Talking to Americans
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, 2001 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. Talking to Americans was nominated for a Gemini Award, but following the 9/11 attacks Mercer declined the nomination and decided to stop doing the feature.
The intent was to satirize perceived American ignorance of Canada and the rest of the world.
- persuading Americans to congratulate Canada on legalizing VCRs or adopting the 24-hour day (then-Governor of Iowa Tom Vilsack was fooled by this one).
- various political controversies involving one or more Canadian provinces.
- discussion of then-Prime Minister of Canada Jean Chrétien, such as claiming that he was Canada's first Asian Prime Minister or that he just achieved a rare political feat called a "Double Double" in which he received support from both sides of the Canadian parliament. Mercer fooled American TV personalities David Hasselhoff and Jerry Springer into believing that Chrétien was a small-town mayor who just issued a proclamation to them, while Mercer introduced himself as a journalist named "Jean Chrétien" to game show host Louie Anderson, who failed to note the identity of the then-Prime Minister. In one of the feature's most famous moments, future President George W. Bush failed to correct Mercer when he falsely referred to Chrétien as "Jean Poutine" (see below).
- 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 then-Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee, whom Mercer later stated had asked off-camera if this was a "controversial igloo").
- changing the words in the Canadian Anthem and asking Americans to sing it.
- congratulating Canada for officially joining North America.
- congratulating Canada for moving the capital city from Kingston, Ontario to Toronto (the actual capital is Ottawa, and then-Vice President Al Gore failed to correct Mercer regarding Toronto being the capital).
- asking university students and professors to sign a petition against the Saskatchewan seal hunt and the Toronto polar bear hunt.
- asking Americans to condemn Canada's practice of euthanizing senior citizens by setting them adrift on Northern ice floes.
- asking Americans how many states Canada has (Canada has provinces and territories, not states).
- Saying that global warming is causing Canada's polar ice caps to melt and break in two, resulting in a bipolar Canada, and that the two polar caps can be joined back together with the use of tugboats. He further asks if America would assist in curing bipolar Canada with the use of tugboats, and that Canada will be using a big tugboat named Theodore.
- Convincing tourists at Mount Rushmore that the mineral rights to the mountain had been sold to a Canadian firm, and that this firm was getting ready to drill for oil in Lincoln's forehead. Alternatively, he would ask their opinion on a plan to expand the monument to include sculptures of Richard Nixon and Brian Mulroney; interviewees all failed to note that the latter was a Canadian Prime Minister, not a US President.
- Convincing Americans that the new wooden textured Canadian 5 dollar coin will be named the "woody" (a satirical spin on the "Toonie" two-dollar coin and the "Loonie" one-dollar coin), a play on the common slang term for an erection.
Professors at Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, Berkeley, New York University 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 "Jean Poutine", which was a play on the name of then-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien (Poutine is an order of French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy).
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 joked 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 (Rick Mercer's production company) and Salter Street Films (at the time the producer of 22 Minutes). The special produced and directed by Geoff D'Eon, who also produced and directed the segments for 22 Minutes.
Although the show received Gemini Award nominations, 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 television special in Canadian history.