British comedian James Mullinger Talks About Being the Subject of a New 7 Million Dollar Comedy Movie
British comedian James Mullinger was one of the hardest working stand ups in the UK as well as the Comedy Editor for GQ Magazine. He had his own TV show which saw him interviewing the likes of Tom Cruise, Matthew McConaughey and Cameron Diaz and working with the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling and Russell Peters. Since moving to Saint John, New Brunswick in Canada in 2014, he has been nominated for a Canadian Comedy Award for Best Live Solo Show and a Just For Laughs Award for Best Comedy Show. He has sold out the Imperial Theatre twice, appeared on CBC many times, produced three seasons of his own television series which follows him traveling around Canada performing comedy shows, hosted another series titled James Mullinger’s Comedy Boot Camp (which saw him coaching up and coming comedians) and headlined Yuk Yuk’s comedy clubs all over the country.
In April this year, he sold out Saint John’s Harbour Station Stadium Arena beating Jerry Seinfeld’s sales record for the venue in the process. Mullinger also outsold Iron Maiden, Alice Cooper, Guns N’ Roses and Def Leppard when they played the same venue. The build up to and highlights from that colossal show were filmed for a documentary film to be aired across Canada on CBC next month. In addition to this, a big budget British movie had been made about his life (starring actors from Twilight, Downton Abbey and Notting Hill and comedians such as Jimmy Carr, Gilbert Gottfried, Mike Ward, Brendon Burns and Omid Djalili with Mullinger himself being played by James Buckley from The Inbetweeners), which is premiering at Just For Laughs this month. How did all this happen in the space of a year? We spoke with Mullinger to find out.
The IBang: The last time we spoke you had been in Canada for a year and were traveling around North America filming a TV show. How’s that going?
James Mullinger: Yes indeed. We did three seasons of Blimey! An Englishman In Atlantic Canada for Bell Aliant’s TV1. That is 24 episodes in 18 months which is a ridiculous schedule. We had a blast doing it and it was a wonderful way to show people in Canada what I do and it has led to a lot more live work all over the country. But it is important to know when to stop and I don’t think we will be doing any more episodes. I am so very proud of what we did, but you don’t want to become repetitive and it’s important to quit while you are ahead.
The IBang: Is that where the TV show James Mullinger’s Comedy Boot Camp came from?
James Mullinger: Kind of. But to be honest, it was more borne out of frustration at the lacklustre way that Canadian comedians are treated. In England and America, comedians are treated very seriously and respectfully by the national press and by the media. Treated as artists and reviewed as such. But in Canada you can see one of Canada’s top stand up comedians like Derek Seguin or Pete Zedlacher or Pete Johansson blow a Hollywood superstar off the stage at a Just For Laughs gala and they are completely ignored by the national press. Thankfully newspapers like the Montreal Gazette and other local publications make up for it, but these guys shouldn’t need to move to Hollywood to become stars. They should be celebrated more in their home country. But unfortunately, this is the way it’s always been. Shaun Majumder, Mike Myers, Russell Peters. They all had to leave to become huge. I am hoping this changes soon. And Comedy Boot Camp was my way of trying to give something back to all the up and coming open mic comedians in Atlantic Canada that welcomed me when I moved here. I wanted to give them a spotlight and a chance to learn and improve. The comedians in Newfoundland, PEI, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia don’t get enough of a look in so I wanted to give them a forum. The show was a great success in that we had fun doing it, we received record high viewing figures for Bell Aliant TV1 and, most importantly, the comedians have all gone on to do bigger and better things. Happy days.
The IBang: Shortly after that show aired you sold out a stadium arena and beat Jerry Seinfeld’s record in the process. How did you do this?
James Mullinger: I get asked this question a lot and the answer is very simple. I did it by, drum roll please: Having a show people wanted to see. And letting people know it was happening. It’s not rocket science. I arrived to live in a small city in Canada (Saint John, New Brunswick) and was told I couldn’t make a living here as a comedian here. Just over two years later, I sold out the biggest indoor venue in the province and, yes, beat a few records in the process. I’m really not an advertising or PR expert. I didn’t spend a cent on advertising, I simply went out and gigged at every bar, club, vineyard, school auditorium, church, crack den, vineyard, you name it and showed the good people of Saint John what I do. They liked it and 5000 of them kindly came out to see the full show. I love the way business works in a small city. Be good at what you do and you will thrive.
The IBang: Is this what The Comedian’s Guide To Survival is about?
