Launched last May, Business & Arts NL’s “Unlock Your Inner Creative” speakers series has taken off in fine form. In 2021, we welcomed 294 attendees (online and in-person) to our first two events, featuring renowned playwright Robert Chafe of Artistic Fraud, as well as acclaimed author and entrepreneur Seth Godin. This event series focuses on conversations between artists and creative-curious leaders from other sectors, tackling subjects like the importance of mentorship, the relationship between failure and success, and more.
We were so excited to host the third event of the series, and our first event of 2022, on March 31 at the Emera Innovation Exchange at Signal Hill – an enlightening and entertaining conversation between Taylor Young, Head of Business Development at CoLab and an Atlantic Canada “Top 30 under 30 Innovator,” and Rick Mercer, renowned comedian, television personality (“Rick Mercer Report” and “22 Minutes”), political satirist and author from Middle Cove. The event was supported by presenting sponsor Verafin; hosted in partnership with Lawnya Vawnya, with live music performed by Personal Submersible; and made possible by the Government of Newfoundland & Labrador and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
Over the course of the evening, Taylor and Rick discussed risk, creativity and community, how they’ve led to Rick’s success, and how these key values of artists can be harnessed to benefit the province’s growing tech industry. Of course, there were plenty of laughs along the way as well.
Here are some of our favourite Mercer moments.
On growing up in NL:
“I was very fortunate that I had great parents who were supportive. I always knew they had my back, I wasn’t worried about failure or disappointing them in any way. And these are all things you don’t really think about as a young person…but it certainly gave me confidence. But I will say that growing up in Newfoundland as a whole has informed everything that I’ve ever done, like every single thing – like Noreen (Golfman) mentioned Made in Canada, which was a sitcom that didn’t even take place in Newfoundland, it took place in Toronto and it was about the film business, but yet …everything was always there through that Newfoundland lens. And I think every artist from Newfoundland, or every creative from Newfoundland, will probably say the same thing.”
On taking risks:
“I think the most important thing, if you’re going to have a successful creative life, is you have to be able to take risks. And when you suffer failure, it’s a bit different than many industries because it’s a very public failure…and you wear it yourself, if you’re the face of the project. And as you get older or your career progresses, it’s harder and harder to take those risks, but you have to be able to do it. And I think early on, one of the things that all young people – young entrepreneurs, certainly young artists, young creatives – have going for them is that they don’t know any better. Like they really don’t know what’s at stake. Like the biggest thing that ever happened to me was I had the opportunity to go to Ottawa and do a one-man show. And I leapt at the opportunity. But I was the fourth person who was offered the chance to go to Ottawa and do this one-man show. And the reason why the other three didn’t was there wasn’t enough time. There was, like, six weeks to put the show together. But I didn’t know that wasn’t enough time. I had no idea. I was like, it’s gonna be a 90-minute show, surely to god, how long does it take to write a 90-minute show? And I didn’t know anything about standing on a stage. There was so much I didn’t know, but I still leapt at the chance. But had I known then what I know now, I think I would have been the fourth person saying ‘No, no, it’s impossible, I can’t do it.’ So…the more you know, and you understand the risks and you understand when the odds are stacked against you, it’s harder to commit. But you have to remember those early days and you just have to commit to launch and do it.”
On having the support of the local arts community:
“Before that stuff happened (22 Minutes, etc.), there was a period where I had a comedy troupe. And…the establishment arts community were so open and supportive of us. So we had a comedy troupe and the CODCOs would come see the comedy troupe…like, the biggest TV stars of the day, the comedy stars we worshipped, were coming to the shows and, not giving you notes, but being very supportive. And Tommy (Sexton) and Greg (Malone) both loaned us wigs. I noticed Beni Malone is here, from Wonderbolt – Beni hired me to work backstage behind the flats when he did shows in school. And one thing I know is I had no business doing that job. I was terrible at it…but it was part of the support system that was there, because we were the next generation. So I realize now that they were all supporting us and lifting us up, and loaning us wigs and giving us gigs. It was pretty important.”
