For the host of The Rick Mercer Report, getting fired up is a professional calling, and his recent book, A Nation Worth Ranting About, is a greatest hits of past gripes. We caught up with Mercer—now in season 10 of his Gemini-winning TV show—to talk political star power, the trouble with Rob Ford, and why modern-day MPs are such a snooze.
In your book you say that being a political junkie is a bit like being a die-hard Leafs fan. Care to flesh out the metaphor?
If you’re a political junkie and you follow politics, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. You want to throw in the towel and you’re envious of the people who say, “I don’t pay attention to politics. None of it matters.” Of course, I would argue that that’s not true. Paying attention is important, but sometimes you wanna beat your head against the wall.
So you’re like that crazy hockey guy screaming at the television, but you can’t bring yourself to turn it off.
Exactly. It’s a tough sport to love.
In the past few years, your show has moved away from interviewing politicians. Specifically, I think you said you’d rather talk to a lobster fisherman than a cabinet minister.
Absolutely. A lobster fisherman doesn’t get speaking notes and therefore it’s a more interesting conversation. It’s very rare that you get anything original out of a cabinet minister or any member of a sitting caucus. These days, at 7:30 in the morning, all of the Black-Berries vibrate and they have an email from head office saying exactly what they’re allowed to talk about that day and they do not deviate. TV shows evolve. A person’s work evolves…
You don’t spend a lot of time on local politics on your show. Is that because you have a national show or are you just more interested in the feds?
My interest has always been federal politics, but yes, my show is national. Does my audience in Ontario want me to talk about legislation in British Columbia? Probably not. Now, Rob Ford has really transcended that, because everywhere I go in the country people ask me why the hell we have this guy as a mayor. I don’t talk about him on the show a lot, but he may be the exception to the rule.
If you were going to rant about Ford, what would you focus on?
I would just tell him to call a press conference and leave. Change careers.
So back to cabinet minister versus lobster fisherman.
Right. There was a time early in my career where if I had my druthers I’d have been doing a show where I only spoke with politicians. Maybe I’ll do that again some time, but right now I like getting out there and exploring. Just this weekend I went to the Rockton World’s Fair. It’s one of the longest running agricultural fairs in the country. You see all of the animals and there are also the classic fair things.
The world’s largest pumpkin, the bearded lady…
No bearded ladies, but there was a Tilt-A-Whirl.
You spoke recently about how Canadian politics are lacking in star power. Could Justin Trudeau change that?
I didn’t lament the fact that we lack star power, and I’m certainly not advocating a system where famous people run based on the fact that they’re famous. Obviously, Justin Trudeau has a certain profile that’s different from most MPs. Christ, I just picked up the new issue of Maclean’s and it’s like one of those special editions they put out after the Queen visits the country.
On one hand, people are describing him as an underqualified coattail rider; on the other, people are saying not to underestimate him. Which is it?
I think for anyone going into any race, lower expectations are your friend, and for him, the expectations are very high. I would guess that if he had [a choice], there wouldn’t be 27 pictures of him in this week’s Maclean’s, but I don’t think he has any control over that.
Last year, your rant about Jamie Hubley [a gay teenager who was bullied and committed suicide] got a lot of attention, particularly the suggestion that gay adults had an obligation to be out.
I certainly wasn’t advocating outing anyone, I was just saying that when I was in high school, no one was out. Now we have kids who are and I just think it’s important that they know that you can be a news anchor and gay, or a cabinet minister and gay, or a hockey player and gay, or a television host.
I know you’ve said you’d rather be tasered than talk about your personal life.
Well, I’ve already been tasered on TV.
Can you tell me what you did over the summer?
I went back to Newfoundland for a while. I spent some time at a cottage north of the city, which is one of my favourite things to do. I love to just sit on a dock.
What about musical taste? Is that too personal?
Growing up I was an old punk-rock fan—The Clash and Stiff Little Fingers and the Ramones. My tastes are pretty eclectic. I’m going to go upstairs and download the new Tragically Hip album, with my apologies to Gord [Downie] for not buying it on vinyl. But I don’t have a record player, so I’ll just have to download it from iTunes.
Stewart or Colbert?
How can I choose?
Favourite burger joint?
The Detroit on The Danforth.
Best interview ever?
Both are still living, so can’t say.
Any dead prime minister.
Cherry or MacLean?
I share an elevator with both.
Smoking was a struggle.