By Caroline Cox
Rick Mercer is a man who needs no introduction. His CBC shows 22 Minutes and the Rick Mercer Report have been national sensations. On April 10, Mercer will bring “A Nation Worth Ranting About,” a comedy performance highlighting his experiences travelling throughout Canada, to the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium. The Walleye spoke to Mercer about his solo show and his prior trips to Thunder Bay.
The Walleye: For the Rick Mercer Report, you travel around Canada visiting different towns and trying activities in each place. What motivates you to get to know Canadian communities?
Rick Mercer: I wanted to visit locations in Canada and there wasn’t really an appetite for it. For example, for the last two or three years when I was at 22 Minutes I always wanted to go to Nunavut. And there was always a reason not to go to Nunavut. It was too expensive or the weather was too dodgy or you could get stuck up there. When we started the Rick Mercer Report, I didn’t know how many episodes I would get. … So the very first episode we opened in Nunavut. Some people would suggest that it was a new show, it was based in Toronto, that I should do a Toronto segment…. But I went to Nunavut, I stuck with my guns, and we got an incredible audience for that show. It just proved to me that going to places like Nunavut, going to places like Thunder Bay, … just off the beaten track, is a part of a successful strategy to make television.
The Walleye: There’s a sense of patriotism in the title of your Thunder Bay show, “A Nation Worth Ranting About.” Which aspects of Canada inspire you?
Rick Mercer: Anywhere you go in the country you find stories that are inspiring. [In] Thunder Bay, off the top of my head, I went there to do ice racing, in cars, on the ice…. Then you get there and, sure, that part’s exciting… but then you find out about this incredible teacher who’s helping these students and then these students have graduated from this program who come back next year to help other students do it and just a great sense of community and a great sense of community pride and a great sense of people helping each other out. You find that almost everywhere you go in the country, so that part of my show is not that difficult. I’ve just got to show up, find the right people, and turn the camera on.
The Walleye: What changes would you like to see in Canada by 2050?
Rick Mercer: I’m really upset that right now there’s legislation in the House of Commons that will actually make it illegal for Elections Canada to encourage young people to vote. I believe that there’s a concerted effort right now by the government to ensure that even fewer young people show up to vote next time around…. There’s been zero movement towards any kind of voter identification which can utilize modern technology. I would like to see, if I have any ambition for the country…, a more engaged citizenry and more people voting.
The Walleye: You rant a lot about the federal government, including its lack of leadership on environmental issues. If you could give the government a grade for environmental performance, what would it be?
Rick Mercer: It’s funny that I get a reputation for being such an avid environmentalist because I think I’m pretty average. But what I don’t like is a climate that gets created where if anyone ever talks about the environment at all, they are suddenly branded enemies of Canada. I think that’s a very dangerous, strange road.
The Walleye: You often try extreme sports as you travel. Which sport(s) have truly terrified you?
Rick Mercer: Oh, most of them! Because I’m not that guy, like I’m not an extreme sport person. When I jump out of an airplane, that’s not because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I think what I find the most inspiring when it comes to sports is our Parolympians. Every couple of years when the Parolympics happen I love to train with Parolympians…. I was training this week with a paraplegic. He’s 50% paralyzed below the waist and he’s snowboarding and going off 12-foot jumps. To me, that is just outrageously terrifying and inspiring because I wouldn’t go off a 12-foot jump and I don’t have those challenges. Those people are always the best interviews if you ask me because they’ve got an amazing story to tell and they’ve overcome an incredible challenge and they’re competing on a world level. Nobody can match that.
The Walleye: You’ve been to Thunder Bay at least twice, for ice climbing in 2009 and ice racing in 2010. What stands out about those experiences?
Rick Mercer: I had some great pancakes. What was it called? The Hoito? I’ve always had a good time playing Thunder Bay. I always find outrageous similarities between Thunder Bay and where I grew up in Newfoundland. I don’t know why I find it like by home but it’s very much that way.
The Walleye: Have you tried a persian yet?
Rick Mercer: No, what’s a persian?
The Walleye: It’s like a donut with pink icing, but the centre of the donut is filled in, there’s no hole.
Rick Mercer: I’m coming back, so that will be on the list.