James Mullinger is a British comedian who now lives in Atlantic Canada. A circuit regular in the UK, he had his own TV show (Movie Kingdom) as well as an online series for Comedy Central. He toured five stand up shows over five years and was also the Comedy Editor for GQ Magazine where he directed short films with the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling, Robin Williams and Paul Rudd (see here ) as well as Simon Pegg and Stephen Merchant (watch here). He also ran his own comedy club for seven years which played host to the likes of Russell Brand, Sugar Sammy, Darrin Rose, Stephen Merchant, Jimmy Carr and many more. A year ago he moved with his wife and children (Hunter, four, and River, one) to New Brunswick, Canada. Everyone thought he was mad. But his career has flourished rather then floundered. Why? The Interrobang finds out.
The IBang: What possessed you to move to New Brunswick?
James Mullinger: Well, it wasn’t a career move obviously, but incredibly it has turned out to be. My wife is from here, it is incredibly beautiful in Atlantic Canada and we wanted a better life for our kids.
The IBang: You had a good career going in London though.
James Mullinger: Well, it sounds good on paper and my CV looks okay but London is expensive and even with a TV show, some small parts in movies, a magazine writing career and gigs most nights – it is tough to have a good quality of life. Even if my 30-date tour sells out, it is bloody expensive to put on if you want to do it right. I never saw my friends or my wife and kids. I wanted my children to grow up in a beautiful place surrounded by family so we moved to my wife’s hometown of Saint John, New Brunswick. The intention being that while I am touring all over the world, they are near loved ones with lots of space and scenery and water around them. The big surprise has been how much work I’ve been getting here. I was lucky enough to be signed to Yuk Yuks to play their lovely clubs all over and work for a lot of independent promoters as well as a lot of corporate work. Way more than I was getting in England and for more prestigious companies like Lexus Of Saint John. I know a lot of people move to London to find fame and fortune but it’s a false economy. Come somewhere small and be good at what you do. But that doesn’t apply if you just want to be famous which unfortunately applies to some people.
The IBang: When did you realize things were going to be okay?
James Mullinger: Well it has taken time and I’ve worked hard but it has been amazing. Within days of arriving in Canada I opened for Orny Adams, doing seven shows over five nights with him at The Comic Strip in Edmonton. A gorgeous club. A few months later I was nominated for the Just For Laughs Best Comedy Show Award at the Montreal Fringe for my show Living The Dream. I did over thirty tour dates in the UK with that show and – while it got nice reviews – I didn’t get nominated for anything. And in one week in Montreal I got more five star reviews than I had received in a lifetime. So while it obviously isn’t about that, I have to point this out to show that everything in England wasn’t all rosy.
But the real highlight for me was last year when the lovely people at Bell Aliant Community One (A local community-based TV broadcaster on the East Coast of Canada) commissioned me to make a TV series called Blimey! An Englishman In Atlantic Canada. It’s a semi scripted show featuring me travelling around Atlantic Canada doing gigs in theatres, pubs, clubs, aircraft hangars, broom closets, garages, vineyards, you name it. They paired me with a very talented director, producer, cameraman named John Borbely and we do everything ourselves. Each episode is loosely based around one of my stand up shows. These shows are often in towns with a population of less than 30,000 people, and most have never had a stand up show in town before. The show highlights life on the road as a stand up comedian, the troubles of gigging to thousands of people one day and a dozen the next, as well as my difficulty adjusting to life, especially winter, in Canada. Quite often we feature local comics who would otherwise not have such great exposure due to the industry in this part of the country, but who are still great performers. It is a mix of travelogue, documentary, mockumentary, and live stand up, produced with a very, very small budget.
That being said, the entire objective of the show is to spread interest in stand up comedy in this part of the world. Our audience includes everybody from teenagers to grandparents and we have a lot of viewers from Europe as well. The feedback we have received has been tremendous, and the limits of our budget and the network’s community-based restrictions on swearing has turned out to be a blessing in disguise, allowing us to reach a wider audience and produce something very unique.
The entire thing is put together by John Borbely the director, from the recording to editing, as well as a lot of the music. I loosely write each episode, as a lot of it is improv or thought-of on the spot, and we edit the final product together. We usually do this in a two-week period, from shooting to airing, as it follows my actual stand up schedule.
Together we make the show. We have a lot of help from local talents – comedians, illustrators, musicians – but we are basically a two-man band. I set up the tours, we travel around, we feature some of our favourite comics and it depicts the real madness of life on the road as a stand up comedian. Some scenes are scripted but the stand up is all real. And after the first season we do not use any prepared material by me. All the stand up in season two is improvised. So this is a dream gig for a comic like me who loves a challenge, I get to improvise and work out new stuff and have it filmed. People like that immediacy and realness of it. It’s a nice antidote to all these slick and polished Netflix specials where they are edited to death to make comedians look good. That bear no resemblance to a real live show. Our fans like their stand up real.
The IBang: How do you promote the gigs and the TV show?
James Mullinger: Well it’s all grassroots. Same way a builder or plumber builds their business. Go out, do good work, people come back. No big agent, no publicist. Just a couple of people doing things people like. If I die at a gig, those people wont come again. So it’s my job to make damn sure that doesn’t happen.
The IBang: What’s next for you?
James Mullinger: More of the same. I love what I do. I became a stand up comedian because I wanted to do stand up until the day I die. There is no big game plan here. No five-year plan other than to be lucky enough to do exactly what I am doing in five years. I hate comedians who say they are sick of the road and want to get into films and TV to get out of the clubs. Forget that. I want to be playing clubs when I’m eighty.
The IBang: You must have some dreams.
James Mullinger: Well, to play Just For Laughs obviously. That’s the big one. But I want that because it would be fun, not because of what it will do for my career. I’m never going to move to Hollywood. I am staying in New Brunswick forever.
The IBang: Anything else to add?
James Mullinger: Just that I love your website and think it is the definitive place for comedy coverage. There are a lot of bad comedy websites in England that harm the industry. I like that yours is definitive and respectful and a celebration of comedy rather than sneery. So this is a huge honour for me to speak to you because you guys know your comedy. So thank you.