Talking To Americans
was a regular feature presented by Rick Mercer
on the Canadian political satire
show This Hour Has 22 Minutes
. It was later spun off into a one-hour special that aired on April 1
on CBC Television
It consisted of interviewing Americans on the street and convincing them to agree with ridiculous statements, amongst others, about their northern neighbour. It uses clips from 22 Minutes and exclusive clips for this special, which was shown to the studio audience of 22 Minutes.
The intent was to satirize perceived American ignorance of Canada and the rest of the world. Examples included:
- asking Americans what they felt about the Russian invasion of Chechnya and Saskatchewan.
- persuading Americans that Canada is getting a five-dollar coin. It would have had a maple leaf on it and it would have been called the "woodie".
- getting several Americans to say that Edmonton should be bombed.
- telling residents of Chicago that Canada was considering changing its name to Chicago, and asking them what they felt about that idea.
- asking if Americans should try to liberate Nelson Mandela.
- persuading Americans to congratulate Canada on legalizing VCRs or adopting the twenty-four-hour day, (ex-Iowa governor Tom Vilsack was fooled by this one).
- various political controversies involving one or more Canadian provinces.
- congratulating the Canadian government on building a dome over its "national igloo" (apparently a downsized version of the United States Capitol made out of ice) to protect it from global warming (one of the interview subjects so fooled was Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee).
- agreeing that the U.S. should bomb Saskatchewan or send ground troops into Gilles Duceppe.
- having Americans congratulate Canada on legalizing insulin (although it was a Canadian who first discovered the substance).
- proposing the idea that a Canadian company actually had the mining rights to Mount Rushmore due to the plutonium within (plutonium is also a synthetic element).
- suggesting that when Canada would make a replica of Mount Rushmore, they might add William Howard Taft, Richard Nixon, and Brian Mulroney - at one point, a woman objected to Taft, saying that he did not best display American qualities, but she was fine with adding Brian Mulroney, former Prime Minister of Canada.
- congratulating Canada for getting its first university.
- congratulating Canada for getting a grade 9 and a volunteer fire station.
- changing the words in the Canadian Anthem and asking Americans to sing it.
- congratulating Canada for officially joining North America.
- controversy around the reconstruction of the historic "Peter Mann's Bridge", named after "Prime Minister Peter Mann" (actually a pun on the name of Canadian journalist Peter Mansbridge).
- asking if Jean Chrétien-Pinochet should be charged with crimes against humanity.
- asking students and professors at Columbia University to sign a petition asking Canadians to discontinue the practice of abandoning the elderly on ice floes.
- congratulating Prime Minister Tim Horton on getting a double-double (a coffee with two creams and two sugars or, according to Mercer, 'support on both sides of Congress').
- congratulating Canada on legalizing the stapler.
- the coronation of Svend Robinson as King Svend I.
- congratulating Canada for moving the capital city from Kingston, Ontario to Toronto (the actual capital is Ottawa).
- asking university students and professors to sign a petition against the Saskatchewan seal hunt and the Toronto polar bear hunt.
- asking Americans how many states Canada has (Canada has provinces, not states).
- wishing Canadians a "Happy Stockwell Day".
- congratulating Canadians on classifying Labrador Retrievers as elephants as to prevent them from being used for hard labour.
- congratulating the newly-elected prime minister of Chinese descent.
- tricking Americans into thinking that Canada did not have "high-tech" things such as airplanes, paved roads or FM radio.
- asking if Canada should replace its propeller planes with jet planes.
- saying that the country was allowing its Irish citizens to vote, stating that it was previously prevented by the French Canadian separatist movement.
- stating that in the last 30 years Canadians did not have any election recounts because Canadians use birch branches or pine cones as voting tokens.
- congratulating Canadians on offering bilingual tours of Joe Clark's Hole.
Some of the Americans interviewed seemed just to be playing along, although professors at Columbia, Harvard, and Stanford University were consistently fooled by absurdities such as the "Saskatchewan seal hunt". The only Americans who were shown outsmarting Mercer were a university student who spent her time laughing at him (before finally answering), and a small child who pointed out to his mother, who was also tricked, that Canada had provinces, not states.
George W. Bush
The most famous segment, aired in 2000
, featured Mercer asking then-presidential candidate George W. Bush
– who had previously stated that "you can't stump me on world leaders" – for his reaction to an endorsement by Canadian Prime Minister
Bush said he looked forward to working together with his future counterpart to the north, praising free trade and Canada. That said, Bush never actually used the name of Poutine and only failed to correct Mercer on the name. A few years later, when Bush made his first official visit to Canada, he said during a speech, "There's a prominent citizen who endorsed me in the 2000 election, and I wanted a chance to finally thank him for that endorsement. I was hoping to meet Jean Poutine.
The special was a co-production between Island Edge and Salter Street Films.
Although the show received Gemini Award nominations, Rick Mercer thought it would be inappropriate to make fun of American-Canadian relations so close to the events of September 11, 2001 and requested that the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television pull the nominations. Nonetheless, the CBC repeated the special on occasion well after those events.
"Talking to Americans" attracted 2.7 million Canadian viewers, making it the highest-rated comedy special in the history of CBC.