"Old Man Twitter", "I've Grown Accustomed to My Facebook" and So Much More: A Perversely Exhaustive Rundown of the latest Capitol Steps podcast
If I’m known for anything, it’s my fierce, only partially ironic obsession with political comedy troupe Capitol Steps and their ferociously inoffensive brand of middle of the road shenanigans, as well as my public feud with Capitol Steps, which is the Drake/Pusha T feud of weird, nonsensical beefs among entities the general public could not care less about.
In perhaps the kindest, most masochistic gesture of our nine year relationship, my wife even bought us tickets to see the Steps live, even though she is indifferent towards the musical mirth makers at best.
And, because my wife is good people, she even spent part of the day before our second son’s birth listening to the Fourth of July Capitol Steps podcast and because I subconsciously apparently want my website to fail and my readers to abandon me, I figured I would share with you non-Steppers (the nickname I just made up for Capitol Step fans) my impressions of every single segment of the podcast.
Think of it as a perversely deep dive into waters seemingly no one in their right mind would want to wade into. Let’s go!
1. “Stormy Daniels” to the tune of “Stormy Weather”
We open on a classy-trashy note with a sensual torch song from the perspective of pornographic actress and American hero Stormy Daniels. It’s a strong, if predictable opening to a podcast where the venerable jokesters finally seem to have realized what a goddamn goldmine they have in the rancid orange Commander-in-Chief and the soulless ghouls who do his evil bidding. I, for one, am pleased that the Capitol Steps finally feel confident enough to retire spoofs about shit like the Greek economic crisis to focus on the incandescent madness at the center of American political life.
Singer: “Stormy Daniels”
Sample lyric: “Don’t know why there are those who say I lie, Stormy Daniels/smacked Trump’s rump like he’s a bad spaniel”
2. Donald Trump mangles “God Bless America”
Next up is the man of the hour himself, The Donald, bragging about having the most exciting, dynamic, extravagant and just plain huge singing voice, and also boasting about knowing all the words to “God Bless America”, which he proceeds to mangle in his trademark self-aggrandizing style.
Singer: “Donald Trump”
Sample lyric: “God bless America, here we don’t kneel, stand behind her, and grind her, I can pardon myself if I feel!”
3. “I’m So Indicted” to the tune of “I’m So Excited”
Donald is unsurprisingly also the focus of a Pointer Sisters parody focussing on the morally lax nature of disgraced lobbyist Paul Manafort and his relationship with the Sex Criminal in Chief.
Singers: "Paul Manafort" and "Donald Trump"
Manafort: “I’ll get a lawyer and I won’t take chances, they’re gonna offer me some sort of deal, or maybe like Ned Beatty, I will squeal!”
4. “Tweet, Tweet” to the tune of “Rocking Robin”
One of my main frustrations with previous Capitol Steps podcasts was the maddening numbers of songs they repeat from episode to episode. The political world has never been more insane or ripe for ridicule than it is now, so it seems perverse for Capitol Steps to recycle old material, but the mighty Steps at least have the decency to liven up old parodies with new lyrics referencing recent events. That’s the case with its Twitter-themed spoof of the President’s crippling addiction to social media, which is the first of two Trump twitter-themed songs, each more sublime and soulful than the last.
Singers: "Melania Trump", "Donald Trump" and “Sorceress of propaganda Kellyanne Conway”
Sample lyrics: “Millions of women marched after my inauguration. One day in office and I already got more middle aged women up off the couch than Michelle Obama’s Get Up and Move campaign did in eight years."
5. “Pence is From Heaven to the tune of “Pennies from Heaven”
We now move from the Sinner in the White House to the Bible-thumping uber-moralist who serves as his Vice President, with a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the do-gooder serving as number two to a bad, bad man. Maybe the worst.
Singer: “Mike Pence”
Sample lyric: "We never appreciated number two in the race/Not even when Dick Cheney shot somebody in the face!” or “You won’t see me having lunch with women in power/If I even hear that Stormy name, I need a shower!”
6. “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Korea?” to the tune of “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?”
