Rick Mercer is a national treasure, and if his show hasn’t convinced you of this, then you need to get this book and re-read some of his rants from years gone by. Having been living in the UK for the past year and a half, my opportunities to watch The Rick Mercer Report have been reduced (I could probably get it, but it would require time and effort I don’t really have right now). I bought this book at the airport on my way back to the UK in the new year, because I was worried I would finish the book I was currently reading. That didn’t happen, but now I’m glad I have this little slice of Canada with me in Britain.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with The Rick Mercer Report, it’s like a little window into life in Canada. There are two major highlights to the show: the Rant, and Mercer’s visit to some place across Canada.
In the Rant, Mercer delivers a minute or minute-and-a-half satirical speech about some topic in current events, usually politics. He speaks directly into the camera while he and a very skilled cameraperson navigate the aggressively urban backdrop of an alley with heavy graffiti. As the name implies, the Rant is an emotionally, if finally honed, invective and invocation. Mercer scathingly criticizes and calls out behaviour he doesn’t like, whether it’s by politicians of any party or just people on the street, and he implores the audience or members of the public to do something about it. The result are often bitingly hilarious, but they can also come off as very pessimistic or cynical.
Reading these rants is a slightly different experience from watching them on TV. Mercer’s choice of words becomes more important, and of course you have to imagine the tone instead of hear it. For me, although I was entertained, I also felt a little ashamed of my country. The book has a selection of rants from September 2008 to March 2013. It was interesting to revisit the politics of my country through Mercer’s eyes. I once again experienced the rise of the Harper Conservative majority. I shared in Mercer’s cynicism regarding the leadership races of the Liberals and the NDP—demonstrating that, when it comes to calling out the bullshit, he is quite happy to take aim at the left as well as the right. And, as the years go by and Harper’s mark on Canada becomes more visible, the rants seem to become increasingly critical. Sometimes it seems like things are going from bad to worse.
But then you have the other half of the show, in which Mercer visits somewhere in Canada—and it could be literally anywhere, with any one. He has been to the Royal Canadian Mint (and tried to "steal" some gold bars). He has bungee-jumped off a bridge with wheelchair-using Rick Hansen. He visits university campuses across the country, parks, restaurants, etc., often accompanied by a politician, athlete, or some other celebrity. These segments are always fun: Mercer is like a kid in a candy shop; it’s as if every day is his first day on the job after being handed a TV show and told to "go do it". At the same time, Mercer graciously and infectiously highlights everything great about our country. He compliments the pancakes at the Hoito (which are great, but, you know, I’ve had better) and gets into all sorts of shenanigans with some of the least likely accomplices. It seems like Mercer will go anywhere and try anything, and the result is great TV and great moments where he shows the audience the diversity of our country.
Of course, these segments aren’t present in this book. Which is why I’m glad that instead it offers "Encounters and Exploits", photos of Mercer’s adventures with his various guests. They are nice breaks between the rants and reminders of this other essential part of Mercer’s show.
Because that’s what makes Rick Mercer such a valuable national asset. He simultaneously manages to shame and reassure. His Rants remind us that we are flawed; we are a country of problems that need to be fixed, and they aren’t going to be fixed as long as we stay silent about them. His excursions, on the other hand, showcase the best this country has to offer on the grandest or most modest levels. They evince the title of this book: Canada is indeed A Nation Worth Ranting About, and Mercer is never going to let us forget it.
So thank you, Rick Mercer, for bringing a passion and joy to your job and doing it so well.