When I think of Canada, I think of Rick Mercer. I say that full-heartedly, because I can’t think of anyone who better embodies our country than Rick Mercer. A youthful, funny, unpretentious do-gooder, Mercer personifies Canada at its best. After fifteen seasons of hosting the weekly Rick Mercer Report on our national public broadcaster, Mercer is finally calling it quits. And what an end of an era that is. What will he do after leaving, as he put it, “the best job in the world”? He has a uniquely Mercerian plan: “I have no idea”.
For over a decade, if there was something going on in Canada, whether in Victoria or Moncton, Iqaluit or Windsor, Mercer was there. It would probably be harder to list Canadian towns he hasn’t visited than those he has. Mercer has skinny-dipped with former premiers, danced with Cirque du Soleil, driven icebreakers through the Toronto harbour, and even convinced an unsuspecting Mike Huckabee to congratulate Canadians on preserving our non-existent national igloo.
It was as an eleven-year-old that I first caught the Mercer bug. As a young kid, I wasn’t much of a TV watcher. To put it bluntly, most kids’ TV shows on air in Toronto in 2010 weren’t to my taste. But there was something different about the Mercer Report. When my family would watch the show, my parents laughed just as hard as I did. It was profoundly, relentlessly, unapologetically Canadian. Mercer showed us just how big, diverse, incredible, and warm our country is, from coast to coast to coast.
As a kid, I always understood the Mercer sketches that roasted the Maple Leafs’ poor performance, the unpredictable weather, or the many other widely bemoaned elements of being Canadian. I could see the obvious humour in Mercer’s adventures on fishing boats, grain mills, and bungee jumping lines. I laughed as Mercer played hockey, drove snowmobiles, and did other quintessentially Canadian things. Famously, Mercer even went suit shopping with Don Cherry.
It was profoundly, relentlessly, unapologetically Canadian. Mercer showed us just how big, diverse, incredible, and warm our country is, from coast to coast to coast.
But once in a while, I’d see a sketch and wouldn’t quite get the punchline. Why did Mercer so love to poke fun at Stephen Harper, the bland man whose name I only knew from dinner table conversations and social studies classes at school? Who was this Peter McKay character, and what did he ever do to deserve Mercer’s gentle but deadly pokes? What could the job title ‘Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario’ possibly mean, and why were he and Mercer rolling around a government building in electric wheelchairs? As I watched Mercer’s show every week, I realized I should probably learn what these guys were up to.
Not many grown men in blazers on TV could have persuaded a young kid to start paying attention to what goes on in this country. But Mercer found a way. I even remember a particular sketch from November 2006 in which Mercer poked fun at the ‘excitement’ of the 2006 Liberal Leadership Convention. Mercer satirically described the typical convention attendees as “old people with hats” and the star candidate as “some lawyer from Toronto!”. Feigning anticipation, Mercer assured viewers that “anything can happen, please God something will happen, at the Liberal Leadership Convention!”.
In no small part because of Mercer’s show, I’ll be at my first Liberal convention in a week.
I still remember the most exciting part of my bar mitzvah in 2012: watching Rick Mercer appear on-screen in a video message, wishing me a heartfelt “mazel tov”. I’d never heard “mazel tov” pronounced quite that way, in a Newfoundland accent. A few weeks after my bar mitzvah, my father made real my dream of seeing a Mercer Report taping in person, and I even got to meet my childhood hero.
Mercer isn’t just a comedian. His goodwill is known to Canadians from sea to sea. Mercer’s annual Spread the Net challenge for students raises millions of dollars for charities supplying African youth with malaria-prevention nets. Mercer’s habit of spending holidays with Canadian Armed Forces servicemen and women in the Middle East earned him respect across the nation. In 2014, Governor-General David Johnston appointed Mercer to the Order of Canada. Even the man who has seen and done it all found himself “completely speechless”.
That’s the man Mercer is. Even though he’s met just about every noteworthy person in the country, Mercer could be your neighbour, taxi driver, or Tim Horton’s barista (and, I’m sure, has played all those parts on his show). He is simultaneously ordinary and a Canadian legend.
Our nation is forever richer because of Mercer’s years on the air. I know of at least one young fan who will miss his cheerful presence every Tuesday at 8:00 PM, 8:30 in Newfoundland.