Canada’s beloved political satirist, Rick Mercer, will be returning to Southwestern Ontario with his newest keynote, Canada Coast to Coast to Coast in Windsor on Sept. 28 and then hosting a series of Just For Laughs shows in London on Oct. 29, Kitchener on Oct. 30 and Hamilton on Nov. 1.
We sat down with the Canadian icon in an attempt to find out what makes him tick.
How have things been going with you?
Things are very good, actually. I’m having a great summer. I got to spend some time in Newfoundland and more time than I normally do. So, post show I’m enjoying myself.
Obviously, you’ve adapted to life after The Rick Mercer Show.
I knew I would. I know I wasn’t going to be the person who would completely freak out, but it is a big adjustment because 15 years is a long time. So you had your work family, for example, people that you see almost every day. I was on the road with the same three guys for 15 years. There was never a change whom I traveled with, so we obviously go way back now and I miss that because we just traveled very well together.
But that’s part of what the show is that I’m doing, talks about my adventures on the road over the 15 years, because while people who watched the show saw what I was doing, that was always just one part of what was happening. Because there was a lot of stories on the go that never ever made it on the show.
When did that broadcasting bug hit you?
Oh, the broadcasting bug. Cool. I’ve never heard it called that, but I absolutely came down with it. It was pretty early on, when I was about 10 or 11, there was a TV show in Newfoundland, called the Wonderful Grand Band. It was comedy of music. It was about Newfoundland. It was a regional show just for Newfoundland.
It went on to have some national exposure, but essentially it was just for Newfoundland and it was a monster hit in Newfoundland. Everyone watched the show. And so like everyone else, I watched but I was kind of obsessed with it. I was enthralled with it. I couldn’t believe that these people got to… but they got away with what they were doing and people loved it so much. I went to the theater and comedy and performance, but it was always with the goal of someday being a broadcaster, someday being on television. That’s what I wanted to do. A lot of actors who started in theater, they end up in television. But their first love is for theatre. Well I went to theatre, but my first love was always television. I just had to do it backwards.
Every generation of politicians, they have their moments, but I’d have to say none have been as colorful as Trudeau and Trump era. They alone could give you four years of solid content on their own.
There are always things that happen that you think, “Oh, I could certainly talk about that.” Although I would never wish ill will on my country just so I would have something to talk about. I’ve always pined for good, boring, honest government. That’s what I think we all want. And I’d be happy with that, believe me. But I don’t miss that.
Right now I’m enjoying getting to travel around the country, do this show, in front of live audiences. That’s something that I enjoy immensely and I’m just really enjoying myself and trying to figure out what’s next. Because 15 years is an incredibly long run in television, and I just really felt it was time to hang it up and do something else. But I knew it would take a while to figure out what that something else was.
It was very important to me, all along, everyone who’s in show business always wants to go out at the right time and very, very few people do for different reasons. I was always cognizant of that. So, I started asking myself at year five if it was time, year six, if it was time. Because that’s the length of a television show. I mean that’s the life expectancy of a TV show that’s a hit. And, I just felt after 15 years it was time to go. Also our numbers spiked again in season 15. I was very proud that I went out with healthy numbers.
You’ve traveled across Canada promoting the country. Two people come to my mind when I think of Canadian influencers: Stompin’ Tom Connors and Rick Mercer.
Oh boy. I wouldn’t have been able to travel nonstop for 15 years if I didn’t. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in interviews where they’re like, “What is your favorite place in Canada?” And I always answer, “St. John’s, Newfoundland,” because I’m from here and I’d be killed if I didn’t say that.
But it also is my favorite place. And then, of course, people want to say, “Where’s your least favorite place?” And I would never answer that question because while I’m not a politician, I know you don’t answer questions like that. But the truth is I don’t have one. There’s no place to me where I’ve gone, “Ooh, I’m glad I’m never going back there again.” That’s just never happened to me. So, yeah, there’s a love of country there that’s pretty deep.
And I feel it’s pretty influenced because of the travel. I think most Canadians want to explore Canada and it’s a very difficult country to explore because it’s just so big and there’s so few of us, it’s prohibitive. And so, I really feel like I was blessed that it was my occupation every week, literally every week, I would get on a plane and I would go to two completely different places in the country.
Was there ever a place that you visited that really surprised you and that you think is a real hidden gem?
I could start listing places and still be here if you want to phone this time tomorrow. That’s why people really liked the show. I mean, off the top of my head, when we went to Haida Gwaii, British Columbia. I mean I’d kind of heard of Haida Gwaii. I knew it was like a sort of national park. I assumed I had seen pictures. Well, when I got there, I mean my mind was completely blown. It was one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever been. And I can go on and on. My travels being able to stand above the tree line, being in the Arctic circle, that’s something that very few people get to do. But I think Canadians have an innate interest in the north and they’re proud of the north.
