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  • Writer's pictureDuane Wysynski

Rick Mercer Holds Court

On Saturday, February 20, Dodgeball Canada and Dodgeball Edmonton had the honour of hosting Rick Mercer and his team for a taping of the Rick Merc

er Report. A number of phone calls leading up to the day provided us with just enough info to be ready, with the caveat that anything and everything was subject to the creative whims of Rick’s genius. The affable and amiable Mercer was as advertised, getting right into the mix of things, pausing occasionally to move things in a different direction.

The day was a win for dodgeball in Canada, by any measure. And from the moment we arrived at the school, until the moment we swept up the last piece of broken glass, the day moved at a frenetic pace familiar to anyone who has tried to dodge six balls at once.

8:30 am - We arrive at the school, ready to setup some tables. As I pull into the school parking lot, Dodgeball Edmonton founders Paul Laking and Chris Berry (also a member of the Board for Dodgeball Canada) are patiently waiting for the school’s custodian. In tow is Jessica Shmigelsky of Dodgeball Edmonton, who initially reached out to the RMR, and a few volunteers coaxed out of bed on a chilly Winter Saturday.

8:40 am - A pickup hurriedly pulls into the parking lot and a man in his 40s, whose broad smile puts us immediately at ease, emerges quick to apologize for the delay. He introduces himself as Oscar. Oscar looks like he can handle things. He will be extremely helpful throughout the day. Oscar probably should have been on camera.

9:00 am - We are setting up a table for registration, along with snacks, in the main foyer. I optimistically include 30 Dodgeball Canada registration forms for individual members. By day’s end, I’ll leave with about 6-7, which is about 5-6 more than I thought I might get. Barriers to mark off space in the main gym are being assembled so that they can be subsequently disassembled. It’s important to keep your volunteers busy.

9:30 am - Rick Mercer and company arrive on the dot. This is the first of many indications that they will be great to work with. They have asked only for a quiet room to have a sandwich at lunch, so that Rick can recharge. All our work in preparing a bowl of M&Ms with the brown ones removed and buying 12 bottles of Screech plus a cod is for naught. Rick is the least demanding celebrity ever.

9:30 - 10:30 am - Dodgeballers descend upon the school, adorned in a variety of jerseys, footwear and facial expressions. The excitement is palpable and while everyone is eager to see Rick, no one is pushy about it. This helps set the tone for the day and makes every segment we film silky smooth ( can be when getting hit by balls).

As players divide into two squads and begin an informal scrimmage that will last almost 6 hours, the diversity among them is nothing short of wonderful. The camera will instantly catch the tall and the short, the big and the small, light skinned, dark skinned, and everything in between. They will catch tattoos and piercings, along with the more conservative styles. And it’s possible that throughout the day one might identify those gay and straight, married and single, introverted and extroverted, alike.​

It’s the diversity that is not easily captured, however, that represents the true nature of this group. Among them are those who battle addiction or depression, those with illness and lingering ailments, those who had difficulty with finding fellowship and belonging their whole lives, and those who just enjoy throwing things at people. This is my community. This is my family. This is what I hope the camera manages to capture amid the hits and the catches and the play.

10:00 am - Rick is presented with an outfit to wear. He balks at our choice of shorts, maybe because he doesn’t look good in white, maybe because the shorts are a women’s size small. Either way he opts for more conventional gear. The team has prepared a special jersey for him that includes ‘RMR’ and a target on the front. Rick chooses a Dodgeball Edmonton shirt so he can wear what the “pros” are wearing.

10:15 am - We gather for a group shot, where we will yell an intro to the Rick Mercer Report, followed by throwing so very many balls toward the cameraman. Both Rick and producer John Marshall tell us multiple times that we will not actually be throwing at the cameraman, but *past* him. This is made clear. Made clear again. Made strongly clear a third time. We begin to take bets on how many balls will hit him, nevertheless. The correct answer is three.

10:30 am - This first segment to film is my interview with Rick as DC president. We aren’t quite loose yet and Rick isn’t sure how it’s all going to play out, so the discussion is brief. He is all over the map and you can tell he is trying to find a good setup. A joke about VIA Rail seems to provide the payoff he was seeking and we wrap it up soon after. It’s a great experience and I un-mic myself, hoping that Dodgeball Canada’s name and mandate can at least make the edit. Six hours of filming for seven minutes of airtime promises that there will be no promises.

