The Capitol Steps Return to Pittsburgh: Q&A with Piano Accompanist Howard Breitbart

Election Eve in Pittsburgh has a special guest this year – the Capitol Steps, Mon, Nov 5, 2018, 7:30pm at The Byham. 

I’ve never seen a performance but I have listened many, many times to their NPR holiday shows. If you love satire and political humor, this might be the show for you.

More than 30 years ago, the Capitol Steps began as a group of Senate staffers who set out to satirize the very people and places that employed them. Although not all current members of the Steps are former Capitol Hill staffers, taken together the performers have worked in a total of 18 Congressional offices and represent 62 years of collective House and Senate staff experience. Since they began, the Capitol Steps have recorded more than 35 albums, including their latest Orange Is the New Barack.

Your Name:  Howard Breitbart 

Your Age:  Ageless

Your Pronouns:  He

Your Affiliation with the Capitol Steps: As their piano accompanist, I have the best seat in the house. Not only do I get to watch the antics of the brilliant cast but I get to absorb the laughter coming from the audience.  If laughter is the best medicine, then I must be very healthy.

How do you describe your identity?  I’m a married and proud GJWM pianist.

Please tell us about your very first impression of Pittsburgh I remember flying into your amazing shopping mall/airport and getting to perform at Heinz hall, which introduced me to your stunning city.

What Pittsburgh creators – writers, musicians, poets, politicians, etc – have influenced your work? Is there anyone with whom you’d like to collaborate? As a Capitol Steps member I applaud the inept politicians who have contributed to our material.  You elect them and we will gladly make fun of them!

I come from the musical theater world and Pippin, which was composed by Carnegie Mellon alumni Stephen Schwartz, was the first Broadway tour that I saw.  I’ve been working with quite a few performers/directors from Carnegie Mellon and it’s mind-boggling  how talented and brilliant they are.

I was first introduced to the Steps via NPR and our local affiliate, WESA 90.5 FM (back then, 90.5 FM WDUQ.) That would be your ‘Politics Takes a Holiday ’ specials. Is that how most of your audience finds you? When did those shows begin?  I find that I turn up the broadcast and listen while the fireworks are on the tv (Sorry, Lee Greenwood.)

The NPR shows have been a wonderful way for us to connect with our audiences.  We’ve been doing them for most of our 36 years and it has become a tradition for many folks to listen to us on July 4th.  It is your duty as American citizens to celebrate Independence Day with hot dogs, fireworks and listening to the Capitol Steps!

You will be in Pittsburgh on Election-Day Eve (November 5.) Was that intentional scheduling? Should we expect any references to local races/faces?

Performing during election season is always the most exciting and popular time for us and our audiences.  We do our best to skewer politicians from all sides.  Our show is mostly focused on national headlines, but please tell us if there are any huge local scandals we should mention!

Who among our pantheon of Pennsylvania politicians has made it into your skits and content?

We portrayed former Governor Tom Ridge, who became director of homeland security,  by warning us against terrorism while using nursery rhymes. Also,  Rick Santorum was portrayed looking like a Mr. Rogers clone but pretty much the opposite in every other way.  He also made it into our song “76 Unknowns” which was about the crowded field of Presidential primary candidates.

So I was an intern for Rick Santorum in 1991. Fast forward to 2018, and I’m a lesbian blogger in Pittsburgh . Do you see a skit in there? Does it help if I mention my degree in political science and the fact that Dan Savage replied to my email one time?

Just be careful that you don’t get “googled” along with the Senator.

 I’m writing these questions in Pittsburgh where we just this weekend had a mass shooting that took 11 lives from our Jewish community. We are still reeling from the PA Attorney General Grand Jury Report on Sexual Assault in the Catholic Church. A candidate for Governor threatened to stomp on the incumbent’s head with golf cleats. It all feels so polarizing and painful. How do we find humor in this? Should we?

Currently our mission at the Capitol Steps is to “Make America Grin Again”.  Humor is a powerful defensive weapon and we need to smile as part of our therapy.

Any sense if your fans tend to vote regularly?

We try to be equal opportunity offenders.  The party in charge supplies us with the most humor.

Please tell us about the first LGBTQ person that you knew and what impact they had on your life.

Growing up in Miami in the ‘70s put me in the middle of the Anita Bryant controversy.  Her crusade was against the gay rights ordinance in Dade County.  I didn’t have much self-awareness at the time but she did manage to get a couple teachers and students talking about this subject.  There weren’t many role models then since people were closeted and I hope that my husband and I can inspire to live happy lives.

What is your love song for LGBTQ youth? In the words of the great American philosopher Kermit The Frog, whose song we have borrowed many times….”Same day we’ll find it, the Rainbow Connection.  The lovers, the dreamers and me.”

Where can readers find you on social media? Throw in all of the link love that you want.

Please check out our web site…capitolsteps.com  where you’ll find our touring schedule and free songs to download.  If there is a new political scandal  you’ll also be able to find out what rhymes with it.

Thank you, Howard.


Tickets for this show start at $35.