- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 29, 2001

The local comedy world is going back to business after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, but the rules of comedy are changing. Jokes about President Bush, plentiful only a month ago, will be scarce around town, and observational humor is likely to trump harsh political commentary.

The tragedies affected the local comedy club the D.C. Improv one of the club's employees, Mary Lou Moss, lost her husband, Brian, in the Pentagon attack, and two others had loved ones who worked there. A benefit to raise money for the Moss family and for the relief effort is scheduled for Tuesday.

"It's really tough because we're all kind of family here," says John Xereas, manager and co-owner of the Improv.

After the attacks, comics Wendy Liebman (scheduled Sept. 13 to 16) and Carlos Mencia (Sept. 19 to 23) canceled shows, and the club added local performers to fill in. "We were unsure of whether to have shows or not and then decided to have one show on Friday and one on Saturday," Mr. Xereas says. "A lot of people came up and thanked us."

The D.C. Improv has been doing steady business during the past week, and tickets for Jay Mohr (tonight and tomorrow) have been selling fast.

The Capitol Steps and Gross National Product, two comedy troupes known for their biting satire, have altered shows because of the tragedies.

"We've trimmed back on the George Bush stuff," says Elaina Newport, a cast member, co-producer and co-writer for the Capitol Steps. "The country's rallied behind him with good reason."

Instead, the group has revived old sketches (on topics such as cloning) and added new ones about the sudden popularity of New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and the quick departure from the headlines of Rep. Gary A. Condit, California Democrat.

"I will say the audiences we've had the last few weeks have been really ready for a laugh," Miss Newport says. She points out how Bob Hope used to do comedy shows during World War II that poked fun at Adolf Hitler.

"We're going to find there are areas that you can joke about that don't minimize the tragedy," Miss Newport says. "The people who come are very appreciative."

The Capitol Steps also does free shows for the military and is planning to visit troops in the future. Business has been down because of the lack of tourists but is otherwise somewhat back to normal. The group plays at 7:30 every Friday and Saturday night at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center at 1300 Pennsylvania NW.

"Being Americans we're more interested in making people laugh, which is our job, than really rubbing things, like politics, in people's faces," says John Simmons, the artistic director for Gross National Product, a sketch group that has performed in the area for more than 20 years.

The troupe has retired its show "Son of a Bush" and replaced it with a program that includes half sketch comedy and half improv. New targets will be less political, Mr. Simmons says.

Gross National Product depends more on its local fan base than on tourists but says it is canceling all its corporate events, which constitute a decent part of its business. The reasons are less interest from companies right now and the need for GNP to retool its material it's focusing on doing just the one main stage show.

The group performs its new show at 7:30 p.m. Saturdays starting Oct. 6 at the Naval Heritage Museum Theater, 701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.

"We're very sensitive to how people are feeling," Mr. Simmons says. "We want to try to have a light evening but to also make some good topical points."

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