W A S H I N G T O N, July 31, 2001 -- If you're an American, think twice if a man comes up to you on the street and asks, "Do you have a minute for Canadian television?"
Your answers might get you on the hottest comedy show in Canada — but the laugh will be at your expense.
Comedian Rick Mercer hosts a weekly segment called "Talking to Americans" that makes fun of Americans' ignorance of their northern neighbor.
Mercer poses as a newsman conducting man-on-the-street interviews with everyday Americans. He asks them, for instance, to congratulate Canada on recent achievements.
"Congratulations, Canada, for getting a McDonald's," says one man in New York City.
"Congratulations, Canada, on 800 miles of paved road!" says another New Yorker.
For the record, Canada has more than 1,100 McDonald's restaurants (the first opened in 1967), and more than 550,000 miles of paved road.
Canadians Just Love It!
Mercer's segment runs as part of a weekly show, This Hour Has 22 Minutes. It is so popular that the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. aired a special one-hour compilation on April Fool's Day. The special drew 2.7 million viewers, the highest rating for a comedy special in CBC's history.
Nightline will air highlights on tonight, as part of a show about how ready people are to give their opinion on subjects that they may know little about.
How the Mighty Are Fallen
Mercer often targets people who should know better.
On trips to Harvard and Princeton universities, he gets students and professors to sign a petition to protest Canadian government decisions "to resume the Saskatchewan seal hunt" and "reinstate the Toronto polar bear slaughter."
The Ivy Leaguers duly sign, forgetting that the province of Saskatchewan is landlocked (hence no seals) and that the closest polar bears to Toronto are about 1,500 miles away, in the Arctic.
During the U.S. presidential campaign, Mercer famously asked then-candidate George W. Bush for his reaction to an endorsement by Canadian Prime Minister Poutine. (Poutine is the name for the Quebec specialty of french fries and gravy; Jean Chretien is the Canadian prime minister.)
Bush fell for it. But so did his rival, Al Gore, when Mercer asked him about the Canadian capital Toronto (it's Ottawa).