Rick Mercer: minister of humour

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      Rick Mercer is an anomaly in Canadian show business: an entertainer whose sights aren't set on the bright lights and big cities of America. As one of Canadian television's most recognizable faces, he's content being this country's foremost political satirist.

      "I don't see that as slumming it by any stretch," he said by phone from his home in Toronto. "I get to cover what I love, which is Canadian politics. I get to travel the country, hang out with polar bears, or go to Nunavut, or do whatever I want. That offer obviously never came along from the States because that job's only available here and I have it."

      There clearly isn't a big demand for commentaries on Newfoundland premier Danny Williams or Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor down south, and even in the eyes of many Canadians they lack the glamour of, say, Canadian Idol. But they're what drive the man.

      "I have friends who tell me I'm completely crazy, and they'll say, 'Why are you even remotely interested in what these people have to say?'" he laughs. "But I just love the stuff. You gotta love what you're going to satirize.”¦Politics is like my baseball. You know how baseball people are obsessed with stats? That's kind of the way I am with politics. But part of my job is to not bore the hell out of people with politics, much like you don't want your baseball-fan friend boring the hell out of you with the intricacies of statistics that nobody cares about other than other obsessed baseball fans."

      Mercer, who cocreated and starred in eight seasons of the TV series This Hour Has 22 Minutes, will be at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on Friday (May 4), talking about his adventures in Canadian television. The presentation will include backstage stories and clips from various shows.

      As a young Newfoundlander in the late '80s, Mercer started out in a sketch troupe, but he soon moved on to performing one-man shows so that he could talk more about his obsession.

      "I wasn't really that interested in doing sketches about two guys working at the office, standing at the water cooler, talking about the new secretary, or what have you," he says. "I had fun doing that, but it wasn't really what interested me. What interested me was politics."

      And it still does. Political junkies need their fix, even when they're not getting paid to pontificate. His current CBC TV series, The Rick Mercer Report, is on hiatus until the fall, but he still loves to talk shop. "I have very few skills," he points out, "but not shutting up is one that I have."

      Stéphane Dion, he observes, has "got problems on top of his problems. If we started talking about the problems Stéphane Dion faces right now, I could keep you on the phone for an hour. They're massive."

      Stephen Harper, on the other hand, "has to be very concerned right now that his numbers aren't up. He just spent more money than any Canadian prime minister has ever spent on a budget”¦and they're still not in majority territory. This is not a party whose future is bright. They've got some serious problems. And this is against Stéphane Dion, who everyone thinks is a nincompoop."

      Unlike many political comedians, Mercer doesn't offer a one-sided harangue. "I've had a good week when I get 12 e-mails from my liberal friends saying that I've sold out and become a conservative and I get 12 e-mails from my conservative friends saying that I'm a liberal shill," he says. "I have the luxury of being nonpartisan and saying whatever I want to say."