‘Talking to Americans’ Reveals Ignorance of Canada in U.S.


Ever wonder if Canada will outlaw the polar bear slaughter in Toronto or make beaver meatballs the national dish? If so, Rick Mercer wants to talk to you.

A comedian who specializes in political and cultural satire, Mercer’s most popular shtick is “Talking to Americans"--a “Candid Camera"-esque routine in which he travels the United States asking people ridiculous questions to exploit their ignorance about their northern neighbor.

The sketch is part of “This Hour Has 22 Minutes,” a weekly comedy show on the government-supported Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Similar to the Jay Walk, in which “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno asks random people easy questions to show how ill-informed they can be, the Canadian version has Mercer enticing Americans to offer serious comment on wildly fabricated news stories about Canada.

It focuses on U.S. ignorance of Canadian geography, culture and politics, a long-running joke to Canadians who know that Canadian-American awareness mostly is a one-way street. Beneath the guffaws, though, is a resentment over U.S. cultural domination.


Life in the shadow of a rich superpower makes Canadians all too aware of their relative insignificance on the world stage, said Geoff D’eon, producer-director of “Talking to Americans.”

“We’re not even on the radar, and we find that kind of amusing,” D’eon said. “If we were Germans, we would be insulted, but we’re not. We’re Canadians and we find this funny.”

In one instance, Mercer asked an Idahoan if the United States should bomb Bouchard in response to fighting in Kosovo.

“Absolutely,” said the respondent, unaware that Lucien Bouchard was premier of Quebec at the time and leader of the movement to separate the province from Canada.

“Americans don’t know who we are talking about,” the 31-year-old Mercer said. “We find that funny because we happen to know who Newt Gingrich is even if we don’t want to know.”

He has persuaded average Americans, politicians, even university professors to sign petitions calling for the end to polar bear slaughters in downtown Toronto or seal hunts in landlocked Saskatchewan.

Other fake news concocted by Mercer plays to the worst of Canadian stereotypes, such as Canada getting its 800th mile of paved road or a ninth school grade. Nothing is sacred: Mercer has convinced Americans the Canadian government is set to proclaim beaver meatballs as the national dish and pondered putting a hockey puck on the national flag.

Even George W. Bush got caught by a Mercer prank during his presidential campaign. Bush publicly thanked Canadian Prime Minister “Jean Poutine” for a phony presidential endorsement relayed to him by Mercer, posing as a foreign journalist.

Bush failed to catch the fast-talking Mercer substituting the word poutine--a Quebec mix of French fries, gravy and cheese curds--for the real name of the prime minister, Jean Chretien.

Al Kamen, political gossip columnist for the Washington Post, called such stunts “a bit unfair, but you can say that ‘Saturday Night Live’ is unfair, too.”

To Canadians, it all is hilarious.

“I think the show illustrates exceptionally well our perceptions of Americans--that Americans know nothing beyond their own borders and have no problem with their ignorance,” said Julie Longo, who crosses the border from Windsor, Ontario, to teach Canadian history at Wayne State University in Detroit.

Longo, daughter of a Canadian mother and American father, tapes segments of “Talking to Americans” for her students.

“It makes Americans look stupid, but it’s more complicated than that,” she said. “It gives us a chance to laugh at our own culture.”

More than 1 million Canadians tune in for the show, which Mercer has convinced some Americans is the entire population of Canada. The real population figure is 30 million, for the biggest U.S. trading partner.

For Louise Pohle-Bjolin, an American living in Toronto, the show brings embarrassment.

“How does he get people to say this stuff?” she asked. “Apparently they are this stupid.”