Illinois.
   The skits were so well received that the group continued to write and put on shows and became known throughout D.C. as the Capitol Steps.
   The comedy troupe takes real-life political headlines and turns them into funny songs and skits. The act has grown through the years, and now 25 cast members perform in shows all around the country.
   ”I used to say, ‘What’s bad for the country is good for the Capitol Steps’” says Elaina Newport, a founding member of the comedy group. “It is a weird way to make a living because you can be a little torn. When you listen to the news in the morning, you are thinking, ‘Is it funny and what rhymes with it?’”
   All together, the group is composed of performers who have worked in a total of 18 Congressional offices and represent 62 years of collective House and Senate staff experience. The group’s current ranks include just one Hill staffer, but in the past half of its members were working senators and representatives.
   ”It’s an exciting time to be in a political comedy troupe,” Ms. Newport says. “At the beginning of this primary season, we had 17 Republican candidates and a few on the Democratic side, so we had too much material for a while. For a while there we had to start each show with a song called ‘76 Unknowns.’” That tune was a play on “Seventy-Six Trombones” from the Broadway show, “The Music Man.”
   Over the past year, songs about Jeb Bush and Bernie Sanders had to be put to pasture as the show is constantly evolving and changing with every new headline.
   ”It’s really been a process of narrowing down the material over the last year and a half,” Ms. Newport says. “Now that we’re down to the two major players, you’ll see Donald Trump singing a show tune and Hillary Clinton singing a rock song and maybe even Vladimir Putin dancing shirtless.”
   New Jersey residents may be happy to hear that a song about Chris Christie is still in the show, thanks to his endorsement of Donald Trump.
   ”We’re doing 90 minutes about everything in the headlines and looking at all the campaigns and issues,” Ms. Newport says. “We have a Hillary and Donald debate in the show that people will love.”
   With the absurdity that has been part of the campaign so far, sometimes the jokes become reality. For instance, there was a joke way back at the beginning of Trump’s run that had Trump talk about not wanting to kiss a baby, and then the Republican candidate had an actual run-in with a baby.
   ”It’s hard to stay ahead of this guy,” she says. “When Trump first started, it was a lot of hair jokes and jokes about him being rich, but now it’s a different joke that comes out every day.”
   Once the election is over, Capitol Steps will still be touring, so they are preparing versions of the shows for both winner possibilities.
   PSRC’s fundraiser will also feature a VIP reception with cast members following the performance. PSRC also is offering three raffle packages: a two-week stay in Fort Myers, Florida at the Heritage Palms Country Club in a condo that sleeps 6; $1,200 in gift cards accepted at numerous area restaurants; and a round of golf for a winner and friends at each of four regional courses. Raffle tickets are for sale for $100 at PSRC’s main office behind Monument Hall in Princeton. For tickets and more information, go to princetonsenior.org.