If you could guess, how much of the country did you actually visit?
I don’t have the numbers off the top of my head, but I remember we were kind of figuring that stuff out near the end and there were like 460 unique places, I think. Because obviously some places I’d visit more than once. No, it was more than that, I remember at one point someone in the office wanted to create a Google map.
You can have Google map load in all the places you’ve been. So, we thought that’s a great idea. So, this fellow loaded in all the places that we’ve been in 15 years and then he hit load and all the dots appeared and the entire country disappeared under one big dot. So, we actually created an RMR Atlas that allowed us to show all the places we’ve been. And I was very proud when you looked at the map of Canada and you saw the dots.
There are areas in the north that we didn’t get, but we were right across the north and in every province, every territory, and every part of every province. I mean, sure we’re a big country, thousands of places left for me to visit.
With all the years of political satires, rants and comedy, what was the biggest news story you ever tackled?
That’s a tough question. I mean, I’ve been lucky that I got to cover, and I use the term loosely, a bunch of elections. When I wasn’t doing it for the television show, I would get on MacLean’s and do it for MacLean’s magazine. And for me, that was very exciting because growing up, I only had two interests: comedy and politics. And the idea of being on the prime minister’s plane, being on the leader of the opposition’s plane and being on leader of the third party’s plane, like all within a 10 or 12 or 14 day period, filing pieces every day or two to a national magazine. It was like a dream come true for me.
Whereas the natural journalists, they don’t have the privilege or the luxury of choosing what subjects they’re going to talk about. I remember way, way back in the olden days of 22 Minutes, and we felt our mandate was to cover the news, no matter what was happening. We went into this very dark period where it was the tainted blood inquiry that was dominating the news for months on end. It was just one tragedy after another.
You’re famous for your rants. How did the Rick Mercer rant come about?
I never faked or feigned outrage and I felt over the years like I wasn’t always outraged, but there’s always something to be baffled by once you cover Canadian politics.
Is there something that tickles you lately?
This week, we have the findings of the ethics commissioner in relation to the prime minister and SNC-Lavalin. I mean there’s plenty to rant about here. Also, this week, in Ontario if you own a private gas station, the premier of the province is saying you have to put a sticker on your gas pump that promotes his political ideology or he’ll fine you up to $10,000 a day on your private property!
I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. I don’t think I’ve read about anything like that happening in Canada or the United States in history books. It’s patently insane. So, I would certainly be ranting about that.
You can be against the carbon tax, which this is what it’s about. But it’s a sticker. And, of course, the other irony is, this is Doug Ford’s solution is a sticker because he’s in the sticker business. There’s a sticker solution to every problem. Can we get a sticker maybe? How are we going to solve unemployment? Is there a sticker maybe we could get?
Is there a rant that’s a favorite rant or one that you felt made a huge connection or difference with people?
The rants are very much of the time. There was a rant about young people being bullied that certainly went all over the world. And certainly I received far more feedback that was deeply personal than I had expected. I mean, I just thought it was a rant like any other rant.
There have been rants that have gone viral. There’s been rants that resonated. There were rants that people got really upset about because I think people often think, if you like someone, and hopefully they liked me, they liked the show, they kind of all think, “We’re all on the same page on every issue.”
Then suddenly, they realize I have kind of a different opinion than they do, I assume and get really upset. Like it’s their spouse. Like you look at your wife or husband and go, “I never knew you believed that. How would I know that?”
Is there a rant that you regret?
Oh, there have certainly been rants where I was proven perhaps wrong. I wouldn’t say regret. There’s a few rants that have been removed. I publish the rants and they’re, of course, flying around the internet. Always have been and probably always will be. I don’t have many regrets in the show.
You seem like a very humble person and this year you got the Governors General’s Award for lifetime achievement. If that was me, I’d be bragging about it.
I don’t even know if I told my mother.
That was incredible. And it was an incredible night and it’s still, even as you say it to me on the telephone, I do kind of think like, “Wow, how did that happen exactly?”
My entire life I’ve always felt like I’ve snuck into the wrong room, so in events like that, I certainly still feel that to a certain extent.
I bet you were glowing a little bit more when you were given the key to Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove.
That was phenomenal. That was a great, great afternoon. It was in the local school, in the gym, primary school and the Mayor spoke. It wasn’t so much about me as it was about that era, that time. Because it was one of those places where there was a pack of 30 kids running around in the street at all times. So a bunch of them were there. It was just a fantastic event.
Oh, that’s awesome.
No, that completely shocked me.