Bill 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.