For many Canadians, Rick Mercer is practically family.
Event previewClick to Expand
An evening with Rick Mercer virtual book launch
Launching Talking to Canadians: A Memoir, in conversation with Alan Doyle
• Thursday, 6 p.m.
• To register visit wfp.to/mercer
For the better part of three decades, the 52-year-old Mercer has been beamed into the homes of millions of Canadians from coast to coast to coast via wildly popular, critically acclaimed CBC TV shows such as The Mercer Report and This Hour Has 22 Minutes, the satirical news show he helped create and which rocketed him to national renown.
But for all his rants and political jokes he’s delivered over the years, he’s been decidedly reserved about his personal life — until now. Mercer’s new memoir, Talking to Canadians, traces the Newfoundland native’s journey from childhood through his rocky time in high school, his first forays into theatre and comedy and beyond, including glimpses behind the scenes of the shows that thrust him into the spotlight.
And while Mercer has written books before — most recently 2018’s The Final Report, a collection of essays and his trademark rants — Talking to Canadians, which launches Thursday in a virtual event hosted by fellow Newfoundlander Alan Doyle, was the first chance to properly reflect on his life.
"My editor and publisher would always remind me, ‘You know, Canadians like memoirs’ and I would say, ‘Yes, I know… I like memoirs,’" he says with a laugh by phone from his Toronto home. "But I just didn’t have the time. I was touring, doing different things, and I just couldn’t see when it could ever happen.
"And then of course the pandemic hit, and all I had was time. I needed a project; this seemed like the perfect one."
Mercer spent much of his time writing Talking to Canadians from his second home in Newfoundland — or, more accurately, near his home.
"I wrote it in my shed," he says. "It was literally go to work every day like clockwork — I would go in, practically put the timecard in, every morning at 8:30 — go to the shed, open the doors, sit down and write."
His first taste of show business came in Grade 3, when Mercer was pulled up on stage at a school assembly by a troupe of travelling actors to play "pirate child No. 2" — and he was hooked.
In high school, after much hand-wringing, he’d eventually join the drama club. "I didn’t like it at all — they did a play I didn’t like very much, and I was working backstage and ill-suited to that," he says.
After the play was over, Mercer informed his drama teacher he was quitting.
"She said, ‘If you quit, this could be the biggest mistake of your life,’ which I thought was a little over the top," he recalls with a laugh. "She said ‘The next play we do, we’re going to enter the provincial drama festival.’ I said, ‘What’s the play?’ And she said, ‘I don’t know — you haven’t written it yet.’
And I thought, OK, I’ll do that — and suddenly I became the hardest working student in the room.
"Theatre saved my life — I don’t know what would have happened had I not gone to join the drama club. I was not a very good student, and as I say in the book, there was no such thing as a gay-straight alliance in high school, but there was a drama club."
One person who took a backseat on reviewing and revising Talking to Canadians was Mercer’s longtime partner, Gerald Lunz. Mercer met Lunz early in his performing career, and the pair developed a personal and creative relationship that has spanned decades.
"This is the first thing I’ve written in probably 30 years that Gerald hasn’t taken a pass at editing," Mercer says. "I had a couple of chapters done and said, ‘Well, when do you want to read it?’
"He said, ‘I’m not going to. Tell me what it’s done and then I’ll read it.’ He was there for 30 years of it."
Mercer is looking forward to getting back on the road as host of the Just for Laughs tour, which stops in Winnipeg at the Burton Cummings Theatre on May 13 and features Dave Merheje (who will be performing at the Handsome Daughter tonight and the Royal Albert Arms on Friday), Eman El-Husseini and Ivan Decker.
"This tour has been postponed three times… I just stopped paying attention," he says, laughing. "I can’t wait to get out there — it’s going to be a great show. The lineup is phenomenal."
In the meantime, Mercer is enjoying the reception Talking to Canadians has received so far, and is looking forward to getting back to Newfoundland for the holidays.
"St. John’s is a great place at Christmas," he says. "It’s going to be a little different this year, because St. John’s is kind of famous for pretty raucous house parties at Christmastime that happen in very small kitchens with low ceilings. I don’t think that’s going to be happening."
Literary editor, drinks writer
Ben Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.