Rick Mercer

Rick Vincent Mercer, satirist, comedian, screenwriter, actor (born at St John's, NL 17 Oct 1969). The Canadian Parliament's "unofficial opposition," Rick Mercer has parlayed his acerbic wit and voracious interest in politics into a career as one of the foremost political and social commentators of his time. Described by Maclean's magazine as "one of Canada's most bankable television commodities," he has combined his "mutually parasitic" relationship with politicians, his ability to connect with ordinary Canadians and a mischievous, court jester perspective to become the satirical conscience of Canadian politics and culture.

Early Days

Raised in a middle-class home in the St John's suburb of Middle Cove, Rick Mercer was president of his high school's student council but, ironically, never graduated. The first performance piece he ever helped write - a one-act play called The 20-Minute Psychiatric Workout - won Newfoundland's high school drama festival. Rick Mercer and his colleagues formed their own theatre company called Corey and Wade's Playhouse and performed original sketches in theatres in and around St John's. When he was 18 and working as a dishwasher, Mercer landed a gig doing comedic commentaries for CBC radio by pitching a group of dining producers on the subject of making politics funnier.

Career Success

His meteoric rise began in 1990 at age 21 with his one-man show Show Me the Button, I'll Push It. A pointed, satirical commentary on Canadian life after Meech Lake, the show premiered at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa before touring across the country. His second show, 1992's I've Killed Before, I'll Kill Again, was equally successful. The following year he teamed with Greg Thomey and former CODCO members Cathy Jones and Mary Walsh for the inaugural season of the satirical CBC comedy show This Hour Has 22 Minutes. It was during his 8 seasons on the multiple-award-winning series that Mercer honed his genially confrontational style, primarily through his trademark rants in which he would speak directly to the camera about a current political issue while briskly walking through heavily graffitied city streets.

Rick Mercer enjoyed his greatest popular success with Talking to Americans, which began as a regular segment on This Hour Has 22 Minutes and was expanded into an hour-long special in 2001 that attracted international attention and 2.7 million viewers, making it the highest-rated comedy special in CBC history.

In 1998, Mercer compiled some of his better-known rants into the book Streeters, which reached number one on the Globe and Mail's national bestseller list. That year, he also created, wrote and starred in his own sitcom, Made In Canada, a satire of the Canadian film and television industry. The popular series came to an end in 2003 and the following year Mercer debuted a new current affairs series, Rick Mercer's Monday Report. By the beginning of its third season, it was the highest-rated arts and entertainment show on the CBC; moved to Tuesday nights, its name was changed to The Rick Mercer Report. Another collection of Mercer's political monologues became Rick Mercer Report: The Book in 2007, and in 2008 it was expanded as Rick Mercer Report: The Paperback Book. In 2012, A Nation Worth Ranting About was published; it is a collection of his "rants," articles and essays.

Rick Mercer placed 50th in the Greatest Canadian contest held by the CBC in 2004 and is a popular host for awards shows and series, bringing his unique wit to TV specials such as the Gemini Awards and The Next Great Prime Minister and to the history program It Seems Like Yesterday. His 2003 visit to Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan became a Christmas special that lifted spirits both at home and abroad. He has played some film parts over the years, and has also been credited with inspiring many young adults across the country to vote in the 2011 federal election. In response to the epidemic of suicides among gay and lesbian youth in Canada, Rick Mercer has come out strongly against bullying in schools, participating in the "It Gets Better" video campaign and calling on homosexual adults in public life to be open about their personal lifestyles in order to provide respected gay role models to young people.

Honours and Awards

He has received numerous honours, including Canadian Comedy Awards, Writers Guild of Canada Awards, the 1993 Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council's Artist of the Year Award, the 2003 Banff Television Festival's Sir Peter Ustinov Award, the 2004 Governor General's Performing Arts Award and many Gemini Awards. Heavily involved with charities, he donated the $15 000 cash prize from the Governor General's award to LSPU Hall, a St John's theatre where he got his start. He donated his earnings as spokesperson for the Government of Canada's "one-tonne challenge" to Toronto's Casey House, a hospice for people with HIV, and co-founded the Spread the Net Campaign, which helps prevent malaria in Africa. He is active with Walk for Life, a fundraiser for HIV and AIDS patients, and lends his talents to environmental causes such as energy conservation. He is outspoken in his support of the men and women of the Canadian Forces and has been named honorary colonel of the Nova Scotia-based 423 Maritime Helicopter Squadron. In 2012 he was given ACTRA Toronto's 2012 Award of Excellence in recognition of "an exceptional body of work and a commitment to advocacy on behalf of all performers."

Rick Mercer has received honorary degrees from Laurentian University in Sudbury, Memorial University of Newfoundland in St John's, Brock University in St. Catharines, McMaster University in Hamilton, Bishop's University in Sherbrooke, and the University of British Columbia.

See profile of Rick Mercer at Maclean's.