Early Years and Career
Raised in a middle-class home in the St. John’s suburb of Middle Cove, Rick Mercer was president of his high school’s student council but, ironically, never graduated. The first performance piece he ever helped write — a one-act play called The 20-Minute Psychiatric Workout — won Newfoundland’s high school drama festival. Mercer and his colleagues formed their own theatre company called Corey and Wade’s Playhouse and performed original sketches in theatres in and around St John's. When he was 18 and working as a dishwasher, Mercer landed a gig doing comedic commentaries for CBC Radio by pitching a group of dining producers on the subject of making politics funnier.
His meteoric rise began in 1990 at age 21 with his one-man show, Show Me the Button, I'll Push It. A pointed, satirical commentary on Canadian life after the Meech Lake Accord, the show premiered at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa before touring across the country. His second show, 1992’s I've Killed Before, I'll Kill Again, was equally successful.
This Hour Has 22 Minutes
In 1993, Mercer teamed with Greg Thomey and former CODCO members Cathy Jones and Mary Walsh for the inaugural season of the satirical CBC comedy show This Hour Has 22 Minutes. During his eight seasons on the multiple-award-winning series, Mercer honed his genially confrontational style, primarily through his trademark rants in which he would speak directly to the camera about a current political issue while briskly walking through a heavily graffitied city alley.
Talking to Americans
Mercer enjoyed his greatest popular success with Talking to Americans, in which he exposed the ignorance that many Americans have of Canada by asking people in the United States their opinion about things concerning Canada that were comically false. The concept began as a regular segment on This Hour Has 22 Minutes and was expanded into an hour-long special in 2001. It attracted international attention and 2.7 million viewers, making it the highest-rated comedy special in CBC history.
Made In Canada and Rick Mercer Report
In 1998, Mercer compiled some of his better-known rants into the book Streeters, which reached number one on the Globe and Mail's national bestseller list. Also that year, he created, wrote and starred in his own sitcom, Made In Canada, a satire of the Canadian film and television industry.
The popular series came to an end in 2003 and the following year Mercer debuted a new current affairs series, Rick Mercer's Monday Report. By the beginning of its third season, it was the highest-rated arts and entertainment show on CBC. In addition to satirical reporting of news and current affairs, the show features Mercer engaging in local activities in communities across the country. Following a move to Tuesday nights, its name was changed to Rick Mercer Report.
Another collection of Mercer’s political monologues became Rick Mercer Report: The Book in 2007. In 2008, it was expanded as Rick Mercer Report: The Paperback Book. In 2012, a collection of his rants, articles and essays was published as A Nation Worth Ranting About.
In September 2017, prior to the premier of the 15th season of Rick Mercer Report, Mercer announced that the show would not be returning for another season after its completion in April 2018. “It’s still the best job in the world,” he told CBC News. “In many ways, I could do it forever. But things don’t last forever and the shows that I respect the most, they wrap them up on their own terms, and that's exactly what I'm doing.” The show’s final season was still very popular, drawing an average of 831,000 viewers per episode. The 277th and final episode — a one-hour special featuring highlights from past seasons — aired on 10 April 2018 and drew 1.6 million viewers.
In 2018, Rick Mercer Report received the Academy Icon Award at the Canadian Screen Awards for its "exceptional, ongoing contribution to the media industry at home or abroad."
Mercer placed 50th in the Greatest Canadian contest held by the CBC in 2004 and is a popular host for awards shows and series; he has hosted the Gemini Awards, Juno Awards, Canadian Country Music Awards, East Coast Music Awards and CBC’s annual Canada Day event on Parliament Hill. He won a Canadian Screen Award for hosting the CBC’s Canada Day special in 2017, Canada Day 150! From Coast to Coast to Coast. He has also brought his unique wit to TV specials such as CBC’s The Next Great Prime Minister, the history program It Seems Like Yesterday and CBC’s New Year’s Eve 2016 special, Canada’s New Year’s Eve: Countdown to 2017.
Mercer’s 2003 visit to Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan became the Gemini-nominated Christmas special Rick Mercer’s Christmas in Kabul. He has appeared as an actor in such Canadian films and television series as Bon Cop Bad Cop (2006) and Republic of Doyle (2014), and was credited with inspiring many young adults to vote in the 2011 federal election. In response to the epidemic of suicides among gay and lesbian youth in Canada, Mercer spoke out strongly against bullying in schools, participating in the “It Gets Better” video campaign and calling on LGBTQ adults in public life, such as himself, to be open about their personal lifestyles in order to provide young people with respected gay role models.
Rick Mercer has been in a relationship with Gerald Lunz, a television writer and producer, since 1990. Lunz was a writer on This Hour Has 22 Minutes from 1996 to 1998, a writer, co-creator and executive producer on Made In Canada, and executive producer and co-creator of Rick Mercer Report.
