In the first season of Rick Mercer Report, host Rick Mercer went up in the air with the legendary military aerobatics team, the Canadian Forces Snowbirds – and shortly after he returned to Earth, Mercer began to see a problem that he believed would spell the end of his fledgling show.
“It’s an iconic aerobatics team, and I thought, ‘Uh-oh, there’s only one Snowbirds; what am I going to do next?’” Mercer told Reel People last month at CBC-TV’s Fall Preview media junket.
Back when Rick Mercer Report premiered in early 2004, Mercer was already an established television comedy force thanks to This Hour Has 22 Minutes, the CBC-TV comedy series he co-starred with Cathy Jones, Mary Walsh, and Greg Thomey that continues to air to this day (albeit with a different cast, save for Jones).
But the weekly, half-hour Rick Mercer Report (or RMR, as he refers to it throughout the interview) included some new territory for Mercer: in addition to news parodies, sketches, and satirical editorials, it also featured stories about fascinating people and places in Canada, shot entirely on location.
Over the course of the first two years of RMR, as Mercer produced one delightful and funny Canadian story after another, he began to suspect that RMR’s “business model was broken, that I would run out of stories, and that would dictate the show’s demise.”
Hindsight is hilarious, non? If you know RMR, you know that he’s yet to run out of stories, and the show is far from death. RMR is poised to begin its 14th season this fall.
For Mercer – noted satirist, comedian, television personality, author, winner of 25 Gemini Awards, and cherished son of Newfoundland – RMR’s enduring magic revealed itself at the end of its second season. “I don’t have to be with the Snowbirds, and I don’t have to be with Rick Hansen who is famous around the world, and I don’t have to be with Leslie Feist or the Prime Minister of Canada,” says Mercer. “I can be with a lobster fisherman, and I like that just as much as any of them. And so if there’s 40 million Canadians, I’m pretty much convinced that I can get a story out of 20 million of them.”
And, oh, the stories he’s told! Mercer is enthusiastic about everything he’s aired, but when pressed, he lists off some favourites: bungee-jumping with the aforementioned Hansen; experiencing zero gravity; flying in a Lancaster Bomber; anything with Jann Arden; a trip to Rossland, BC, during its annual winter carnival (“They race homemade bobsleds down a street that is at an angle that could be described as a cliff: wildly dangerous, wildly entertaining, and a real good time”).
If you want to know just who Mercer really, really is, look no further than Rick’s Rant. RMR’s short weekly segment finds Mercer expounding on a topic that irks him while he strides down Toronto alleyways and stares down the barrel of a camera.
“That’s the part of the show that’s really me,” says Mercer. “I sit there Thursday night. I write the rant. Sometimes it’s obvious what I’m going to rant about, because there’s only one subject that week, and sometimes it’s very personal, and sometimes it’s about something that people haven’t heard about or are not talking about, and I think it’s something we should talk about more. There’s no rhyme or reason. I usually like them to have a few laughs, but sometimes the subject matter doesn’t lend itself to any laughs at all, and that’s unique for a comedy show that there’s a segment in the show that may intentionally have no laughs.”
You can peruse a selection of past rants on Mercer’s web site: RickMercer.com.
Unsurprisingly, Rick’s Rants often go viral. Mercer chuckles when he describes creating comedy for television in the age before the ’net – like “Talking to Americans,” a regular feature from This Hour Has 22 Minutes, in which Mercer spoke to Americans on the street and recorded them agreeing to ludicrous statements, many about Canadians (in one segment, he got US President George W. Bush to fail to correct him when Mercer referred to then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien as Jean Poutine).
“I never felt bad about making these people look bad, because I always thought, ‘They’ll never see it, it’s only on the CBC, there’s no scenario in the world these people will ever see it,’” he says. “That was long before YouTube, because it exists on YouTube.” Speaking of which, you can behold the Dubya throwback on YouTube.
Rick Mercer Report returns for its 14th season in the final quarter of a year that has been resoundingly unfunny.
So: what role can and should comedians and satirists like himself play during these fraught times?
“I think comedians and satirists have the same role [in difficult times] that they always have: they’re commentators,” says Mercer. “They have to tell the truth as they see the truth.”
• Rick Mercer Report returns to CBC-TV this fall.
MORE FROM RICK MERCER
On what it will take to defeat Donald Trump: “I can tell you that the people who are supporting Donald Trump right now, they don’t care what any comedians or satirists or pundits or the New York Times is saying. They really don’t care. It’s easy for us to say, ‘Well, that’s a scathing indictment of Donald Trump on the front page of the New York Times; well, that’ll do it!’ Well, it’s not going to do it. In fact, it doesn’t even matter what he says. It’s not going to make a difference. The only thing that is going to stop Donald Trump, if we’re talking about stopping Donald Trump, is young people. In this country right now, we just found out this very week that the voter turnout among young people between 18-to-24 increased 18 per cent. Now 18 per cent is not a lot if you get it on a math test, but as an increase, that is massive. That, and the First Nations vote, in a nutshell is why Justin Trudeau formed a government. I’m not endorsing him, but young people in this country have long been ignored. I tell you: they’re not going to be ignored in the next election, because every party is going to be going, ‘holy shit.’”
On the personality of Newfoundlanders (after Reel People noted that every Newfoundlander she’s ever met has been friendly and kind): “I would agree with that statement that you just made, but my father always says, ‘We’re not nice; we’re nosy.’ We want to know where you’re from, where you’re going, what you’re doing, what you’re up to. Once we’ve figured that out, not quite so polite.”
On his earliest CBC memories: “The CBC is, in many ways, responsible for what I do exactly right now. When I grew up in St. John’s, Newfoundland, it was a different time. Back then, the model for CBC was there was national programming, but there was an emphasis on regional programming, and Newfoundland and Labrador was a region unto itself. So there was original programming done in CBC studios in St. John’s, and when I was a kid, there was a show called The Wonderful Grand Band, and it had two comedians on it, two guys, Tommy Sexton and Greg Malone, half the time they were dressed as women, half the time they were men, and there was a traditional Newfoundland/rock fusion band, they were The Wonderful Grand Band, very much in the vein of Great Big Sea today, or Spirit of the West, and these guys were massive stars. There were no bigger stars in the universe than The Wonderful Grand Band. That’s not just me saying it. The ratings were the same. It was the highest rated show in Newfoundland. The biggest stars didn’t come from Hollywood. They didn’t come from Toronto or anywhere else. They came from down the street. Everyone loved that show. I really loved that show, and I thought it had to be the most amazing thing that anyone could ever do, and I literally had that experience at a very young age of, ‘Oh, that’s what I want to do,’ so CBC’s regional programming is the reason why I do what I do today.”