Canadian funnyman Rick Mercer has been entertaining audiences on stage and on the small screen for over 20 years. The often witty and mild-mannered native Newfoundlander’s career took off when he became a co-host on the CBC television show, This Hour Has 22 Minutes. It wasn’t long before his comedic timing, bubbly personality, and enthusiasm for all things politics made him a fan favourite.
Now, the celebrated 39-year-old comedian and television star’s current show, The Rick Mercer Report, is one of the highest rated television programs in Canada. His book of the same name was a national bestseller, and his most famous accomplishment—the special Talking to Americans, when he got George W. Bush to answer questions on Prime Minister “Jean Poutine”—is still the CBC’s highest-rated comedy special, attracting 2.7 million viewers.
We chat with him about politics, the people he offends the most, and his biggest fear.SHOW BUSINESS
WC: How would you describe the Canadian sense of humour? What is unique about it?
RM: I guess I speak from my own experience, but I would suggest that almost anywhere in Canada there is a self-deprecating sense of humour. Canadians absolutely don’t take themselves too seriously.
WC: What’s the creative process for you?
RM: The creative process for me is harrowing. As a business model, it’s the most ridiculous format for a television show, ever. I never know where I’m going to be from week to week. And that’s not because no one tells me, it’s because no one knows. I’m one of the producers and we all have to figure out where I’m going to be. Usually, we have no idea until five days in advance. And then, when I get there, we don’t know if it’ll work or not. All we know is that we’re putting it on television and playing it for a live audience. Once you get it done, it starts all over again the next week. It’s like the tyranny of the blank page.
WC: What was the biggest mistake you’ve ever made on the air?
RM: Oh, there’s so many. I mean, I’ve fallen down on live television by accident! At an awards show, no less. It wasn’t for laughs, I literally tripped on the stairs. The worst thing that I could ever do is get the name of the town wrong. That’s my greatest fear, you know. I’ve never done it on television but I am one of those guys who has laid in bed in a hotel room and had to think, ‘Where am I? What province am I in? What town am I in?’ I feel for people who have made that mistake.
WC: Has anyone you’ve made fun of ever tracked you down or given you a piece of their mind?
RM: People who work for people I’ve made fun of, get a little upset. The nature of the beast in politics is that most of the politicians have a lot of young people working for them. Namely because the pay is poor and the hours are brutal and you don’t get to have a life. It’s a tough job and I don’t envy the people who have to do it, but a part of that job is that you have to drink the Kool-Aid. You have to become convinced that your boss is the greatest thing to ever be seen in the history of democracy. Those people get upset!
I don’t pay that much attention to them because they’re the same people who praise me when I say something negative about their opponent. The Conservatives have been giving me grief because they say I’m too hard on Harper and the government, but you know, when Martin was prime minister, the Liberals would give me grief. That’s just the way it is. I did a rant this past week on how none of us really know what Ignatieff stands for because he won’t tell us, and suddenly the Conservatives think I’m a genius. They’re saying, ‘He’s brilliant! He speaks the truth!’ So, you take it with a grain of salt.
WC: If you could go back in time—knowing what you know now—what advice would you give yourself?
RM: I never encourage people to work in show business. In front of the camera, anyway. Or on stage. If you want to be one of those people, it’s such a long shot. For the vast majority, it’s a tough way of life. Those who make it are the people who say, ‘I don’t care about being encouraged, I’m doing it anyway.’
WC: Would that have been your reaction if you had received that advice?
RM: Oh God. I didn’t listen to anyone about anything when I was 18 years old. There’s no way I would have listened to some old fart telling me about show business. I would have said, ‘Get out of my way!’POLITICS
WC: What inspires you?
RM: I’m lucky because my passion has always been politics, current events and comedy, and I’ve managed to do all of those things. I view politics as a spectator sport, it’s kind of like my baseball and it definitely inspires me. The notion of public service inspires me. The country itself, it being so bloody big with such a small population, I wouldn’t say it ‘inspires’ me, but it challenges me. And that’s why I like to travel around the country as much as possible.
WC: Do you think Canadians are jealous that the Americans got Barack Obama as president and we have Stephen Harper?
RM: Yeah, but they had George W. Bush before that. These things come in peaks and valleys. I was in New York City on election night, when Obama won, and I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. It was like what you’d imagine it was like when they announced World War II was over. It would be wonderful if people would be that involved here.
WC: Would you ever consider taking a run at politics?
RM: I’m a great backseat driver or a Monday morning quarterback. Is that what you call it? Oh, great, now I’ve really exposed my ignorance about sports. I guess it’s like if you’re a sports journalist and you’re covering baseball, you feel like you’re an expert at the game but if someone asked you to pitch for The Yankees, I would suggest to give their head a shake. I love politics and I love having an opinion on politics. If I was a member of Parliament, I wouldn’t be allowed to have an opinion. You have to ask yourself whether you want to do that. I don’t.
WC: What do you like to do in your downtime?
RM: It’s ridiculous. I am a bit of a political junkie and I do things like watch Question Period. I like to travel. I like to noodle around in the garden. And I like to lie down and do nothing. I’m really good at that.EAST VS WEST
WC: How would you describe the difference between Eastern Canada and Western Canada?
RM: There’s a can-do and no-bullshit attitude in the West that I like a lot. That’s the way I approached the beginning of my career so I respect and identify with that spirit.
WC: Do you think that helps make your show unique, in that it incorporates all of Canada?
RM: Yeah, it gets really ridiculous sometimes because I shoot in the winter, too, and Canadians do some of the most ridiculous things to survive and so I end up doing a lot of that. To me, the most important part of the show is getting out and meeting Canadians around the country.
WC: What are your impressions of Calgary?
RM: I always have a good time in Calgary. I’ve played a lot in Calgary because what I’ve noticed is that there is a philanthropic tradition that you don’t see in the rest of the country. Especially amongst the people in the business world. If you run a business in Calgary, you could do a bloody luncheon every single day for charity, and people support them. There’s a tradition of people getting together in a room and raising money and it’s certainly more pronounced in Calgary than anywhere else.
WC: What is your favourite memory of Calgary?
RM: I’ve had a lot of shoots in Calgary and I’ve always had a good time, especially with Ralph Klein. I went horse racing with Ralph Klein, that was a good time.
WC: What are your thoughts on the Calgary Stampede?
RM: It’s crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s phenomenal and again it’s one of those things where everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. It’s kind of funny when you’re not from that culture to suddenly see people in that mode. It’s amazing to think about an entire urban city suddenly transforming to become a bunch of cowboys. If you were an alien and you landed there, it would be very strange.THE SHOW
WC: What can the audience expect from this show?
RM: I talk about all the years that I’ve worked in Canadian television. Because of what I do now, it’s really a talk about Canada and all the different places I’ve been across the country. I also play some video clips from the show that I think people will enjoy. It’s kind of like a behind-the-scenes tour of the show and of the country. But very funny.
WC: Do you have groupies?
RM: Well there are people who like the show. But there’s not really a celebrity system in Canada. You know, the advantage of being a celebrity in Canada is that they’re nice to you at Air Canada. Other than that, it’s no different than anything else.
See Rick Mercer May 27 at the Jack Singer Concert Hall in the Epcor Centre for the Peforming Arts. Tickets $57.75 to $68.25, call Ticketmaster, 403-777-0000.—Richard Saad