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Turning politics into chuckles

BY CLAIRE DIETZ | OCTOBER 02, 2014 5:00 AM

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The Englert Theater hopes to shine a comedic light on Iowa politics by featuring the satire group Capitol Steps.

Made up of ex-congressional staffers and other performers, Capitol Steps will take the Englert stage at 8 p.m. Saturday; tickets are $35. The troupe is known for its sardonic musical take on politics, news events, and popular culture.

"It's a brand of political humor that we don't often see at the theater," said Englert Exective Director Andre Perry. "We've had it before, and it's good to have it back before the midterm election … By undercutting all the political action that's happening, it takes some of the intensity out of the season."

"Capitol Steps and comedians are social critics who couch their criticism in various types of literary devices," said Lyombe Eko, a University of Iowa associate professor of journalism with a focus on media law and ethics. "… Capitol Steps does parodies of specific individuals, mostly politicians. Parodies and satires are generally humorous. The aim is for society to laugh at itself. After all, if we laugh at the government, we are laughing at ourselves, because America has a government of the people, by the people, for the people. We are the government."

Capitols Steps' founding member Elaina Newport said the group originated in a Senate Christmas party in 1981, in which the original intention was to do a nativity scene. However, the plan had to be changed, as the old joke goes, when three wise men and a virgin were nowhere to be found.

"We have a bit weird story as to how we started," Newport said. "… We were working for Sen. [Charles] Percy from Illinois, who was actually a moderate Republican that you find in the history books. So we decided to put on this show making fun of our bosses, and making fun of the president, and hoping we don't get fired."

Performers will portray political figures such as Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Kerry, singing a tune from the film Frozen and the show-tune parody "How Do You Solve a Problem like Crimea?"
"If you've ever wanted to see Obama sing a rock song, or Joe Biden sing a show tune, and Chris Christie do a classical ballet, our show is the show to see," Newport said. "… We're definitely musical, political satire, but one of the things we like to emphasize is that we are bipartisan; we get everybody. And another thing we like to emphasize is headlines; you don't have to read Page 5 of the metro section to get our show. If you know who the major players are, you'll get it."

Newport said the group looks forward to appearing in an area of the country that, as the first caucus state, holds so much weight in the next presidential-nomination process.

"We're definitely looking forward to coming out because Iowa is so savvy," Newport said. "Where you actually invite these politicians out every four years, and really scrutinize them, and actually help us pick the funniest ones."


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