I would like to state for the record here that the Capitol Steps’ Kim Jong Un-themed goof on The Sound of Music’s “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?”, “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Korea?” has absolutely nothing in common with previous Capitol Steps joint “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Crimea?”
Sure, both spoofs are based on the same song, and have very similar titles but “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Korea” is sung by someone doing a mildly offensive Korean accent. “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Crimea" is not.
Singer: "Kim Jong Un"
Sample lyric: “To me it has now occurred, Trump’s mad at the whole wide world/The biggest threat to peace is not Korea, Trump might declare a war on Canada!”
7. “Putin on a Blitz” to the tune of “Putting on the Ritz”
In the world of Capitol Steps, Vladimir Putin is less a terrifying, murderous dictator than a lovable scamp who puts his own wacky spin on “Putting on the Ritz”, an Irving Berlin-penned tribute to the high life made famous by everyone from Fred Astaire to Taco, who is widely regarded the greatest-ever one hit wonder named after a delicious Mexican food.
Singer: “Vladimir Putin”
Sample lyric: “Though U.S sends threats I just don’t see ya/Coming all this way to help Crimea, wouldn’t want to be ya!”
8. “Faking News is Hard to Do” to the sound of “Breaking Up is Hard to Do”
Capitol Steps are deliberately, purposefully inoffensive, soft and bipartisan but there are moments scattered throughout the latest episode when it comes perilously and exhilaratingly close to having a semblance of an edge. That’s the case with this spirited goof on CNN, which brought me to the very brink of laughter, and which is more than can be said about pretty much everything else they’ve done.
Singers: "Wolf Blitzer", "Don Lemon"
Sample lyric: “Conservatives, they love FOX NEWS, because they lack progressives’ high IQs/We’re condescending, that much is true/That means we talk down to you!"
9. Hugh Jim Bissell skit
Back when I wrote for The A.V Club, commenters would grow apoplectic if I referred to the segments on Saturday Night Live or SCTV as “skits.” Skits, they indignantly insisted, were what eight year old campers performed at camp talent shows. They were the work of cornball amateurs, not professional funny people.
The Capitol Steps may be professionals but when they do a non-musical bit you better fucking believe it's a skit, not a sketch, and the Hugh Jim Bissell (pronounced Huge Imbecile) portions of Capitol Steps shows are most assuredly skits that take the form of faux hard-boiled monologues from a Guy Noir type discoursing on politics in the smartass, wised-up voice of a detective in a Humphrey Bogart movie.
The premise of Hugh Jim Bissell’s monologue this time around borders on clever: he posits that Capitol Steps favorite Vladimir Putin is behind the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements because they take the focus off Russian meddling in the election. It’s a semi-inspired premise undone by typically hammy execution.
Sample dialogue: “Times were tough. The recession hit me hard. I was working less than a West Virginia tooth fairy.”
10. “401K” to the tune of “YMCA”
To paraphrase the old lefty bumper sticker slogan, Donald Trump’s Presidency is not healthy for children or other living things, particularly if those children are immigrants, illegal or otherwise. It has, however, been good for the stock market, as evidenced by this Village People parody sung from the point of view of lefties who hate everything about Trump except for the money they’re saving/making off stock market gains.
Sample lyric: “Obama, we have blamed for the stock market drama, but for Trump’s gains I’d sell my own mama!”
11. “Kids” to the tune of “Kids”
Head NRA ghoul Wayne LaPierre channels the parental angst of Paul Lynde (in the film version of Bye Bye Birdie at least) to kvetch about those gosh darn Parkland kids with their weird, self-indulgent, naive desire to not be murdered with high-powered guns.
Singer: “Wayne LaPierre”
Sample lyric: “Kids! They post and hashtag like they have a clue! Kids! Ever hear of amendment number two?”
12. March medley song about Trump’s proposed military parade
There is a neat synchronicity between form and content in the Capitol Steps using the macho, aggressive medium of the military march to lampoon Donald “Bone Spurs” Trump’s obsession with the military in general (the way he gushes about “his generals” you’d almost imagine that he was a decorated war hero, not a draft dodger) and his plans for military parades in particular. Because what says, “I’m not an egomaniacal dictator” quite like making tax-payers pay for an elaborate show of military might?