On the importance of mentorship and supporting one another:
“When Beni (Malone) hired me to tour Newfoundland or CODCO even hired me to photocopy scripts, that was a form of mentorship. And I didn’t think of it as mentorship at the time…and I think mentorship is really important. And I think communities supporting each other are really important. You see that certainly in the film and television industry. And I think that’s unique in Newfoundland….you see that in the food industry in Newfoundland, like when you see the people from Merchants (Tavern) palling around with the people from Mallard (Cottage) and supporting the same initiatives, and you can tell they have each other’s back – and they’re not partners, they’re competitors. But yet on some level, they’re lifting each other up. And you don’t see that everywhere. And I think that us being where we are with all the challenges that we have, that that’s probably imperative.”
On art and business:
“In order to be a successful business person, I think you need to be an artist; and every artist, in order to be successful, most of them, need to have a business mind. And whether that comes naturally or unnaturally, you still have to develop it. You look at someone like Alan Doyle, who’s an incredibly talented guy, but make no doubt about it, he’s a businessman. And he has to be in order to get to where he is and in order to keep that enterprise that he has going. Now granted, he has partners, he has Louis Thomas, a great Newfoundland music promoter and producer and everything else in Halifax…but you have to have that. I’ve had to have it. I became a television producer. If I wanted to control my product, I had to become a producer. And I really had no choice…So, it’s not enough to put it on YouTube. Then you also have to take that hat off, put on another hat and figure out okay, now I’m a promoter, what does that mean? Or find someone that that’s their passion. But just creating the art for art’s sake, that’s fine. I’m a big believer in art for art’s sake. But if you’re trying to make a living at it, then you’re going to have to figure out how to be a business person, no doubt about it.”
On embracing failure:
“I’m on the board of an organization, Historica (Canada). They do very good work…there’s individuals that have truly accomplished incredible things. And one night, one of the board members was leaving…and a number of these older folks started swapping success stories. And these are people that brought sports franchises to Canada. These are people who founded McClelland & Stewart… But they were talking and it was kind of like swapping a few success stories, and then I said something like, ‘So did everything you do work?’ And then this guy’s like ‘Oh my god, you’re not gonna believe what I did.’ And then they started swapping disasters and failures. And that’s when they got really excited. And that’s what theatre people do, too. They don’t sit around and talk about, ‘Oh, that show was so great’…and they don’t talk about good reviews. They talk about bad reviews. When you’re in the failure, and you’re mid humiliation, that’s no fun, obviously. But that’s how you learn. There’s no doubt about it. And if you’re the type of person that you get knocked down by that and then you’re out, then you are in the wrong business to begin with.”
On becoming “unsquashable”:
“If you’re the type of person that will be squashed, then again, you’re probably in the wrong industry. Because no one in their right mind would do so many of the things that we’re talking about here. Again, I can’t speak to the tech industry, but if you’ve got the smartest people in tech, they obviously had a choice to stay here and found Verafin, or go to where all the action is. And they took a harder path and they weren’t going to let anyone squash them. And the people who started out the film industry in Newfoundland, like, it was madness. It was such a, you know, ‘Andy Jones and Mike Jones are gonna make a feature film, isn’t that cute?’ But no one took it seriously. They thought it was interesting, I’m sure. But they didn’t take it seriously because no one made a movie in Newfoundland. And now it’s a real industry and everyone’s taking it seriously. And I’m sure people tried to squash every single one of those people. So you just have to be unsquashable I guess. That’s all there is to it. And who the hell is anyone to say you can’t do it here…I can’t imagine there’s anyone who writes novels that didn’t have people along the way tell them ‘You can’t do that’ or ‘You shouldn’t do that’ or ‘It’s a waste of time.’ So I guess that’s it. Don’t be squashed.”