The Capitol Steps: Comedy for the Well-Informed

Capitol Steps Logo

Capitol Steps Logo

The Capitols Steps were at Hering Auditorium Saturday night, brought back to town by Fairbanks Concert Association. You really had to want to see the Steps to make this show: it was at least -45° F outside, with patches of thick ice fog. It gratified WC to see a decent crowd attended. Sometimes Fairbanksans demonstrate they are nearly as tough as they think they are.

For readers who have been living under a rock since 1982, The Capitol Steps are a satire and comedy troupe from Washington, D.C. Founded by the late Bill Strauss and the talented Elaina Newport, it’s grown to three touring troupes. They are talented comics and singers, and the visual elements in a live show make the musical skits even funnier. Seeing “Donald Trump” sing is even funnier than listening to  “Donald Trump” sing. Yet the Steps remain true to their roots: a majority of them are former Capitol Hill staffers.

WC has seen the Steps at least four times, three times in Fairbanks and once in Boise. They’ve managed to keep the shows fresh, highly entertaining and very funny. And they are equal opportunity satirists: left and right, any branch of government, any sacred cow. Over the years, they’ve evolved into something more like skits featuring songs and less a simple series of songs. And as members have come and gone from the group, their strengths at targeting specific politicians have changed.

The heart of their act is to put topical lyrics to pop songs. For example, “Mitt Romney” sings “Help Me Fake It to the Right” to the tune of “Help Me Make It Through the Night.”

I backed health care in the past
But to win a White House fight
Gotta change positions fast
Help me fake it to the right

Help Me Fake it to the Right

These folks are pros, and it shows. Stepper Bari Biern was simply brilliant as HSA Secretary Janet Napolitano, both in her imitation of Secretary Napolitano’s dreadful speaking voice and HSA’s approach to threats.

Mike Tilford – who joined the Steps to sing Bill Clinton back in 1992 – has stepped into the extended Spoonerism routine Bill Strauss pioneered, “Lirty Dies.” It’s humor for the nimble-witted. For example, when Tilford told the crowd that former Rep. Anthony Wiener had “weeted his twiener,” there was a distinct pause before the laughter, as the crowd worked it out. Tilford works without notes and improvises freely; it’s very impressive.

There was a Sarah Palin skit but, it seemed to WC, the crowd was tired of Caribou Barbie. It got a laugh, but others got bigger laughs.

In their closing song at Saturday’s show, reprising thirty years of scandals, with Tilford singing, Carruthers and Bell going through the props and Biern and Gordon parading through with signs, the jokes served as kind of fun house mirror of recent U.S. history. Only the very quick-witted and well-informed could keep up. That’s just fine with WC.

The camera ban remains in place, so WC was unable to “fook a toto.” Which is too bad because the skits have a strong visual element, which is half the fun. But that’s WC’s only criticism. A fine show, and props to FCA for bringing the Steps back to Fairbanks.