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!

The festive season begins – hurrah!

Nathaniel Dett Chorale at Sounds of the Season

Nathaniel Dett Chorale at Sounds of the Season

It’s like the official start of the festive season, at least for me. CBC Radio One holds its “Sounds of the Season” event at the Glenn Gould Studio, where several Toronto-based programs either broadcast live or tape their show in front of a live audience. Special musical guests abound all day long, and it’s a rare chance for faithful listeners and the radio personalities to meet and interact, as well as to come together as partners to help the Daily Bread Food Bank.

Jill Dempsey tells a story

Jill Dempsey tells a story

And there’s just nobody like CBC Radio listeners to fill the void when the Food Bank needs help, in this year of dwindling jobs and an ever-rising need for rescue services. With cash and food donations, they meet and exceed the set goals every year. But outright donations are not the only option; the radio personalities themselves donate things that listeners can buy or bid on, and those proceeds also go to the Food Bank. And this year, Toronto artist groups donated art works as well, to auction for still more money. The Toronto Musicians Association and ACTRA both contributed, and supported this CBC event.

I’ve been meaning to come to this special day for many years. Usually, though, I was working, and couldn’t manage to get away even for part of the day. But today, at last, I made it. Though I still couldn’t – just couldn’t – get up early enough to see the entirety of my favourite show, Metro Morning, which starts at 5:45 a.m. (I don’t even know how they get up early enough every day, frankly.) I did make it for the last half hour, though, and then watched the taping of Big City, Small World as well.

Garvia Bailey prepares for taping Big City, Small World

Garvia Bailey prepares for taping Big City, Small World

One woman in line with me in the CBC Shop later remarked that it was just like being at home in the morning: sitting in the chair sort of dozing while Jill Dempsey gives you a news update, Scott Regehr recounts sports highlights, and Jim Curran warns of traffic snarls. Except that we could watch them as they did it, and watch Jane Hawtin guide the proceedings under the watchful eye and ear of the producers and camera and sound people. Everyone was in a happy, festive mood (despite the hour), and the music was wonderful.

It was wonderful all day long, with singers like Jackie Richardson, Mark Nadjiwan, and Sarah Slean, and groups like the Nathaniel Dett Chorale, the Barenaked Ladies, and several “house bands.”

Kevin Sylvester - "I can get up any time I want to"

Kevin Sylvester - "I can get up any time I want to"

We could mingle in the lobby and chat with various CBC personalities between tapings. Passing by Kevin Sylvester, the former national and Metro Morning sports guy, who still drops in to the CBC as a fill-in host while pursuing a freelance art career, I heard him telling someone, “I don’t work here any more so I can get up whenever I want.” But he seemed quite happy to have gotten up early today, to help Jane Hawtin on Metro Morning in regular host Andy Barrie’s absence.

The event was an immense success, as always, with Radio One listeners being their usual remarkably generous selves, and Radio One personalities rewarding all of us with great music and programming.

I may just find a way to get there by 5:45 a.m. next year. It was that much fun.

(Followup note: CBC has a slideshow from the day’s events. And the latest count posted on the “Sounds of the Season” site has the total raised for the Daily Break Food Bank at $277,590 and 8500 pounds of food. Hurray!)