As testament to his popularity, Rick Mercer’s “Final Report” at the Writers Festival had to be moved from a downtown venue to the much larger Centrepointe Theatre. Nearly 1,000 fans showed up to hear their favourite television comic perform in front of a live audience. Host Alan Neal of the CBC created a warm, relaxed atmosphere, but the evening had the pacing of a stand-up show. Mercer keeping the rapt audience laughing through most of the evening. As Neal explained, Rick Mercer – Final Report is a collection of the best rants from the fifteen-year run of the Rick Mercer Report. The book is also interspersed with behind the scenes memories and an homage to the show’s crew and production staff. Listening Mercer’s stories from the road, it was easy to understand how Mercer would build camaraderie among the entire Final Report team.
In taking his readers and the OIWF audience behind the scenes of The Rick Mercer Report, Mercer shared some of the challenges which occurred while filming in more than five hundred different locations. Mercer is a public figure with a very private life. As he told his audience, he has sometimes found it intrusive when he has been asked to describe his home, or the model of the car he drives. However, Mercer eventually opened up aspects of his private life for discussion. Mercer discussed the process of making his own sexuality more public with a rant focussed on the 2011 suicide of Ottawa teenager Jamie Hubley. Mercer also expressed his own sense of responsibility to be a role model along with other gay adults in public life.
Mercer is nothing if not fair, indulging as Neal pointed out in “equal opportunity skewering,” which includes easily laughing at himself. He shared a hysterical story of a conversation with director Norman Jewison, in which Mercer somehow sent a compromising photo of himself to his mother, rather than to Jewison. Mercer’s comic delivery and timing was perfect throughout the performance. Reading the rants and the stories in Final Report, it would be hard not to have his voice in your head.
Mercer told the audience that his reason for bringing the Rick Mercer Report to an end was based on his desire to protect the legacy of the show. Clearly, Final Report is part of that legacy. Mercer’s pride in the Report was evident throughout his performance, especially regarding the Report’s character as one of the last real ‘family shows’ on network television. Mercer had made the decision after the first season when letters were received from parents that nothing should be included in the show that couldn’t be watched by a family with children. It was in this first season, however, that Canadians saw Pierre Berton roll a joint on national television, a story that Mercer told over continuous laughter from the audience.
Mercer’s respect and admiration for Canada’s great icons was evident, as well as his love for, and commitment to our country. As with the show, politics was the theme of the evening. Mercer lamented the lack of the giant figures of yesteryear, demonstrated so clearly during question period in the House of Commons, where Mercer deplored the ongoing lack of decorum. Unsurprisingly, when asked about a quality he would like to see in a Prime Minister, Mercer said “honesty.” However, he made it very clear that politics are not on his horizon. His rants, Mercer pointed out, in his direct and self-deprecating way, do not offer solutions. Mercer encouraged younger members of the audience to dip their toe into the political waters. “You don’t have to have it figured out, he told them “just volunteer and it will be the most exciting thing you have ever done.”
While the overall tenor of the evening was laughter, Mercer shared several important messages, including a plea to the audience, as consumers of media not to settle for brief stories on Snapchat. Mercer reminded the audience to seek out more in-depth news stories, underlining that anything that happens in the US could happen here. “Anyone thinks otherwise is wrong,” he warned. Mercer’s cautionary message made for a sobering end to a hugely successful evening. The perfect blend of seriousness and humour in his last statement captured the essence of Rick Mercer, His show will be missed, but the spirit of the Final Report will last a long time.