Newfoundland comedian Rick Mercer first popularized his short, pithy "rants" on the idiocies of Canadian politics on the ensemble show This Hour Has 2Newfoundland comedian Rick Mercer first popularized his short, pithy "rants" on the idiocies of Canadian politics on the ensemble show This Hour Has 22 Minutes and made them the centrepiece of his own half-hour news parody, The Rick Mercer Report. This book gathers together some of his most incisive rants from RMR, along with a sprinkling of camera stills and transcribed dialogue of memorable moments with the Canadian "celebrities" brave enough to accept the invitation to appear on his show.
The rants cover the years from early 2004 – just after Paul Martin's ascension to the Liberal throne – to the spring of 2008 when Steven Harper's minority Conservative government readied itself for another election and liberal-minded Canadians began to develop a serious case of Obama-envy. I'd forgotten just how depressing it was to watch a scandal-plagued Paul Martin earn himself the sobriquet Mr. Dithers from The Economist and make a hash of his election campaign, and and how frustrated it made me to watch the gradual rise to power of Steven Harper's Conservatives. It's a credit to Mercer that he made me laugh even as he brought those dreary days back to mind.
Unfortunately, anyone who isn't Canadian – and a fair number of people who actually are – wouldn't be likely to get a lot of laughs out of this book, even if it wasn't four years out of date. Many of the punchlines require a knowledge of Canadian politics or history beyond what is explained in the lead up and I definitely had to dig deep in my memory to remember some of the details. But if you have the requisite background knowledge, Mercer is hilarious, with a knack for hitting the nail squarely on the head.
And for some, the camera stills and quotes might be worth the price of admission. I deeply regret that I missed the episode that saw Margaret Atwood don a pair of skates and a Montreal Canadiens goalie uniform to discuss players who try to "deke" the goalie. The guffaw-inducing photograph provided an entirely new perspective on Canada's first lady of belles lettres.
I've always been amazed at what Mercer can talk his guests into doing – and vice versa. He has parachuted out of an airplane with Canadian Army commander Rick Hillier, skinny-dipped with former NDP premier and current Liberal party leader Bob Rae, and had a sleepover at 24 Sussex Drive, the home of Canada's Conservative prime minister Steven Harper. And, more often than not, Mercer and his audience are laughing with his guests, not at them.
And while Mercer loves to poke fun at our Canadian politicians, he isn't above poking fun at Canadians themselves. After eight years of George Bush, some of us had become more than a little smug. But in the spring of 2008, as the primaries heated up in the US and Canadians prepared to go to the polls for the second time in as many years, Mercer deftly punctured our inflated sense of superiority:
We Canadians think of ourselves as part of this progressive, diverse nation and yet who's running for the top job in big, bad, backwards America? A woman, a black man, a Libertarian, a Mormon with big hair, and some dude who was in a bamboo cage in Vietnam for five and a half years. Meanwhile in Canada, we're gearing up for yet another race between a pudgy white guy and a skinny white guy and some other white guy.
I haven't had television for almost five years so I had no idea if The Rick Mercer Report was still on the air but according to the CBC web site, RMR recently celebrated its 150th episode. I'm glad to know that Mercer is still out there taking the piss out of Canadian politicians. He may not be as well known as David Sedaris, but in my opinion his talent is just as huge, maybe even more so. It's definitely as huge as Canada....more
I really wanted to like this book. I wanted to find David Sedaris as "blisteringly" and "dangerously" funny as everyone said he was. I was looking forI really wanted to like this book. I wanted to find David Sedaris as "blisteringly" and "dangerously" funny as everyone said he was. I was looking forward to splitting my sides and laughing until I cried. I was eager to be "wildly" entertained.
And I was entertained. At certain times and by certain scenes. But many of the essays in this book just left me wondering, "What's the point?"
Mind you, when Sedaris was good, he was very good. Skewering those trendy fusion restaurants that take unusual flavour combinations to ridiculous lengths, for example:
"This," the waiter announces, "is our raw Atlantic swordfish served in a dark chocolate gravy and garnished with fresh mint." "Not again," I say. "Can't you guys come up with something a little less conventional?"
Or cataloguing his maladroit attempts to learn French while sojourning in France with his boyfriend Hugh. Arriving with a single word – inexplicably, "bottleneck" – in his French vocabulary, Sedaris proffers it hopefully on every occasion. "Oh, bottleneck," everyone said. "You speak very well."
Later he entirely captures the strangeness as one's brain and mouth attempt to wrap themselves around a new language, rendering his novice French in strict English translation. Attempting to explain Easter and Jesus to a Moroccan classmate, Sedaris and his fellow students come up with such gems as "He weared of himself the long hair" and "on the Easter we be sad because somebody makes him dead today."
And any native English speakers who have ever grappled with another language's unaccountable predilection for assigning genders to inanimate objects will chortle as Sedaris tries to reason out why a vagina is masculine but masculinity is feminine and will probably wonder why they weren't as clever as Sedaris who eventually realizes he can circumvent the entire quagmire by referring to everything in the plural.
But despite these bits of chuckle, this wasn't the laugh-until-it-hurts experience that I was led to expect. Far from flying, the real zingers seemed rather few and far between. And Sedaris's sarcastic edge – which worked so well when it was self-deprecating – slipped too easily from snarky to mean-spirited when it was directed at others.
Then there were the topics or events that just seemed distinctly unfunny to me. I've just never been a fan of scatological or expletive-filled humour, which feature prominently in two of the essays here. And I've seen far too many lives ruined by drugs to find anything remotely amusing about Sedaris's art school experimentation with crystal meth, although his mockery of the empty-headed performance art movement was apt. And having yourself made up to look like you've been severely beaten and then going into a store and announcing that you are really really in love for the first time in your life and you're "so happy" – as his sister does – struck me as deeply offensive.
I'm probably both too serious and too sensitive to properly appreciate Sedaris. Even so, it seems to me that the reviewer who said that his talent is as huge as the population of China has somewhat overstated the case. A talent that big surely ought to be capable of raising a belly laugh in even the most humorless audience....more