Sample lyric: “We can stop this backlash and this is how: why don’t we use this cash to feed our homeless veterans now!”
13. “Cat’s in the Cradle” to the tune of “The Cat’s in the Cradle
The two creepiest and most pathetic Donald Trumps around: the original and Jr. take center stage in a moderately clever twist on Harry Chapin’s tearjerking classic about a neglectful father who breeds a son with better things to do than spend time with his piece of shit patriarch. I am only semi-ashamed to admit I nearly chuckled at a line about the orange not falling far from the tree when it comes to Dumb Donald and even Dumber Donald Jr.
Singers: “Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr.”
Sample lyric: “Russian help is a fable that is just a myth/But just to be sure, practice pleading the 5th!”
14. “Surgeon of the Brain" to the tune of “If I Only Had a Brain"
Many of the sample lyrics I’ve included in this piece end with exclamation points for a reason: The Capitol Steps are big on sing-shouting punchlines. The performers have a tendency to really hammer home jokes through volume and emphasis, pitching everything to the cheap seats.
A notable exception is the episode’s tribute to the sleepy, crazy quasi-charm of brain surgeon, Jesus lover and all around kook Ben Carson, whose soothing persona is essentially a tranquilizer in human form. Actually a tranquilizer would be a little ungodly and extreme for Carson, so he’s more like a warm glass of milk before bed time: comforting mild and likely to put you to sleep.
“Surgeon of the Brain” is another re-run but they’ve updated it with references to the very minor scandal involving Carson's office spending an obscene amount of furniture on the taxpayer’s dime. Other than the CNN spoof, this is probably the funniest song of the podcast, though Carson is an awfully big target.
Singer: Ben Carson
Sample lyric: “The Liberals are espousing that I’m not right for housing, some people like to grouse/But I’ll rise to the occasion although my main qualification is that I once lived in a house .”
15. Skit-Joke telling skit featuring a joke-off between Bernie Sanders and Sarah Huckabee Sanders moderated by Rachel Maddow
The longest bits in the average Capitol Steps podcast and live show tend to be ones that eschew musical comedy in favor of cornball skits, like this moderately painful mock-debate between Bernie Sanders and Sarah Huckabee Sanders moderated by Rachel Maddow.
The skit reduces Sanders to a very old, very cranky man bringing everything back to the One Percent and also being very old. Did I mention his age? It's very advanced! As for Sarah Huckabee Sanders, I am sick of her in any form. Let’s just say James Adomian doesn’t have to worry about the Capitol Steps challenging his title as the world’s preeminent Bernie Sanders impersonator, although in the years ahead doing a killer Sanders will probably be roughly as useful a comedic skill as completely mastering Geraldine Ferraro’s voice and mannerisms. History only remembers the winners, not the Democrats.
Rachel Maddow: “How many Republicans does it take to screw in a lightbulb?"
Bernie: "Thank you, young man. I once had a conversation about that very subject with my good friend Thomas Alva Edison. He told me, “Bernie. You gotta be careful. If you’re not careful, one percent will control 99 percent of the light bulbs.”
16. “Paul Ryan” to the tune of “Tom Dooley”
Like the troupe’s Trump Twitter-themed take on “Old Man River”, the Capitol Steps’ Paul Ryan-themed riff on Paul Ryan quitting like the spineless, pathetic, disgusting, hypocritical piece of shit he is is rooted in a song whose melody and soul are so powerful that it can’t help but infect the parody on some level as well.
In this case, the parody’s earnest inspiration inspires the delivery and tone as well, which has the feel of folksy audience sing-along caught halfway between pitying Paul Ryan for his all too human failings, and mocking him for being, you know, the worst.
Sample lyric: “Paul Ryan said it’s not fair to judge him and the GOP/But his approval rating is somewhere between a cockroach and VD”
17. “Happy Days are Here Again!” to the tune of “Happy Days are Here Again!”