10:45 - 11:15 pm - Rick and John - who is a gentleman of the first water - film what must be a dozen different bits within the confines of half a gymnasium. Although the Dodgeball Edmonton team has arranged for a second gym where people could play away from the filming, John insists that everyone stay together in the big gym. From their perspective, it gives an ambience to the filming and a moving backdrop to use as needed. From mine, it’s the perfect comment on the unity of our community - no one is seeking the spotlight; everyone is there just doing their thing.

11:25 - 12:00 pm - Rick holds a radar gun and some of the league’s biggest arms come out to throw. A handful of folks top 100 km/h, and Rick is surprised to see that several women are topping 80 with very little warm up. His personal best of 54 seems to please him well enough when Chris Berry refers to it as “urban cruising speed”. Bryce Paradis goes through a few different throw techniques, while two-time international gold medallist and Team Canada mainstay Jason Mergler impresses Rick by curving a ball around his head. “You’re good!” Rick exclaims, much in the same way you’d tell a friend how great they are at punching in the hopes that it will be enough to keep them from wanting to do it again​​​​​​​.

This is pattern for most of the day. Someone offers an idea, it plays out on camera, we move to the next piece. Rick is moving constantly and his energy is infectious. He engages anyone in a five-foot radius and seems keen on learning everything about the sport and it’s people - what’s a legal catch? How can someone be put out? How many people in the group are dating? He’s a maelstrom of direction, pausing only to contemplate how a specific piece might play to an audience. He expresses concern over a throwing drill that may be too technical for the home viewer. He suggests a few edits and we are back to filming.

12:00 pm - The crew breaks for lunch. During our pre-filming conversation, we asked about bringing food in for the crew. Thai, Japanese, Indian and Ethiopian were suggested as options. “Just some ham and cheese sandwiches.” To make it even easier, the crew arrived with their own sandwiches. Divas.

At the end of lunch, Rick tells us about how most journalists killed in action are in helicopters at the time, something he was made aware of during a piece on rangers who set up controlled avalanches...which he watched...from a helicopter.

12:45 - 2:00 pm - We make two teams so that we can scrimmage for the camera and get Rick into an actual game. He gets hit mere moments of his first court appearance. His second attempt results in being caught. Then hit again. Then failing to get the ball over half. Rick Mercer is the worst dodgeball player in that building. This includes Oscar who has, in between getting ladders for the crew and opening locked doors, demonstrated some accuracy with his throw.

Rick finally records a hit and the gym erupts...and quiets when he is called out shortly thereafter. Drawing to the end of our 4th or 5th game, I am left to go one-on-one with the aforementioned Jason Mergler. Rick is calling the game for the camera now, presenting it as “the oldest player in the league” against a world champion. I throw a gimme that is bobbled and dropped by Jason, possibly on purpose, possibly because he is mic'd up and wearing camera gear on his head. Either way I react with complete class by throwing the remaining ball over my shoulder and mimicking Vince Carter’s infamous “it’s over!” sign to the camera. I’m a jerk. But I’m a jerk that just got high-fived by Rick Mercer on television. You can’t be everything to everyone.​

Players sub in an out, and while not everyone gets a chance to play, we are able to get a good amount of people in the game. There are several laughs and cheers and fun moments. It really could not be any cooler. John informs Rick that he has all the footage he needs if he wants to wrap it up. Rick does not want to wrap it up. We play for another 15 minutes or so with the cameras off. This does not improve Rick’s game, but his energy could not be better.

3:00 pm - For the final piece of the day, we gather as one large group with Rick on the opposing side, ready for a mass throw once he yells “3-2-1 dodgeball”. He does and we do. Rick takes 7-8 legit blows to the body and probably a couple to the head. He is now one of us.

3:15 pm - The crew wraps up, cameras are taken down, go-pros are collected, and Oscar cleans the remnants of a broken vase, which he has vowed to keep quiet from the school admins. Oscar is amazing. Rick stays back for another 20 minutes to take what must be 50 selfies, sign autographs and make small talk. I am equally buoyed by the fact that participants waited until the end of the day to ask for photos, and that Rick stuck around to accommodate them. All of them. He is presented with signed calendars featuring some men and women of dodgeball and left to change into more Edmonton winter-friendly attire.

4:00 pm - The crew is packing up to leave. There are handshakes and thank yous all around. Rick tells us a few stories about his run ins with different political leaders, including one where he is prevented from keeping a Canadian flag thanks to “a real prick” of a politician. He is engaging, funny and, without question, fiercely Canadian.

And for six excellent hours on a Saturday in Edmonton, Alberta, he was as enthusiastic a dodgeballer as I have ever known.

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