Here is a challenge for you: find someone in your circle of friends who loves both Jon Stewart and Dennis Miller. If your buddy does cartwheels for one, the other guy probably makes her want to puke – a sign that we are as divided in our tastes in political humor as in the candidates we will vote for on Nov. 6. But one political satire troupe may be able to unite us all in laugher: The Capitol Steps, the main attraction on Oct. 28, at Tacoma's Rialto Theater. “We have a commitment to get everybody,” declares founding member Elaina Newport. “We'll get the guy you like in the first song, the guy you don't like in the second song.”
Recently, we caught up with her to get a better idea of what to expect this weekend.
Q: You are coming here just a few days before the election. I am guessing, for you guys, that is like the Super Bowl and Christmas rolled into one.
A: [Laughs] It is. We've been going for 30 years, and we're always trying to get both sides. Election years it's much easier because you've got both parties in the news, so we do love that. But I kind of miss the primary season. ... We had a primary season like I've never seen before, between Newt and Michele Bachman and Herman Cain. He was my personal favorite.
The Capitol Steps 3 p.m. Oct. 28 Rialto Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma $35 to $68 at broadwaycenter.org
Q: That guy has been pretty funny since then.
A: Yeah, you saw Colbert interview him? I still have him come into the show every once in a while. He has that 9-9-9 plan, of course. And we wrote a song called “Love Potion No. 9-9-9,” and I decided that Herman Cain could still be marketing that. [Laughs]
Q: You have seen Reagan, Clinton, a couple of Bushes. Where does this crop of candidates rank as far as being easy targets?
A: Actually, Mitt Romney is turning out to be quite funny. We were kind of worried about him because ... we thought he was the weakest in terms of comedy. ... But, you know, Mitt has a few distinct things about him. He's very wealthy, so we have him do a rap called “I Like Big Bucks, and I Cannot Lie.” He's also the whitest person you've ever seen, so we call him the Plain White Rapper. That whole juxtaposition is something we've been having fun with.
Q: But I am guessing that, in recent memory, no one compares to Sarah Palin.
A: Ah, yes.
Q: Is she still part of the show?
A: We brought her out when they first picked Paul Ryan to give him a little advice. But she's not in the show right now. She kind of comes and goes. … But, yeah, she was definitely the funniest out of the most recent (bunch.) Of course, vice presidents are always funny. You had Dick Cheney shootin' a guy in the face. Al Gore was hilarious in his own “I told you so … I invented the internet” kind of way. Barack Obama isn't that funny, but he picked Joe Biden.
Q: I was going to ask you which candidates are the hardest, and I have heard other comics say Barack Obama is kind of boring.
A: Yeah, he's not as funny as Bill Clinton or George Bush, for sure. But that would be tough. And it was the same under George Bush Sr. You didn't have a very funny president, but you had a very funny vice president in Dan Quayle. There's always something. If the guy at the top isn't the funniest guy, then somebody in Congress is tweeting his underwear.
Q: How topical do you guys get? Do you modify the show to reflect the headlines?
A: Yeah, if something happened at the Republican Convention – an empty chair – we'll put the empty chair onstage pretty much the next day. There are some stories that are just quick turnaround. There are other stories that are in the news a long time, and we work on those songs a little longer. For example, the Greek debt crisis was really hanging in the news. And we were like, “Oh man, what do we do? That's not really funny.” So we took the musical everybody did in high school, “Grease,” and we did it about Greece. We found that even financial humor can be funny if you make your performers look ridiculous.
Q: Who do you play?
A: I get to play Nancy Pelosi. That is my favorite role because I don't have to move my face at all. I like playing Janet Napolitano because she's always talking about something very alarming, but she sounds totally calm. She's talking about the scariest situation in the world, and she almost sounds bored.
Q: And you actually got your start on Capitol Hill.
A: I was one of the originals. It was back in 1981, and I was working for Senator Charles Percy from Illinois. He was one of the Republican moderates that you only read about in history books now. He was really nice about it. He could have fired us, told us to stop or any combination of the above.
Q: With what you do you maybe keep your personal political views close to the vest. But which way do you lean?
A: I'm an extreme moderate. I'm passionate that the middle ground is almost always right. I think both sides get silly when they get out on the fringes too far.
Q: But wait, I'm gonna bust you. I think I read that you married a Clinton appointee.
A: [laughs] I did, but I worked for two Republicans. You can't totally bust me.
Q: OK, you are un-busted. But do you have arguments about how much you skewer one side versus the other?
A: In some years it's very hard. When Barack Obama first came in, he had the Senate and the House. … We really had to look for a funny Republican, because the party in power is always gonna be a little bit funnier. We (thought) how do we write a John Boner joke? He's kind of orange. We got the orange thing goin', and we had this theory that he was related to Snooki. But in some years we really have to try hard to make the show bipartisan.