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Capitol Steps’ Bill Strauss on political satire and the inauguration

January 19, 2001
2 p.m. EST

(CNN) – President-elect George W. Bush will be sworn in as the 43rd president of the United States during ceremonies conducted in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, January 20. Inaugural events -- which include a parade, concerts and balls – began Thursday, January 18, and continue through Sunday, January 21.

Bill Strauss is the director and co-founder of the Capitol Steps, a political satire group composed mainly of former Capitol Hill employees and based in Washington, D.C. The Capitol Steps recently recorded their 20th album, "It's Not Over 'Til The First Lady Sings." They perform year-round across the nation. Strauss is an author, composer and former U.S. subcommittee chief counsel.

CNN Moderator: Welcome to Newsroom, Bill Strauss. We're pleased to have you with us today.

Bill Strauss: Hello to everybody in CNN land and thanks to all voters who made this inauguration possible.

CNN Moderator: What can you tell us about the Capitol Steps inauguration show and where will it be performed?

Bill Strauss: We're doing shows at the Clinton Theater in the Reagan Building at 14th and Pennsylvania. This means that George W. Bush has to pass us on his way to the White House and we are ready, rested and refreshed.

Question from chat room: Bill, by voters, do you mean the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices?

Bill Strauss: Yes. Smart people. Actually, most years the parade goes from the Capitol to the White House. This year it goes from the Supreme Court to the White House.

Inauguration Day
Bill Clinton's legacy

Usually presidents leave town by taking a helicopter off the White House lawn, but Bill Clinton has to make a detour via the special prosecutors’ office. We understand there is a deal that Bill Clinton will lose his drivers license and privilege to drive after dark and the special prosecutors will lose their law licenses for five years. Linda Tripp promises never to write a book and her plastic surgeon is issuing a statement that he is very, very sorry.

CNN Moderator: Did the election delays affect the writing of your inauguration show at all?

Bill Strauss: We had quite a lively time for five weeks there. On election night, we had our cast ready to do two sets of shows. We had casts on the road having to do shows on election night and the day after. We had one show in case Bush won and another show in case Gore won. But we never expected Pat Buchanan to swing the outcome, so we had to do some last minute adjustments.

Question from chat room: What type of food is served at an inaugural?

Bill Strauss: Not humble pie. I expect we will have very high calorie food from all the red zone states that voted for Bush. Whatever they don't like in New York and Hollywood, they will be eating in Washington.

Question from chat room: What type of food is served at an inaugural?
Bill Strauss: Not humble pie.

Question from chat room: What will be the main focus in George W's inauguration speech?

Bill Strauss: I think his main focus will be to encourage the rest of the nation, just like himself, to keep a very, very keen eye on the teleprompter. One of the nice things about America is that there are 280 million people who know as much about what will be in George W. Bush's inaugural speech as George W. Bush knows at this moment.

One thing that he will say before his speech is a very heartfelt thank-you to Chief Justice Rehnquist. The oath usually ends, "So help me, God." We hear he will say, "So help me, Judge."

CNN Moderator: From a comedian's standpoint, are you happy with Bush as president because of the material?

Bill Strauss: Oh yes. Well, either Gore or Bush would have been fine. We were thinking that the two of them together would be fine. We were disappointed that Dan Quayle will not be in the Cabinet, but he has picked a very funny Cabinet.

John Ashcroft is singing the song from "Fiddler On The Roof": "Pro-life, pro-life like I am, like I am like I am. Pro-life." The Democrats in the Senate are singing the Queen's song, "We will, we will borke you. Stomp, stomp, clap; stomp, stomp, clap."

President-elect Bush has, of course, named a secretary of interior design, Gayle Norton, who is singing to the famous "Sound Of Music" tune: "Mine every mountain, fill every stream; level every hillside, everything that's green."

Question from chat room: Bill, will your group feature a "what if" segment for all the other disappointed people out there?

Bill Strauss: We had a song that was extremely popular after the election that was a parody of "I want a brand new pair of roller skates." We sang the words, "I want a brand new pair of candidates." Someone like Martin Sheen.

What the other candidates need to do is broaden their base. The Reform Party cannot win if its only supporters are little old ladies in their 80s who play bingo.

We had a song that was extremely popular after the election that was a parody of "I want a brand new pair of roller skates." We sang the words, "I want a brand new pair of candidates." Someone like Martin Sheen.
— Bill Strauss

Question from chat room: What is with all the clothing in your shows? Seems like an inauguration should have less class.

Bill Strauss: Well, the thought of doing shows without clothing was more from the Clinton era than a Bush era. What is in now, if we wanted to reflect the spirit of the Bush presidency, would be wearing the furs of endangered artic wolves. We also may have to auction off our old Clinton wigs on eBay.

CNN Moderator: How will the spoofing of this administration be different from those in the past?

Bill Strauss: The humor zone for Bill Clinton was always like the strike zone in the National League. It extended from the belly button to midway between the knees and thighs.

The humor zone for George W. Bush is from his ankles down and the area between his chin and his nose, the problem being that he often puts the one -- the foot -- in the other. Guess what! But at least our patrons can bring children to our shows again and expect that the president in our show will behave appropriately, even if he adds a few extra syllables to every word in the children's second grade textbooks.

Question from chat room: Bill, if you could ask Bush one question, what would it be?

Bill Strauss: Can I ask 10 more questions? They all would include fuzzy math. I think a good question would be to ask him to name all the states and capitals in the states and see if he can name the states that border Texas.

Question from chat room: From the comedian standpoint, he does have the soul of a comic. Wouldn't you say so?

Bill Strauss: Well, think of how, in this election, the last appearance by both candidates was on "Saturday Night Live" and the result was a ridiculous election. There was actually someone who counted that there were six times as many jokes told on prime time TV than in 1988. What was even more amazing is that there was a think tank that paid somebody to count them.

As far as George W. is concerned, to be a good comedian, you have to be a tortured soul. We understand that he did quite a lot of that while he was in college, for which we are grateful as comics.

This is a true story. I was recently at a high school talking with high school seniors about this election. One of the girls said that this election just goes to show what happens when you have two candidates running against each other who took too many drugs when they were young.

One thing for sure is that baby boomers make for funnier candidates than today's teenagers will when they grow up. The youth of America look at Clinton, Gore and Bush and they have decided that someday they will rebel by producing boring candidates who are actually competent. That would sound the death knell of the political satire business.

That's why political humor like the Capitol Steps opposes the Common Cause agenda and the McCain-Feingold bill. If politics was clean and honest and scandal free, we would be out of work. Jobs, jobs, jobs. Bill Clinton created 22 million new jobs, of which 21.9999 million were for comedians.

CNN Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Bill Strauss.

Bill Strauss: Thank you, and let me encourage all Americans to vote for the funniest candidates. We also want to thank the Supreme Court for what they provided us, even though they all intended to vote for Al Gore.

Bill Strauss joined the Allpolitics Chat via telephone from Virginia. CNN provided a typist. The above is an edited transcript of the interview, which took place on Friday, January 19, 2001.

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