Rick Mercer On Being An Openly Gay Celebrity

ThrowBack Article By Ryan Crocker

Photo Credit: Jon Sturge

This article was published in the July 2015 edition.


“I only made a point of making sure people knew I was gay after I came to the conclusion that if you are in public life and you are gay, it’s not enough to just be out to your friends and colleagues…”


OP: How did growing up in this city and province prepare you for your current career on the national stage?

RM: I was really lucky.

In high school the drama teacher Lois Brown basically forced me to start writing. She was an amazing teacher and director and she encouraged a group of us to basically go out on our own and start doing original shows instead of just doing one-act plays at high school drama festivals.

The group that I hung out with and started doing comedy with was insanely talented. Andrew Young- husband, Ashley Billard, Christine Taylor, Ken Tizzard, Sean Panting and so many more.

We went downtown to the LSPU hall and there we were given resources to stage our own shows. We went to NIFCO (Newfoundland Independent Film Co-operative) and they gave us resources to start making short films. And St. John’s being such a small and vibrant arts community meant that we got to know some of the country’s most talented people. Tommy Sexton, Greg Malone, Andy Jones, Mary Walsh, Cathy Jones – they were all incredibly generous and helpful.

OP: What lessons have you learned as a result of earning such success – any unexpected benefits or consequences that people wouldn’t expect?

RM: Canada doesn’t really have a star system but I always get treated really nice on Air Canada. I think that is the definition of celebrity in this country.

OP: How was your experience growing up gay in St. John’s?

RM: My experience growing up gay was pretty uneventful. I’m super fortunate that I had a happy childhood. I never struggled with my sexuality; I knew I was gay from day one. I didn’t do anything about it, of course. I went to a high school with 800 kids and I don’t think anyone was “out”. There was no such thing as a Gay-Straight alliance back then but we did have the drama club which was pretty close. I wish I was brave enough to have come out back then because I was on the Student Council. I was well known from hosting assemblies, that kind of thing. It probably would have helped some other kid in the closet who didn’t have those advantages. I feel somewhat guilty that I wasn’t the one brave enough to take the lead. I don’t know who the first kid to come out at Prince Of Wales Collegiate was but they were braver than I was at that age.

For many years I was out to family and friends but not out in my public life. I was never asked about it in the media and I was grateful because I did worry for a while about the effect it might have on my career. That was an irrational thought as coming out had zero impact. It was only hard because I am a private person by nature. I have done thousands of interviews and the only time I get nervous to this day is when questions involve my personal life. Even a question like “What are your hobbies?” or “What kind of car do you drive?” can throw me for a loop, so the idea of discussing my sexuality on National Radio or TV was very strange.

I only made a point of making sure people knew I was gay after I came to the conclusion that if you are in public life and you are gay, it’s not enough to just be out to your friends and colleagues. If you are out in your public life as well it sends an important message to that scared kid in grade eight who thinks being gay will stop them from achieving their goals or leading a happy life. That said, it’s one thing to come out when you’re some famous dude on TV who works in an industry that has always been tolerant. The brave LGBT folks are the out pilots, soldiers, teachers, cops and athletes. We need some hockey players to come out.

OP: What do you wish you had known when you were growing up? What advice or guidance would you give young people growing up here today?

RM: Well, I wish I learned to study when I was in school. I was a terrible student and had my life gone another way, had I not had a TV career, I am loath to think of what would have happened to me. Getting an education is the key and that goes for any young person. For an LGBT person an education is often the best way out of a place they don’t want to be.

OP: What do you feel are the biggest challenges or opportunities facing NL and Canada’s LGBT community today?

RM: Canada is basically one of the most tolerant places on earth when it comes to LGBT rights. The premier of Canada’s largest province is a lesbian; the premier of Canada’s smallest province is gay. On paper that says a lot about Canadian tolerance. We have a lot to celebrate.

For the community at large I think trans rights is a big issue. Trans people have a hard road and they do not have the same level of acceptance or support that lesbians or gay people have even in the LGBT community.

And just like every student has the right to feel safe in school, Canadians have a right to feel safe in the workplace. Tolerance in the workplace is still a very real struggle in far too many places in Canada.

OP: What advice would you give to a young LGBT person who is having trouble with bullying and is looking for inspiration?

RM: School is like jail for some kids, but eventually you get out of jail and then you can live where you want and go to school where you want. If you feel like there is something wrong with you, believe me, there isn’t. If someone is telling you that there is something wrong with you, they are wrong.

If you are being harmed or bullied you have to talk to someone. If a parent isn’t an option, then a teacher or a cop. There are resources out there, there are kids just like you, believe me.

OP: Are there any exciting things coming up career wise that you would like to mention?

RM: I feel like I have the best job in the country. I’m going to keep doing that. Just please don’t ask me about my hobbies.

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