Bill Strauss: An appreciation

strauss.jpgBill Strauss, a Congressional lawyer who became one of America’s leading political satirists, died this past week at age 60; though born in Chicago, he grew up here in the Bay Area, in Burlingame.

He was working for a Senate subcommittee in 1981 when he co-founded the Capitol Steps, a political parody troupe which cleverly makes light of Presidents, lawmakers and justices; Democrats, Republicans and independents; and everyone in between with scathing wit and wild abandon.

Take for example a Capitol Steps performance in the late ’80s on the White House’s southern portico, for an audience of 300 including much of Congress, much of the Cabinet, and President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan. The President had instructed them to make fun not of Democrats, Senators, or Congressmen, only of him. And so the show opened the show with a parody of the Dolly Parton song “9 to 5,” featuring Bill Strauss as Reagan:

Nine a.m., my blood’s not pumpin’
Wonder which staffers Nancy’s been dumpin’
Check the watch, thank God I’m almost done

Workin’ 9 to 10, puttin’ total effort in it
That’s my regimen, sixty solid workin’ minutes
As your president, I won’t cut that any smaller
‘Cause I get free rent and two hundred thousand dollars…

The First Lady reportedly wan’t amused, but the President roared with laughter.

Strauss was a true renaissance man: a Harvard-educated lawyer; the co-author of ten books and three musicals; the co-founder of an international high-school theater program; the co-founder of a publishing, speaking, and consulting company; and a father of four.

When dealing with government, sometimes you don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. Strauss knew it’s always better to laugh.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.