In this divisive time, comic Rick Mercer hoping to celebrate Canada’s diversity in a more positive manner

Apparently being longlisted for the Leacock Medal for Humour doesn’t mean your work is completed.

You can always add more funny.

It’s something that comic, satirist and commentator Rick Mercer discovered recently as his book Final Report — a tome that was a recap and put a closer on his acclaimed series the Mercer Report after 15 seasons on the air — found its place among the 10 finalists for the Canadian literary award.

“They asked for some new material for the paperback and they just told me to stop sending material and keep it for the next book,” Mercer says.

“They’re really pleased with it, but they’re like, ‘Good lord, it’s just a paperback. You’ve sent us an entire new book.’ So I’m enjoying that.”

He certainly has the time for it, considering he no longer has the grind of a weekly series to deal with.

But far from being retired or merely a man behind a keyboard, Mercer, who last month was also honoured with a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award, is still spending time on the road across the country with his new show Canada: Coast to Coast to Coast.

Prior to heading to Calgary to perform the show Sunday, May 5 as a fundraiser for Jewish Family Service Calgary at MacEwan Hall, Mercer spoke with theYYSCENE.

Q: Tell us about the new show.

A: It’s Coast to Coast to Coast: My 15 years on the Canadian Highway. It’s about being on the road for 15 years non-stop. When I started the show I knew that I’d be visiting some places, but I didn’t realize I wouldn’t unpack for 15 years and I didn’t realize I would probably go to 500 unique places in the country, and especially off the beaten path. We set out very early to make a show that wasn’t all about big cities right across the country — certainly we visited those cities, but we always put an emphasis on getting off the beaten path. I think Canadians, one of the reasons they reacted so positively as they did is because they lived vicariously through me and got to visit all of these places in Canada that they will probably never get a chance to visit themselves. 

I picked up a few things along the way about the country and I’ve always kind of played with the question of, “What does it mean to be a Canadian,” especially when we’re so big and divided on so many issues and there’s so few of us and there’s so many regional differences — there’s just so many differences on so many levels that we can focus on. It’s always been a pet project of mine to define what it means to be a Canadian and to accent the positives and find the similarities, so I talk a little bit about that. But mostly it’s fun standup about this country.

Q: I’ve noticed recently that we’re now following our friends to the south down the path of incredible divisiveness where we don’t celebrate what makes us Canadian we hate what we think is not Canadian now.

A: It’s an interesting time. This is the first time in my life since I’ve been an adult that I haven’t, as part of my job professionally, followed Canadian politics keenly. I still do, obviously, but for my entire adult life it was my job and commenting on it was my job. And I’m so sad now looking at the election we had in Ontario, the election you just had in Alberta, how vitriolic they became. And I’ve very saddened that people from all parts of the political spectrum they speculate that the next federal election is going to be one of the nastiest if not the nastiest in Canadian history, and they seem to relish in this prediction of theirs. It’s still a long way off but it’s like the gloves are off, this is going to be so nasty and so hard … and that makes me, I don’t relish that at all.

Q: The good thing for you and your job is that is going to happen and you, I’m sure, will be able to find some humour in that. At some point. Maybe?

A: I’ve never wished ill on my country to make my job easier. I actually, like most people, just want good government, the kind that stays out of my face and doesn’t bother me. (Laughs) Unfortunately I’ve had very little experience in my life, but I would never wish ill on my country just so I could have material to work with. But certainly there’s no lack of material …

With the Mercer Report, I always felt my job every week first and foremost was to celebrate the country, and I think we did a good job with that. And I’m enjoying doing that now and I’m happy to do that in Calgary, just like I’m happy to do it in Montreal or happy to do it in St. John’s just like I’m happy to do it in Vancouver. That’s something that I’m happy to do. The federation is certainly strained at the moment and we’re hearing some creaks and groans, and we’ve been in this place before. It’s not a good place, but the message that I’m bringing with the show is one of positivity, certainly one of unity, and I hope people come out and it’s a good time. It’s also funny, it’s not like I’m out there with a medicine show asking people to take their medicine. A lot of interesting things happened in the 15 years and a lot of funny stories, and it’s great to bring them all together and bring them to an audience.

Q: So other than the paperback and touring, what’s next for you, what do you have your sights set on?

A: I’ve recently started saying I’m launching an exploratory committee about what’s next in my head, because for the longest time when people would ask that question I’d say I have no idea. People wouldn’t believe me, but I wasn’t even thinking about it. I was quite frankly taking a break and I didn’t know how I would react to taking a break, but I really took that break and I really enjoyed it. It’s been fun contemplating what’s next because while I was doing the show — and I’m not complaining about the show, I wouldn’t complain, lots of people work hard — but it was just all encompassing. So it wasn’t that I couldn’t contemplate another project, I barely could contemplate sitting down having a cup of coffee or visiting my family for longer than five minutes. So it’s been fun doing those things and refreshing doing those things, let alone actually taking the time to talk to other people about different projects that could happen.

Q: Will your pal Jann Arden be in attendance on Sunday?

A: I don’t know. You know Jann showed up very sneakily in Ottawa at the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards and she said beautiful things about me on stage and she did a really good job at surprising me. If you know Jann you know she checks in on social media every five minutes and lets people know where she is, so I knew for a fact that she was in Calgary because social media was telling me so, so when she walked out on stage I was just in shock, and it was certainly great to see her. I hope I will be seeing her when I’m in Calgary for sure, because I actually think for the first time she is actually there, because as you know nobody works harder than Jann in this country and she spends an awful lot of time in the air and on the road, but I do believe that she’s around.

Q: The fundraiser is for the Jewish Family Service Calgary — is that an organization that’s close to you? 

A: You know … the more I spoke with them and talked to them, it’s just a wonderful organization. They do so much support for older Canadians in the home and elsewhere and I believe that’s one of the major issues of our time when you look at the ageing demographic, so people are on top of that. It’s so important because those services are stretched thin right across the country and quite often it’s people who find themselves in need of services probably for the first time in their life, so they actually don’t know how to go about it. It’s not like they’re used to needing help, but we all need help at a certain point. So any organization that makes that period of someone’s life easier is tremendous. 

They also help people with financial literacy, which is another issue of our times. There are so many people in this country, regardless of how much money they make — whether they make $35,000 a year or whether they make $150,000 a year — they’re one paycheque away from going completely under, and quite often that’s not their own fault it’s that they lack a certain literacy that’s not taught in schools … Unless you’re lucky enough to have parents that have their shit together and you learn by osmosis you’re on your own, and a lot of people find themselves drowning in debt and it’s the most stressful thing in their life. So this is one of those organizations that will help you and do so in a confidential way, and that’s God’s work if you ask me.

Rick Mercer performs Sunday, May 5 at McEwan Hall. For tickets and more information please click here.