Inside the mind of Rick Mercer

I spoke with the comedian and Canadian icon, in the midst of the second season of his CBC TV news satire show, 'Monday Report'

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2004 print edition of Popjournalism magazine

Two regular-sized inkjet paper signs announce that you’ve arrived at the offices of Rick Mercer’s Monday Report. It looks like every other office in the labyrinth-like Toronto CBC Headquarters. Inside, there’s a farm of grey institutional desks with fabric cubicle walls. Lined around the room are tiny, mostly square workplaces. Near the end of the hall, to the right, is Rick Mercer’s small and windowless office. You can tell because there’s an over-sized paper envelope taped to the door with his name on it.

Right now, Mercer is not in his office and it looks like he never is. His Spartan home base holds a simple desk with a few accessories and two basic bookshelves on opposite walls. It looks like a humourless place in which to produce a comedy show. However, further exploration is put on hold as Mercer steps out of another office to introduce himself.

Once we shake hands and exchange pleasantries, Mercer takes a few minutes to pose for a few promotional photographs. He’s smaller than you’d think he’d be, but everyone says that about television celebrities. Other than that detail, he looks exactly as he does on television: an average-looking Canadian, with an average build. He has green eyes that are housed over thick, arched eyebrows. His curly black hair looks unmovable and forever in place. Today he’s wearing a pair of grey dress pants with a black suit jacket over a navy T-shirt.

After the photo shoot, his expression is serious, but not intimidating. The chit-chat between celebrity and journalist is civil and efficient, like a business transaction. He seems wary, like the friendly face of Popjournalism could at any time turn into an ambush.

It only takes a misplaced pen to crumble that impression.

As we walk into Mercer’s office to start the interview, following a covert effort to find my missing pen or to locate a stray replacement, I sheepishly admit that I need to borrow a pen.

This act seems to break the ice for Mercer. He sits down behind his desk, takes off his suit jacket, and turns his burgundy plastic pen organizer towards me.

“It’s the first day back to school and I’ve got my supplies,” he says. “Help yourself.”

Yes, back to school. It’s Mercer’s first day back to Monday Report since the first season ended in March. To mark his return to television, he has a bunch of freshly supplied ballpoint pens, the kind you’d find in cheap boxes of 10. After selecting a blue pen from his assortment, I can’t help but think that Mercer’s surroundings are unfitting of his stardom. Surely, the CBC could provide him with a bigger office and fancier furniture — or at least a wire mesh organizer. But Mercer will have none of that. When I tell him later about my impression of his office, he laughs it off and says: “Good offices don’t breed good comedy.”

He would know. The 35-year-old comedian has yet to experience failure in his more than 15 years on television. First, there was his eight-year run with This Hour Has 22 Minutes, then, a four-year run with his entertainment industry sitcom Made in Canada and now Monday Report has continued his winning streak. On Monday Report, Mercer starts the show with a from-the-headlines monologue, followed by a celebrity interview, then a satiric look at newspaper photos, and later, his trademark rant. For his celebrity interviews, Mercer has been able to snag high-profile Canadians week-after-week. On the first show of this season, Mercer scored a coup by getting journalist Pierre Berton to give tips on how to roll a joint. This year Mercer has already carved pumpkins with Prime Minister Paul Martin, shot pool with Justin Trudeau, and went to the Calgary Zoo with Jann Arden.

His show has been doing remarkably well as a result. In the debut season, Monday Report drew an average audience of 786,000 viewers. This season, that number has grown to an average of 850,000 viewers a week.