Rick Mercer 

Rick Mercer

I got to see the young or not so young man live at the University of Toronto.

He showed clips from his career on Canadian TV: "Talking to Americans," a bizarre interview with Chretien at a Harvey's restaurant, getting politicians and journalists singing "Let's Raise a Little Hell," Pierre Berton demonstrating how to roll a joint, a selection of fake commercials, and a tribute to Canada's peacekeepers in Bosnia (some years ago).

A big auditorium full of students, and all of this went over very big with them. Probably many Americans would be annoyed by the assumption that Canadians are superior to Americans--or at least, we are free of something they are stuck with, and we are fortunate for that. He got Governor Huckabee of Arkansas to wish Canada all the best with its national igloo. Mercer had a story: as they entered the Capitol building, a chain gang was assembling a nativity scene for Christmas. They were bound together so tightly that if one fell, they all fell. One fell when he was about to put the baby Jesus in place. A guard with a shotgun yelled at him to shape up. Mercer had the audacity to ask to see the Governor, and after going through layers of staff, he finally got to. Mercer was more and more nervous. Finally Huckabee said go ahead, roll the camera. A staffer called him away, saying it was urgent. Mercer is thinking: if they Google me, I'm f___ed. Huckabee came back, very serious: young man, I'm going to ask you a question, and I want you to answer me truthfully. "Yes Governor." This igloo--this national igloo--is it a controversial igloo? "Oh no sir." OK, let's do it.

Mercer and his producer had planned to enjoy some great barbeque in Little Rock--indeed, that's how they picked Little Rock as a destination. After all they had been through, remembering the chain gang, when they were done Mercer just said "let's get the hell out of here."

Mercer gives voice to the idea that in a way we know too much about the U.S.--we can't avoid them. I for one am endless fascinated, I always want to learn more. I'd be happy to teach U.S. government to Canadians, but there may not be many takers.

How did he get Chretien to meet him at Harvey's? There had been a news item saying Chretien enjoyed dropping in at a local Harvey's, with no planning. Mercer called the media person in the PMO to suggest a meeting. The flack was grumpy. "You're really going too far this time; the PM will be running down the stairs before the House, as always; you might get a moment with him." Mercer kept pressing: it's a great idea, something different, we all benefit--in fact, it will make a great picture. At that point Donolo the flack said: I'll put you on hold for a minute. He came back on and said "Will 11:00 do?"

Mercer figured it all out later. The day they did this was Budget day. Normally, the papers the next day would all have the Minister of Finance on Page One, delivering the Budget. In 1996 that would have been Chretien's arch-rival, Paul Martin. In 1996, instead, many papers had a photo of Chretien having a hamburger at Harvey's with Rick Mercer. Mercer says "That's how much they hated each other." Once he had this figured out, he later got Martin to participate in something by saying: it's OK, we'ver got Brian Tovin.

Mercer has a self-deprecating shtick. His most successful bits resulted from desperation. He couldn't think of anything that seemed really funny, but he had to do something. Thus: Talking to Americans, the famous petition to change Stockwell Day's name to Doris.

The commercials included some fun anti-Bush stuff. "Some see a glass that's half full. Others say the glass is half empty. George Bush says: it's my glass. Keep your hands off my glass."

One commercial takes off on the satellite TV industry: "Taking a signal you haven't paid for is stealing." The kid delivers this message to dad when dad starts to chew him out for stealing a candy bar. Fine, says the father, no satellite. The kid starts to wail. What? Dad says: you can just watch the CBC (Mercer's employer). The kid is hysterical. Then a brief moment: shall we watch the roundtable discussion on menopause?

For the now-famous Pierre Berton bit, there was a back story: a young man had just started working for Mercer, and overheard Mercer's end of the phone conversation with Berton: Yes Mr. Berton we were hoping you would agree to demonstrate how to roll a joint. You would? Great. Can we bring the dope? Yes, we can certainly do that. OK, we'll be there.

The kid said: Man, I'm going to love this job.

The piece on Canadian troops was the finale. Mercer seems to mean it when he says he has great respect and affection for these folks--and they deserve more money, and better equipment. All of this got a good reaction from the crowd. The patriotism seems real.

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