One for the road: legendary comedian Rick Mercer looks back on his ‘great adventure’
Posted November 19, 2023 4:47 pm.
Last Updated November 19, 2023 4:48 pm.
Rick Mercer ended his 2021 memoir Talking to Canadians teeing up “a great adventure” – one so great that it would take a separate, stand-alone book to do it justice. That adventure was hosting The Rick Mercer Report, which lasted 277 episodes across 15 seasons on CBC television. Now, he’s collected some of his favourite stories from that time in Rick Mercer – The Road Years: A Memoir Continued.
Much like The Rick Mercer Report itself, The Road Years invites readers on a journey from sea to sea to sea and back again.
“I hope they get a sense of what a great country it is,” he said. “I hope they get a sense of some of the great folks that live in the country and some of the great stuff they’re doing, and I hope they get that sense of celebration that we always tried to put into the show every single week. I think that’s in there.”
The book covers the years 2004 to 2018, the show’s lifespan. Mercer looks back at that time fondly, but not too fondly.
“I won’t go so far as to say it’s a love letter to being out there on the road, traveling the country, but it’s pretty darn close,” he said.
“There’s no true dirt in there, although there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes.”
One of his goals for the show was to be unapologetically Canadian.
“If we went somewhere, we were celebrating and we were never making fun,” he explained.
“We had a philosophy which was, if we’re going to Thunder Bay to show people why people there loved Thunder Bay, why it’s the best place to live, that permeated every aspect of the show. And I also think it gave me great access. So, if I was going to an assembly line where they’re sorting garbage in a recycling facility, the workers there knew I wasn’t coming in to make fun of the fact that they’re sorting garbage all day. They knew I was there to show how cool this facility was and to do the job with them and be respectful and make them look great. That was the show. And it worked. It’s why people kept tuning in.”
The book relives some of the greatest moments from The Rick Mercer Report like the time he got to play the drums with Neil Peart from Rush.
“That was a seminal moment in my life because I was a kid who took drum lessons in grades seven and eight so I could play the drums like Neil Peart,” he said. “I very quickly realized, like most mortal human beings, that was never going to happen. Like, he was literally one of the three best drummers that’s ever lived.”
“I got to get a drum lesson from him,” Mercer remembered. “He was very kind, he was funny, which people didn’t really realize. It was just one of those incredible days. When I was writing the book and looking back at those moments, and I was writing the Neil story, I remember I actually said, I gotta go for a walk. Like, what did I do in my last life to deserve that? Like, I mean, how did that even happen?”
A recurring theme Mercer and his team soon discovered was how viewers loved to watch him suffer.
“One of the things that happened was there was a real desire to see what we called Host in Peril,” he said.
“They really loved to see me disturbed or in jeopardy or uncomfortable basically, or terrified.”
Mercer was placed in all kinds of precarious situations, from donning a bee beard in Langley, B.C. to taking part in something called the train of death.
“But even those days, I ultimately was having the time of my life,” he said.
One segment you didn’t get to see was the time he was tased by the Ottawa SWAT team. The week it was set to air, Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski died after he was tased by members of the RCMP at the Vancouver Airport.
“That changed everything,” he admitted. “The taser then went from this painful thing that was safe to something that was potentially deadly.”
“I just thought it would be in bad taste, in poor taste, because of that gentleman’s family. I just wished that I had done it the week earlier.”
Mercer recalled his time on the show in 2018.
“There’s no shortage of people in the country. There’s no shortage of places to visit. So, we didn’t wrap up because we ran out of things to do. It just seemed like time,” he said.
“15 years is a long time and television. You know, hit shows run seven, monsters run eight. They just don’t run that long and so for us to get 15 was phenomenal.”
Mercer says getting to travel the country for those 15 years was an incredible privilege — and writing this book has only increased that feeling of gratitude. He also hopes the reader is inspired to do some exploring of their own, but he understands why many don’t.
“You’re there in Vancouver and you say, ‘Oh, we should take the kids to Halifax and drive around the Maritimes.’ Yeah, but Hawaii is a lot cheaper. That’s a real problem in this country,” he explained. “I don’t blame people for going to Hawaii. Of course, you will.”
Above all, he hopes the reader has a good laugh or two.
“I think it’s funny. I had no interest in doing anything that wasn’t funny,” he said. “So, to the few people that I trusted to read it, that was the big instruction. Like, if you ever feel like I stopped being funny because I’m trying to be important or I’m trying to make a point that I can’t do without being funny, please call me or send me back these pages with a big red mark through it. And I think I succeeded there.”
Rick Mercer – The Road Years: A Memoir Continued is published by Doubleday Canada.