For almost two decades, Rick Mercer has been a staple of the Canadian comedy scene, beginning with his eight-year stint (1993-2001) on the groundbreaking satirical news program This Hour Has 22 Minutes (1993-current), which included his Talking to Americans segments. In these, Mercer’s unassuming reporter persona J. B. Dickson visited U.S. university campuses, state capitols, and major cities, tricking unsuspecting Americans into revealing their ignorance about their northern neighbor, such as in signing petitions to stop Toronto’s polar bear hunt or congratulate Canada on legalizing insulin. Following This Hour, Mercer launched The Rick Mercer Report (2004-2018), which consisted of an opening monologue, ad spoofs, sketch comedy, political lampoons, over 500 cross-Canada visits, and brief rants.
Arguably, on the RMR, it was Mercer’s rants, or “streeters,” that people tuned in for. In these, a shaky camera follows an impassioned, briskly striding, madly-gesturing Mercer down Toronto’s Graffiti Alley while he sharply editorializes on various subjects: life in Canada, the government, Canada/US relations, and trending issues, such as confusing Swine Flu messaging.
Whereas many of Mercer’s earlier rants were light-hearted satire, they evolved and darkened over fifteen years when he realized that messaging and action were more relevant than humor and cleverness. Some weightier streeters caught international attention, such as “It Gets Better,” which addressed bullying and teen suicide. However, Mercer’s biting persona and patriotism most obviously emerged in a series of rants (2010-2015) about the disrespectful treatment of veterans, his most viewed being “Lest We Forget” (543, 610 views), strategically pre-released on Twitter on Nov. 9, 2012, two days before Remembrance Day. Mercer’s targets are several: backroom budget cuts, the closure of several Veterans Affairs offices, duplicitous government officials, inappropriate solutions (replacing an office with an unusable smartphone app), and, finally, bureaucratic red tape: “I’m sorry. If you fought on the beach in Dieppe and survived you should not have to spend any portion of your final days on this earth in a Service Canada line.” Mercer's final stinger comes in the rant’s concluding closeup: that Conservative MPS voted “to send those who served on the front lines to the back of the line means lest we forget is meaningless. Clearly we’ve forgotten.” Covered by Huff Post Canada, Mercer's rant drew attention to the Canadian government's hypocrisy and negligent treatment of veterans.
In A Nation Worth Ranting About,’ Mercer confesses that behind his streeters was always a fervent desire to inform his audience, so that they, too, could critique Canada, making it “a noisier but happier place. . . . the next time you pick up a newspaper and you feel your blood boil, not to let it simmer. Rant and be merry. And rant about what you love." For Mercer, ranting remained a passion, a privilege, and a patriotic act.