Mercer has been heavily involved with charities throughout his career. He donated the $15,000 cash prize from his Governor General’s Award to LSPU Hall, a St. John's theatre where he got his start. He donated his earnings as spokesperson for the Government of Canada’s “one-tonne challenge” to Toronto's Casey House, a hospice for people with HIV, and co-founded with Belinda Stronach the Spread the Net Campaign, which has raised more than $1 million to help prevent malaria in Africa. He is active with Walk for Life, a fundraiser for HIV and AIDS patients, and lends his talents to environmental causes such as energy conservation. He is outspoken in his support of the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces and was named honorary colonel of the Nova Scotia-based 423 Maritime Helicopter Squadron. He also serves on the board of Historica Canada, which produces the Heritage Minutes and publishes this encyclopedia.
Mercer has received numerous honours for his work as a comedian, actor and writer, including the 1993 Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council’s Artist of the Year Award, the 2003 Banff Television Festival’s Sir Peter Ustinov Award, and a 2004 Governor General's Performing Arts Award. In 2012, he was given ACTRA Toronto’s Award of Excellence in recognition of “an exceptional body of work and a commitment to advocacy on behalf of all performers.” In 2016, he received ACTRA’s John Drainie Award for his “unique approach to raising awareness of Canadian politics and current affairs.” In 2019, he received a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement.
He has also received many honours in recognition of his humanitarian and charitable work, including the King Clancy Award from the Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons, the Stanley Knowles Humanitarian Award from the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, and the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. He has also received the Rick Hansen Award of Excellence from the March of Dimes and been inducted into the Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons’ Hall of Fame for his continued work on behalf of people with disabilities (see also Disability Rights Movement).
- Best Performance (Individual or Ensemble) in a Comedy Program or Series (This Hours has 22 Minutes) (1995, 1996, 1997)
- Best Writing in a Comedy or Variety Program or Series (This Hours has 22 Minutes) (1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000)
- Best Performance in a Pre-School Program or Series (The Adventures of Dudley the Dragon, “The Last Dudley”) (1998)
- Best Performance in a Comedy Program or Series (This Hours has 22 Minutes) (1999, 2000)
- Best Ensemble Performance in a Comedy Program or Series (Made In Canada) (2001, 2004)
- Best Writing in a Comedy or Variety Program or Series (Made In Canada) (2002, 2004)
- Best Comedy Program or Series (Rick Mercer Report) (2009, 2011)
- Best Music, Variety, Sketch Comedy or Talk Program or Series (Rick Mercer Report) (2013)
- Best Performance (Individual or Ensemble) in a Variety or Sketch Comedy Program or Series (Rick Mercer Report) (2013, 2014, 2015)
- Best Writing in a Variety or Sketch Comedy Program or Series (Rick Mercer Report) (2013, 2015, 2016)
- Best Variety or Sketch Comedy Program or Series (Rick Mercer Report) (2014, 2015, 2016)
- Best Host in a Live Program or Series (Canada Day 150! From Coast to Coast to Coast) (2018)
- Academy Icon Award (Rick Mercer Report) (2018)
- Pretty Funny Male Performance (Made In Canada) (2000)
- Pretty Funny Writing (This Hour Has 22 Minutes) (2000)
- Pretty Funny Writing, Special or Episode (This Hour Has 22 Minutes) (2000)
- Pretty Funny Writing, Series (This Hour Has 22 Minutes) (2001)
- Pretty Funny Male Performance (Made In Canada) (2002)
- Pretty Funny Writing, Series (This Hour Has 22 Minutes) (2002)
- Pretty Funny Writing (Made In Canada) (2003)
- Writers Guild of Canada Awards
- WGC Award (This Hour Has 22 Minutes) (1997)
- WGC Award (This Hour Has 22 Minutes, “New Year’s Eve Special”) (1999)
- WGC Award (Made In Canada, “Damacles: What A Doll”) (2001)
- Artist of the Year Award, Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council (1993)
- Sir Peter Ustinov Award, Banff Television Festival (2003)
- National Arts Centre Award, Governor General's Performing Arts Awards (2004)
- Award of Excellence, ACTRA Toronto (2012)
- Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012)
- King Clancy Award, Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons (2012)
- Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (2013)
- Comedy Icon Lifetime Achievement Award, Cracking Up the Capital Comedy Festival (2014)
- Officer, Order of Canada (2014)
- Rick Hansen Award of Excellence, March of Dimes (2014)
- Hall of Fame Inductee, Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons (2015)
- Stanley Knowles Humanitarian Award, Ontario Public Service Employees Union (2015)
- John Drainie Award, ACTRA (2016)
- Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award - Broadcasting, Governor General's Performing Arts Awards (2019)
- Doctor of Letters, Laurentian University (2002)
- Doctor of Letters, Memorial University of Newfoundland (2005)
- Doctor of Laws, Brock University (2009)
- Doctor of Letters, McMaster University (2010)
- Doctor of Civil Law, Bishop’s University (2010)
- Doctor of Letters, University of British Columbia (2010)
- Honorary Doctorate, University of Guelph (2012)
- Doctor of Laws, Royal Military Academy (2014)
- Doctor of Laws, University of Western Ontario (2014)
- Doctor of Laws, York University (2014)