WASHINGTON, D.C. – It is no secret that there is currently a great political divide in U.S. society. Under such conditions, how is it possible for dialogue to move forward between differing political factions? Perhaps the enormously talented political satirical performers known as the Capitol Steps can show us two ways: First, by laughing at both sides. Second, by laughing at all.
The Capitol Steps perform at the Ronald Reagan Building amphitheater in Washington, D.C. and tour extensively. They also frequently appear on radio and television. In the current incantation of their show, they impersonate the likes of Donald and Melania Trump, Chuck Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi. And they are exceptionally talented in voice, singing many song parodies to the likes of standards such as “If I Only Had a Brain” (warbled by brain surgeon Ben Carson), “Puttin’ (or Putin?) on the Ritz” (sung by Russian President Vladimir Putin), “Stormy Weather” belted out in sultry torch style by none other than Stormy Daniels, and “I Will Survive” in the desperate yet unconvincing pleas of Hillary Clinton.
Remarkable in our day is that both Republicans and Democrats are equally lambasted. Performers come out extending “small hands” mocking President Trump; Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announces that in one of his jokes he has just delivered he has quoted his favorite Marx Brother: Karl! Former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton emerges with a strained smile and forced laugh while Trump welcomes visitors to this show at the Reagan Building by claiming with braggadocio that this Capitol Steps audience is the biggest audience to come to any show ever in the history of the universe. His audience.
What makes this even-handedness remarkable is a poll of the audience carried out in the middle of the show: “How many of you are Democrats?” Massive applause! “How many of you are Republicans?” In the presentation, I witnessed, scattered clapping at best. The audience in attendance may be politically lopsided, yet the troupe slugs on valiantly, taking swipes at both political factions. Notably, Democrat and Republican audience members laugh at jokes which are even at the expense of those politicians on the side they admire. There is something enormously refreshing in this that both political sides which are supposedly irreparably divided are able, and perhaps even want, to see the comic nature of their respective representatives and political leanings.
Some of the political humor is admittedly tame and easy-going: jokes about Donald Trump’s wavy hair and Melania Trump, accused of plagiarism, announcing she will recite an “original” speech: “Four score and seven years ago ...“ Or the tongue twisters and spoonerisms of the skit “Lirty Dies: Tronald Dump and Clillary Hinton” with some slightly suggestive “unintended” meanings... some too risqué to quote here! Yet, other parts of the Steps’ humor is quite incisive, addressing dire problems such as nuclear proliferation (“How Do You Solve a Problem like Korea?” to a tune from “The Sound of Music”). Or – in a skit reminiscent of Prairie Home Companion’s “Guy Noir, Private Eye” – sexual harassment and assault in Washington, D.C. in a sketch in which a misconduct investigation is carried in archetypical film-noir style. All this is a reminder that we can still laugh at the most serious of world issues.
In a sly way, the Capitol Steps comedy ensemble compels us to consider how as American citizens, we are covertly being entertained by natural comedians and inadvertent comedy occurring in stately governmental institutions and by partisans on both sides of the political aisle on Capitol Hill. While not sacrificing our principles or most cherished beliefs, perhaps we should take our politics in stride and with a greater sense of humor. In viewing the Capitol Steps, we realize that in politics – as legendary Baltimore-based journalist H.L. Mencken once wrote – “the general public gets precisely the same show – a bit diluted, perhaps, by distance, but still incomparably humorous and thrilling.”