Yes Rick Mercer really is like that

The set of the Rick Mercer Report

"And now it's time for...The Front Page"

That’s right. Whatever you see on the Rick Mercer Report, even when things are a bit scripted, that’s what Mercer is really like. At least as far as I could tell, when I went to a taping a few weeks ago. Mercer, who preceded the American Jon Stewart by several years when it comes to satirical poking at politics, really does have those lightning-quick responses to comments people make. Here’s a man who thinks on his feet. And he is very, very funny.

The studio was big and the audience was huge, compared to other CBC tapings I’ve been to. But this, understandably, is a very popular show. Booming rock music (just my kind!) filled the room as several interns escorted everyone to their seats, trying to keep groups of people together. The whole atmosphere was electric. And when Mercer finally bounded onto the set, nobody had to prompt the audience to applaud and yell at the top of their lungs.

Rick Mercer interacting with his audience

"My you're a tall audience."

His first comment as he stood there and looked out at us? “My, you’re a tall audience.” And it just went on from there. He had a running commentary going with the floor manager, whose name was Bob, as I recall. He took the time to chat with several people in the audience, and he kept us all laughing and feeling a part of the show. He even had Bob recount to us the adventures he (Bob) had had with flight cancellations and diversions on his way to a wedding in Winnipeg the previous snowy weekend in Manitoba.

All of this shows some definite people skills, because as anyone knows who has watched the show, many of the segments are pre-taped. It wasn’t like Mercer was going to take this entire audience down to the Maple Leaf Gardens to watch him film his Battle of the Blades figure skating segment with Tie Domi, after all. And the ad for taser-proof undergarments had already been made. So one might have wondered why an audience was there at all for the little bits that were left.

He stays afterward for everybodyBut Mercer made a great night of it. Even for pre-taped segments, he was back onstage to introduce them, with the usual hilarious comments. And always, in between segments, he kept in good contact with the audience and helped us while away the time till taping was ready to start again.

But he didn’t stop there, in his good audience relations. Or should I perhaps say his showing himself to be a really good guy? Because after the show is over, Mercer always sticks around to talk to people. So you can say a quick hello, get an autograph if you want, and even get your picture taken with him. And this can add another two hours to his night!

What Rick sees from his desk

What Rick sees

As one of the interns told an elevator full of us afterward, “He’s really nice.” That’s the impression you get when you watch him boat racing with a Canadian Olympian in a giant pumpkin in Pembroke, Ontario, attempting trick riding at the Canadian Finals Rodeo in Edmonton, Alberta, going on a tour of Parliament Hill in Ottawa, or visiting the Electronic Arts video game developers in Burnaby, B.C. Or, of course, figure skating with Tie Domi at Maple Leaf Gardens. Mercer really likes seeing all these different people and doing things with them, and getting to know Canada. And, of course, bringing all of that to his audience.

When you go to a taping of the Rick Mercer Report, you see the same funny, friendly, interested guy you always see on the show. You just get to be one of the lucky Canadians who sees all that in person.

GO! CBC Radio’s High Energy Show

Brent Bambury greeting his public

Brent Bambury greeting his public

If you’re not bouncing with energy when you enter a live broadcast of CBC Radio’s “GO!” you certainly will be by the time you leave. Brent Bambury, the host of the show, is as enthusiastic and energetic in person as he sounds on air; in fact, all the people involved with the show seem just as lively. The whole point, we were told by the young woman known to regular listeners as Contest Nana, is to create a lot of noise. A lot.

I went to a recent taping of the show, whose theme was Useless University Degrees. This was serendipitously appropriate, since I have a couple of those myself. As is usually the case on these themed shows, there were a couple of guests who exemplified the theme, who were quizzed and set tasks that related to it. In this case, the tasks were designed to help university students with “useless degrees” prepare themselves for a real job. There was live music, a small contest, plenty of laughs, and Brent Bambury driving the show forward with lots of humour.

The table where the masterpiece is created

The table where the masterpiece is created

I was as impressed as I always am at CBC tapings. Every part of the show is carefully planned – Brent told us later that there were about 120 different sound cues in this broadcast alone – but they make it sound effortless on air. It almost looks effortless too, as Jeff Goodes hovers over the show, ushering guests in and out and giving everyone – staff, performers, and audience – their cues for when to speak and when to be silent. And, of course, when to get very, very rowdy.

Everything is different from what you imagine when you listen to the radio, which is of course part of the magic of radio in the first place. The room was smaller than I pictured, but that made the experience very cozy and kept the audience involved with what was going on at the microphones.

The mysterious control room

And that was another thing: nothing is quite as spontaneous as it seems on the radio either. The show is much more scripted than it sounds, though Brent’s ad libs in response to people’s comments are real. The man is definitely as funny as he sounds on air.

The question period afterward was even more interesting and enlightening than the show, because we learned some of the process involved in making the program sound natural and easy. And that process is very hard work indeed. It takes days to work up the scripts, and many, many rewrites.

The performers really have to squeeze in

But the result is well worth it. Even this “useless degrees” show, which Brent said was harder to put together than most of them are, had us all revved up at the end. The music was great (the guests this week were the Hidden Cameras), the commentary and contests were fun, and Brent Bambury sat at the centre of it all, keeping us interested and involved and, most of all, keeping us laughing.

What made things even more special this week was that a young girl named Ellie, who had been to three or four previous live tapings of the show, had brought several of her best friends with her this time. Because this morning’s taping was the birthday party she wanted, as she turned thirteen.

Go is always a great way to start a Saturday morning. But seeing it live creates extra energy that lasts for the entire day. And it makes the absolute best birthday party!

George Stromboulopoulos IS “The Hour”

It was like CBC Celebrity Day or something. At least, that was how it felt as a crowd of us stood in line in the big hallway at the CBC Head Office building last week, waiting to be admitted to a live taping of The Hour.

We already knew we’d see George Stromboulopoulos, the show’s host. It was a bonus when he appeared in the hall as well, but what we didn’t expect was Natalie Brown, star of the comedy program, Sophie, to stroll by. Nor, soon after, an appearance by three stars from the other recent hit, Little Mosque on the Prairie. Sitara Hewitt (Rayyan Hamoudi), Carlo Rota (Yasir Hamoudi), and Zaib Shaikh (Amaar Rashid) happened along, and chatted with several people near the front of the line, giving out autographs and engaging in several impromptu photo shoots.

I remarked to someone in front of me, “This feels like Hollywood.”

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