by Brenda W. Clough
I live near Washington DC. It is a company town, just like Detroit or Battle Creek, only our product is politics, not cars or corn flakes. And this is reflected in the arts scene, where the Capitol Steps has been a fixture for parody and humor since 1981. They began as Congressional staffers doing the entertainment for a Christmas party — we are told that their first idea was to stage a nativity play, but in the whole Congress they couldn’t find three wise men or a virgin. See? That level of humor.
The last time we caught the show was ten years ago on the week that Saddam Hussein died. The Steps were right on the beat, advertising the first post-death appearance of the late dictator, who sang “I Did It My Way” with his own lyrics. They always apply their topical lyrics to well-known tunes, performed by a small troupe accompanied by a piano. Washington pols are easy to costume (suits, ties) and props are minimal — a tinfoil hat, a cell phone. Everything rests upon the wittiness of the songs.
As you can probably imagine, this year has been an especially rich one for parody, and the Steps did not fail us when we went to their December 15 performance. Which was recorded for rebroadcast on NPR! The four liberal Justices of the Supreme Court did a rendition of “Stayin’ Alive.” There were appearances by our president (“The Leader is a Trump,” “Oops, I Tweeted Again”), Vladimir Putin (“Stuck in the Middle East Too”) and all the other names that grace the front page of the newspapers — or our newspapers, at least.
The highly-topical, profoundly local type of comedy has been a cultural staple since Aristophanes wowed them in Athens. But it’s like the nouveau beaujolais. Drink this wine the year it’s made, because it won’t keep. It’s not intended to age. And luckily you too can get it while it’s hot! It’ll be airing on a number of public radio stations Dec. 30 through January 1, 2018. Check out the list, and if it isn’t airing in your area, it’ll be available on ITunes as a free podcast!