If I were told by the Canadian TV gods when I started this site that I could only ever interview one Canadian TV personality, it would be Rick Mercer. And yet I don’t think I’d ever asked for that interview, believing he’d be out of reach, knowing I’d be tongue-tied and awkward (more than usual, I mean).
But when he came to Vancouver last year for CBC’s fall media launch I eagerly signed up for my 15 minute slot. Besides diverting too much brain power to thinking “don’t gush Diane, for god’s sake don’t gush,” I loved the experience and gushed about it to everyone afterward (“He knows the site! He was nice to me!”)
And then, tragedy struck. Actually it really did, but also in the midst of a lot of traveling I lost the recorder before I’d managed to retrieve the interview from it.
I still hadn’t worked up the nerve to ask for another chance when en route to Iceland this month I found the recorder tucked in a hidden pocket of my carry-on — which I swear to the Canadian TV gods I searched thoroughly last year — and promptly transcribed the interview on the plane before I could lose it again in a geyser, lagoon, volcano, or backpack pocket.
So this will not be the most current interview with Mercer you’ll read this fall, but it may be the most gratefully bestowed and recovered. Keep in mind these thoughts are from spring 2012.
So a new season — what is there left for you to do?
Well that is the question, but that’s a question I’ve asked myself for 8 seasons now and we always seem to do just fine. It’s still a big country and there’s a lot of people in it, and they do a lot of interesting things so we always manage to find stories. It’s a tough question in that I can’t tell you what we’re going to do, but that’s because we never know what we’re going to do. [He mentions a few possibilities for last season.] All the balls are in the air and we don’t know what we’ll be doing from week to week.
Do you ever say no to some of the things they want you to do?
Oh sure. There’s a group of individuals who stand on horseback and do figure 8s and stuff while standing on horses. They’ve asked me to join them and I’ve said no, so they say “what do you have against us?” I say “I don’t have anything against you, but I’m terrified of standing on a horse. It frightens the shit out of me. I’m afraid I’ll die.” So I can’t do it. I’m too afraid. They were like, “but you’ve jumped out of a plane.” I was strapped to a soldier! I wasn’t standing on the back of a horse.
You have done scarier stuff though.
Everyone has their own line. I didn’t want to jump out of a plane, but I did jump out of a plane. Whereas my brother, who’s a pilot, says emphatically he’d never jump out of a plane. He’s said there could be someone with a gun and they could shoot him and he would not jump out of the plane. I’m talking with a parachute. He just would not jump out of a plane. So that’s his line. Me, I’m not standing on the back of a horse. And they’re all 12 year old girls too. That’s the other thing. Of course they are 12 year old girls, and I’m like, “I’m afraid,” and they don’t believe me.
Tell me about the charity work you do. You have Spread The Net and — other things.
Yeah, I don’t do much charity work. One of the advantages of being on TV I suppose is that you can sometimes leverage the fact that you’re on TV for good versus evil. I do evil most of the time but occasionally I do good. At the same time it can be embarrassing if there’s a perception that you do a lot of charity work because Canadians by and large are pretty charitable people. I just consider it volunteer work really. So instead of going down and helping work a table somewhere I get to promote something. But in terms of time it’s probably less than my parents did their entire lives while they were raising a family.
Spread The Net is something I’ve supported — well, I’m one of the cofounders — and I found a way to incorporate it into the show. We have this Spread The Net challenge every year and students across the country have raised millions of dollars which is tremendous. But again, the kids are the ones doing the heavy lifting — they’re the ones doing the fundraising. I just say “do it.”
That one kind of hit me by surprise. I guess when I ranted about Jamie Hubley committing suicide I felt a responsibility. When I rant even about a serious subject I generally try to inject some humour, and that was the first time I didn’t attempt to. I guess because I was so angry and I didn’t feel like it was appropriate. So I knew it was a bit of a departure. I was heartened by the reaction and pleased at the reaction. But yeah for a while there I became the patron saint of gay teenagers with low self-esteem. That kind of took me by surprise.
(Laughs) There’s worse things you could be.
Yeah, and their poor mothers who are so worried about them. They’re emailing me and I’m like, I am not a psychiatrist.
I read an interview you did later that expressed surprise about how many times a person can come out in this country, because you were criticized for not mentioning yourself in the rant.
I felt it got hijacked a little bit but I’m loathe to talk about that because that’s not indicative of the overall response. In the gay community, as far as there is one — I mean, there’s a gay community but like any other community there’s lots of voices in it — I can certainly understand that some people feel I’m not out enough, and that was the criticism.
And I still don’t know, when it comes to that rant. Some people say “why didn’t you say you were gay in that rant?” I’m pretty bulletproof by saying well, because I’ve said I’m gay before. But I certainly know that any time it’s in the paper that I’m gay there’s all the comments following it: “I didn’t know he was gay.” And then a month later there’ll be a story in the same newspaper and: “I didn’t know he was gay.” So part of me thinks maybe I should have said it, but then part of me also knows that if I had, I’m going to become the story. And certainly that was not the story. So I honestly don’t know on that one. But I was heartened by the response.
Do you get frustrated when interesting political things are going on and you’re not on the air?
Oh sure, yeah, that can be frustrating. Although I’ve been lucky. The last federal election was called I think the day before I did my last taping, but then I went and covered the election for Maclean’s magazine. I got to go on the plane and cover the campaign. So if something’s happening there’s all sorts of venues. In this day and age you can just get an iPhone and start a YouTube channel.
That might not pay quite as well.
With the election I was just looking for a gig for someone to put me on that plane. I didn’t tell them at the time that I would have paid them to get me on the plane. Happily Maclean’s was willing to pay for it.
A new season of The Rick Mercer Report premieres October 8 on CBC.