'Canadian Jon Stewart' Explains Thanksgiving

On Monday, Americans celebrate Columbus Day but our neighbors to the north will commemorate Canadian Thanksgiving. But how, we wondered? Host Scott Simon interviews CBC comedian Rick Mercer, host of Rick Mercer Report. Mercer has been described, at least south of the border, as "The Canadian Jon Stewart."

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

It's a holiday weekend, both in the United States and Canada. On Monday Americans celebrate Columbus Day. Canadians will commemorate their Thanksgiving. So like, whats the difference between American and Canadian Thanksgiving?

Let's turn now to Rick Mercer. He's a satirist - at least I hope its satire -and host of "The Rick Mercer Report." The show is now in its eighth season on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He joins us from Toronto.

Rick, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. RICK MERCER ("The Rick Mercer Report"): Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: So how's Canadian - aside from a difference in date - how's Canadian Thanksgiving different?

Mr. MERCER: It's similar. You know, you do the turkey, you do the - its a celebration of the harvest. I dont believe it's as big a deal, like it's not as much a dress rehearsal for Christmas like it is in the United States. I think its much more low-key. But of course, just like your Columbus Day, it's at a time when everyone really wants a holiday, so it all works out.

SIMON: But there are no pilgrims involved.

Mr. MERCER: No, there's no pilgrims at all. Its all about the harvest. I guess maybe, again, that's why it's so much more of a bigger deal for you. No, it's all just about the harvest.

SIMON: I'm delighted to take advantage of this slender reed of fact to be able to talk to you. Now, you used to do a segment called "Talking to Americans."

Mr. MERCER: Yeah. I've been on TV, boy, you know, I'm 40 years old and I've been on the CBC for 20 years. But in the old days I used to do this segment, "Talking to Americans." It was a great gig. I would fly down to the United States every single week for Monday, Tuesday - Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, something like that. I could go to any city that I wanted to and I would just talk to Americans on the street, basically about Canada, and I would make stuff up.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Rick Mercer Report")

Mr. MERCER: And our Capitol building in Canada is actually a downscale model of your Capitol building, except its made out of ice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MERCER: It's an igloo, you see. And we're worried about global warming and the fact that it might (unintelligible) sort of putting a dome over it. But in order to pay for it, we have to attract tourists. Would you be interested in visiting the - Canada's national igloo?

Unidentified Woman: Absolutely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MERCER: Congratulations, Canada, on preserving your igloo.

Unidentified Woman: Congratulation, Canada, on preserving your national igloo.

Mr. MERCER: Yes, indeed.

Unidentified Woman: Well, congratulations, Canada, on becoming part of North America.

Mr. MERCER: Thank you very much.

SIMON: The same thing to you, Rick.

Mr. MERCER: Oh, my.

SIMON: Now, is that - may I ask, is that just thoughtfully edited ignorance? I mean, are Americans, in fact, in that much abject ignorance?

Mr. MERCER: Well, obviously it's edited, but the basis of the joke is, you know, in Canada you grow up - we're next to the United States. We're watching whatever you're watching. We're following your news. It's obvious that we are inundated with American cultural information and political information.

Whereas the opposite is not true. You guys know nothing about Canada. And for some reason, perhaps because of an inferiority complex, we would find it hysterical that, you know, we could say in Canada we only have 23 hours in our day and people would say, really, I had no idea. And they would believe it.

SIMON: I used to tell people that it actually took the Toronto Blue Jays - that they could win the American League pennant with fewer victories than, say, the Yankees.

Mr. MERCER: People would look at you and go that makes sense. I can see that. Yeah.

SIMON: You also have a segment on your show, which inevitably has been compared to "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." How do you feel about that?

Mr. MERCER: You know, it's good to be compared to a hit, obviously. I mean, the shows are actually quite different. I spend 80 percent of my broadcasts out in far-flung regions of Canada on basically travelogue adventures. So it's very different.

But the one thing that is similar is every week I do a commentary. There's segments about politics. It's a very current show. And I've covered politics for 20 years. So that's where the comparison comes in. And, you know, it's great.

SIMON: I saw a bit recently where you were rigging a ship.

Mr. MERCER: Oh, yeah. I get to do the most amazing things. We call it Host in Peril quite often, because people love to see me risk my life or be in danger. And I think what people like about it is they sense Mercer is not an adrenaline junkie. Like, I'm not the guy who says - if someone says, hey, you know, this long weekend, let's go skydiving - I would say, no, are you nuts? I'd just as soon sit down and have a cup of tea.

But yet on my job I end up jumping out of planes. Last week I got in an 18-wheeler and drove down a runway onto a skid track. The week before that they put me in a car and sunk me to the bottom of a lake to see if I could escape without an oxygen tank.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Rick Mercer Report")

Mr. MERCER: Welcome to a scenic gravel pit on the outskirts of Winnipeg, Manitoba. In the hallowed halls of Canadian academia there is one scientist who has dedicated his considerable talents to solving that most Canadian problem: what to do if you find yourself behind the wheel of a car that just happens to be underwater.

See, in Canada a lot of roads go by lakes. So this is a problem. We don't think - your car goes in the water and your car starts floating. It'll only float for a minute or two. Everyone gets on their cell phone and calls 911. And they go: The car's floating, could you come get me. And they say get out the window. And they go, well, it seems to be floating fine. And then by that time, you know, three minutes later they find you at the bottom of a lake with a cell phone in your hand, your seatbelt on, your window rolled up. So you've got to get that window down.

SIMON: Thanks. I'll remember that.

Mr. MERCER: That's it. I'm very passionate about that one.

SIMON: So, Rick, no special plans for Canadian Thanksgiving?

Mr. MERCER: Well, you know, I'm fortunate that I'm employed. And if you're in show business, of course, every night you go to bed and go, oh my god, tomorrow I'll never, ever work again. So the downside is, I don't get to sit around with friends and enjoy the turkey or family. And I have to get on a plane and fly to Charlottetown, P.E.I. and discover the potato harvest. Something that Jon Stewart's never done.

SIMON: Well, that's got to be a great potato harvest, right?

Mr. MERCER: Oh, yes.

SIMON: Those potatoes are famous.

Mr. MERCER: It's all potatoes. That's what they got.

SIMON: Well, I hope you have a good Thanksgiving anyway.

Mr. MERCER: I certainly will. Air Canada will do a lovely chicken thing, I'm sure.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MERCER: That's where I'll be, and that's not so sad. That'll be - my Thanksgiving dinner will be on a plane somewhere.

SIMON: Well, Rick, a pleasure talking to you. I hope we'll have the chance again.

Mr. MERCER: Thank you.

SIMON: Speaking to us, Rick Mercer, host of "The Rick Mercer Report" on CBC, joining us from Toronto.

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