The Democrats are in danger of becoming the Chicago Cubs of American politics: lovable losers who, when it comes right down to it, aren’t really even all that lovable, just kind of sad and self-defeating, and I write that as a lifelong Democrat. In the Steps parody of “Happy Days Are Here Again” the Democrats celebrate all the damage Trump has done to the Republican party through his never-ending blunders while conceding that they’re just too goddamn addicted to self-sabotage to actually take advantage of this bizarre and singular moment in American history.
Singers: "Chuck Schumer" and "Nancy Pelosi"
Sample lyric: “Chuck if you just stick with me with Democrats we’ll quickly seize defeat from the jaws of victory!”
18. “I’ve Grown Accustomed to My Face-book” to the tune of “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Face
In the Weird Accordion to Al, I give American pop parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic a lot of credit for making songs about technology that feel authentic and timely and knowledgable instead of the product of tech-ignorant Neanderthals who cling desperately to their AOL accounts, which is undeniably the vibe of this gentle razzing of social media-addicted cyber-exhibitionists.
Sample lyric: “I’ve grown accustomed to my Face—book, it always makes my day begin, oh look, my distant cousin Sue has tried a new shampoo!” or “Now I’ll put pictures on my wall/Of cats who look like Charles DeGaulle
19. Funny talking guy skit
For the funny-talking political commentator skit, the Capitol Steps eschew music in favor of the mixed-up wordplay of a man who twists and contorts the names of politicians and parties and words until they sound ribald, insulting, crazy or some combination of the three.
For example, Donald Trump becomes Tronald Dump, a “rilthy fish broiled spat.” Capitol Steps fans love this fixture of the troupe’s live shows and podcasts. It’s a fan favorite for sure, a bona fide crowd-pleaser that goes on and on and on, long after the joke has worn thin. To civilians, however, this is easily the most painful, contrived and juvenile aspect of the show. This bit either inspires big, lusty guffaws or eye rolls so intense that eyeballs pop right out of their socket and down the street. Me, I’m somewhere in between. I drank the Kool-Aid long ago, but this still tests my patience.
Sample dialogue: “We are bawking taxwards because in this age, with our poo tardy system, everything seems bass akwards”
20. “Old Man Twitter” to the tune of "Old Man River"
Some songs are so powerful, so momentous and so deeply, profoundly rooted in almost inconceivable pain and despair that they retain an air of substance and meaning even when parodied or lampooned. "Old Man River” is such a song.
Just hearing the music of the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein staple from Show Boat unleashed a powerful flood of memories within me, most notably listening to Frank Sinatra perform the song not just with his voice but with his whole body and soul in one of his glorious specials from the 1960s, which I used to re-watch compulsively when I worked at Blockbuster as a teenager and we could play music videos to help pass the time.
Loving Sinatra’s version of the song requires a certain cognitive dissonance. After all, the song is rooted inextricably in the deep, almost bottomless pain of being black and poor and oppressed in Jim Crow America and Sinatra is the ultimate Caucasian big shot, the Chairman of the Board, a man whose very essence conveyed confidence bordering on cockiness.
But Sinatra had a peerless gift for connecting powerfully with the emotional core of songs that allowed him to sing a song like this with complete conviction and goosebumps-inducing intensity.
The Capitol Steps’ Donald Trump Twitter-themed parody obviously does not have that intensity but the standard’s overwhelming emotion gives their parody, and the show it concludes, an air of substance and melancholy it otherwise does not merit. I can only imagine what the ghost of Paul Robeson would make of the Steps’ parody, as I see him as being more of a Belieber than a Stepper, but I’m sure he would have felt flattered, and maybe jealous because they did a better job with the song than he did and even managed to improve on the lyrics of the original.
Sample lyric: “Old man Twitter, that old man Twitter, he must tweet something, he should say nothing, he just keeps on trolling, he keeps on trolling along!”
In conclusion, this may be the single best Capitol Steps podcast since I became unhealthily obsessed with the troupe a while ago. I give it my highest rating, four out of five dancing Mark Russells.
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