Rick’s schtick

Tara Bradbury
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From bungie jumping to rabbit reading, Rick Mercer takes the country along on his wild ride

If Rick Mercer has a bucket list, there surely can’t be a whole lot left on it.             Private tours of 24 Sussex Drive? Boring.

Skinny-dipping with the leader of the Liberal party? Been there, done that.

Rappelling from the CN Tower with one of Canada’s favourite recording artists? Piece of cake.

Still, Mercer insists he’s not a thrill-seeking person in real life.

“I’m really not, not at all,” he pressed. “I would never go bungee jumping in my personal life. My friends would tell you, I’m just not an adventurous person.”

Could’ve fooled us.

In the nine seasons “The Rick Mercer Report” has been on the air, Mercer’s adventure has known no bounds; not when it comes to cheeky interviews with politicians, or the topics he addresses in his now-famous rants, or the challenges he takes on each week, on one side of the country or another.

“That’s one of the good things about it — we can do anything, anywhere,” Mercer told The Telegram. “If there’s something going on, we just go. I could be on Parliament Hill one week, and in St. John’s with Feist the next.”

Raised in Bauline, Mercer’s first nationally acclaimed stage show was 1990’s “Show Me the Button, I’ll Push It,” a one-man political satire he debuted in Ottawa. Since then, political satire has made up a large part of Rick’s schtick. He was a co-creator and star of “This Hour has 22 Minutes,” along with Cathy Jones, Mary Walsh and Greg Thomey, and one of his signature skits was travelling to the United States to do streeter interviews with regular people or politicians, testing their knowledge of Canada. In one of his most notorious sketches, Mercer got then-presidential candidate George W. Bush to endorse “Canadian Prime Minister Jean Poutine.”

Mercer created a still-talked-about spinoff show based on the skits called “Talking to Americans,” which was nominated for a Gemini Award. However, Mercer declined the nomination in light of the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

Mercer left “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” in 2001, and is still quite reticent when it comes to his reasons why.

“I didn’t have an interest in being part of a show that’s owned by two lawyers in Halifax,” Mercer said, chuckling, when asked.

At the time, Mercer had already three seasons of another Gemini-winning satirical show, “Made in Canada,” under his belt, and the series ran on CBC until 2003. The next year saw the premiere of “Rick Mercer’s Monday Report,” which has gone on to cement him, as MacLean’s magazine called him in 2004, Canada’s own court jester.

While “Made in Canada” was syndicated and broadcast in the States and elsewhere under a different name, “The Rick Mercer Report” is uniquely Canadian.

“Distributors can’t classify the format,” Mercer explained. “They’ve said, ‘One week you’re with politicians and the next week you’re with a rock star. What is the format? Is it political satire? Is it pop culture?’ They don’t get it. It’s just too Canadian.”

Over the years, there hasn’t been much Canadian content Mercer hasn’t touched. Federal politicians are a particular favourite and Mercer seems to be granted automatic access to all of them. It might be that they recognize the exposure and endearment appearing on his show will get them with Canadians, or it might be Mercer’s approach.

Unlike “22 Minutes,” Mercer says his show isn’t lawyered before it goes to air.

“There are lawyers on staff because there has to be, but no,” he said when asked if the scripts are reviewed by a legal team before the show goes to air.

“Part of it is knowing what you can or can’t say on TV, I guess, but I’m not interested or in the habit of saying anything that could be taken as slanderous or embarrassing.”

Though there may be some crossover when it comes to the material covered by “The Rick Mercer Report” and “22 Minutes,” there’s never been a time that the two shows have fought over who would do what.

“It’s not like I went bungee jumping with Rick Hansen and ‘22 Minutes’ showed up to go bungee jumping with another wheelchair athlete,” Mercer said, laughing. “Two different shows altogether.”

Speaking of the bungee jump, that was one of Mercer’s favourite pieces to tape, since Hansen, he said, has long been one of his personal heroes. Other favourites include skinny-dipping with Bob Rae, and a visit inside a zero-gravity airplane with the Canadian Space Agency in Ottawa.

Off-roading with former premier Danny Williams was fun, too, Mercer said.

“That one still gets a lot of hits on YouTube. It’s watched by a lot by people in Australia, for some reason. Maybe they don’t even know who Danny Williams is,” he said.

Many of the ideas for wacky stunts are Mercer’s; a lot come from suggestions by organizations or viewers. No matter how interesting they are interesting, not all of them can be done, either because it’s just not feasible or because it’s just not worth a television piece.

This week’s episode saw Mercer in St. John’s on the set of “Republic of Doyle,” stunt driving in the GTO with Allan Hawco.

Believe it or not, it was the first time Mercer had ever been stunt driving — though he’s been car racing and car racing on ice tracks multiple times; no big deal.

Next week’s episode will catch up with Mercer in Charlottetown, P.E.I., where he attended firefighting school at Lambton College, joining the combat challenge team, as well as microchipped cats, walked dogs and read to rabbits at the P.E.I. Humane Society. Mercer’s lie-detector test during a visit to the Police Studies program at Holland College will be featured on a future episode.

“Never a dull moment. It’s what we do,” Mercer said.

“The Rick Mercer Report” airs on CBC TV Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. NL time.

tbradbury@thetelegram.com Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: Lambton College, Holland College, CN Tower The Telegram CBC Canadian Space Agency P.E.I. Humane Society Police Studies

Geographic location: Canada, Bauline, Ottawa United States Halifax Ottawa.Off Australia Charlottetown

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Recent comments

  • David
    January 20, 2012 - 12:40

    This week's MR was a pretty surreal bit of TV.....Rick Mercer visited the set of Republic of Doyle. So you had a 100% federal taxpayer-funded TV show promoting one of it's other taxpayer-funded TV shows, one that is also partially funded by the Newfoundland Dept. of Tourism ads that run during the show ----yes, you figured it out: more taxpayer money! Surely, this incestuous little circle woukld make an excelllent "Mercer rant", no ?!

    • mike
      January 23, 2012 - 08:44

      who pays your EI david while you sit at home watchin MR