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Capital tour bus stops for scandals

WASHINGTON—As comic John Simmons' satiric tour of the capital's scandal sites gets under way, he tells passengers that there'll be a no-show.

"Dick Cheney couldn't make it," says Simmons in the voice and prim suit of President Bush. "He's busy with his own scandal," referring to the implication of a top Cheney aide in the investigation into the leak of a CIA officer's name.

"How many people remember Iran-Contra?" Simmons chirps, still in his Bush voice, seeking a show of hands. "Well, my daddy doesn't," he adds, referring to George H.W. Bush's convenient ignorance in the 1987 arms-for-hostages affair.

So it goes on the antic 90-minute bus tour that Simmons, 49, and comedienne Chris Thompson, 36, have run together for 14 years. The two do all their costume changes in the bus lavatory. (Especially difficult when a seniors' group charters the tour, Simmons notes.) A grasp of past political misfires helps but isn't required.

"You are just too cool," Thompson coos to the Bush character in the Texas drawl of former Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers.

The comedienne says she won't miss Miers for an eccentric reason: her highly teased hairstyle.

"No way to get a wig like that outside of Texas," Thompson explains.

The first of 19 stops on the scandal bus tour is the curvy-fronted Watergate office/co-op, the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee when a rent-a-cop busted President Nixon's break-in team in 1972.

Simmons emerges from the bus restroom in trench coat and sunglasses. He's Mark Felt now, aka Deep Throat, the insider who steered the Washington Post to the scandal's core.

"No one gave me credit! Until now," says the Felt character. "... They cared for about a week."

Thompson, re-emerging as Monica Lewinsky, offers Felt reassurance.

"Are you, like, married?" she asks. "I like that in a man."

As the bus passes the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, speculation arises whether its namesake had a fling with Marilyn Monroe.

A breathy Monroe impersonator responds from the tour's CD soundtrack: "I was up all night ... and so was Jack Kennedy. What an animal. No wonder he had back problems."

The bus wends past Washington's Tidal Basin, which the duo notes is where drunken House Ways and Means Chairman Wilbur Mills ended up with stripper Fanne Foxe. The 1974 caper cost Mills his job but inspired a stage name revision for Foxe: "Tidal Basin Bombshell."

Next stop: The Capitol Hill hideaway where Colorado Sen. Gary Hart's attendance with model Donna Rice cost him his 1988 Democratic presidential bid.

The scandal, which gave Simmons the original idea for his tour, came with a detail no comic could have dreamed up: The pair had been photographed in Bimini on a yacht named "Monkey Business."

"See," Thompson says, now in a Hillary Clinton voice. "There are other sex scandals out there besides my husband's."

True enough. At the site of the old Vista International Hotel, the bus slows to savor the case of then-D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, photographed smoking crack in 1990 with his mistress-turned-snitch.

"The b---- set me up," a recorded Barry voice says famously.

Simmons and Thompson love their day jobs. "It's a rush," says Simmons.

At night, they perform in the Gross National Product Comedy Group, which Simmons founded in 1984.

Scheduled tours of the scandal sites run between April Fool's and Labor Day. Private tours, usually for conventioneers or corporations, run year-round on demand.

Tickets are $30 each on the 44-seat bus.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): SCANDALTOUR

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