James Mullinger: No, it’s actually about my early years starting out in stand up when I had a day job. When I was a terrible comedian and I spent my days working in an office and my nights travelling miles to get booed off stage. It’s essentially a movie about following your dreams and what it takes to get there.
The IBang: How did it come about?
James Mullinger: Good question. Not least because I am well aware that I am probably the least successful person ever to have a movie made about them! It is all down to my dear friend and frequent collaborator Mark Murphy. We went to school together and bonded over our love of comedies such as Dennis Pennis and Fist Of Fun (the stars of which actually appear in Comedian’s Guide which is a very beautiful thing for us). We lost touch for about a decade and when we reconnected, he was a well-respected film director and I was a writer for GQ magazine and fledgling stand up comedian. We produced a variety of television shows together that mixed our love of film and comedy, which led to a web series to Comedy Central UK. Mark always thought it was hilarious that we spent our days interviewing Lewis Black or Amy Schumer or Jerry Seinfeld and then I would run for a train and travel three hours to perform to five people. It was both ludicrous, but also the only way to get good at stand up. We wrote a script about this desire to succeed against the odds, what it takes to keep coming back to perform when no-one wants you to (not your wife, not your friends, not your audiences). Half a decade went by, Mark went on to make some very well received, award-winning feature films and I moved to Canada. About 18 months ago, he called me to say that the film was happening. He had rewritten the script and made it more crowd-pleasing. He flew to Saint John where I live and we sat in the Hilton on Saint John’s boardwalk for a week adding all the true life terrible things that have happened to me in my eleven plus years as a comedian. At the end we had a piece of work that really resonated with comedians and actors, but really the beauty of the script was the structure, the story. I really can’t take any credit for the script. Mark is the filmmaker and the writer, I’m just a comedian who shared his terrible experiences.
The IBang: How do you feel about the fact that many people will be discovering your name for the first time in a film about how bad you were as a comedian?
James Mullinger: Well, if things weren’t going as well as they are now, I would probably be worried or perhaps even devastated. I take the job of stand up comedy very seriously and I have worked hard to be good at it. But this is a very honest business and the fact is that the film will make no difference to my stand up career. People don’t go to see a comedian perform live because a film was made about their life. They go because they have heard that she or he is funny. They go because they saw a clip online that they liked. They go because they saw them before and enjoyed it. And the way to make them pay to come see you again? Make them laugh harder than any other comedian they have seen. It’s quite a simple business model really. I get told a lot that I am good at the business side of comedy, which I think is a distraction. Sure, I do a lot of admin to handle my stuff, which everyone has to do in any business. A plumber who has his accounts in order does his admin too, but he wouldn’t get any work if he wasn’t unblocking toilets. My business model is making people laugh. That’s it.
The Ibang: How did you get so many big name comedians to appear in the film?
James Mullinger: Having a script that people liked. And a director that people respected. And the amazing support of the Just For Laughs press team.
The Ibang: You must be happy that the film is premiering at the biggest comedy festival in the world?
James Mullinger: We are. Just For Laughs is a special place. It is hard to describe quite how spectacularly awesome it is. Hundreds of shows featuring hundreds of the best comedians in the world. The fact that you can turn up at an intimate venue and find Dave Chappelle or Louis CK or Aziz Ansari testing new material is proof of what a magical event it is. I have lost count of the amount of times I have been, but it is the highlight of my year every year. And it is beautifully fitting that the film is premiering there because it was conceived at the festival five years ago when Mark and I were filming a web series for Comedy Central titled The Comedian’s Guide To Comedy (Link: https://youtu.be/KJzhinptFPg). It has all come full circle for us.
The IBang: You have a cameo in the film. Are you hoping to do more movie acting?
James Mullinger: It’s not something I aspire to. As the film depicts, I always wanted to be a successful stand up comedian. I wanted to be able to support my family and live comfortably by doing stand up. I have achieved those things so I am happier than I ever expected to be. I never did this to be famous. I became a stand up because I wanted to do stand up. I find it very odd when comedians become successful then leave stand up behind in favour of acting. If I had one wish, it would be that nothing changes. I am at where I wanted to be. Because right now things are good, but next year they might not be. I have to work hard to maintain this. I have no interest in acting or doing things I’m not good at. People work for years to become good actors and I respect them for it. I worked very hard to be a good stand up comedian and that’s what I plan to do. There would be a lot less crap out there if people didn’t do things just for the sake of it.
Watch the trailer for The Comedian’s Guide To Survival here:
James Mullinger’s 2015 tour show Londoner To Maritimer (filmed live at Imperial Theatre, Saint John):
Tickets for the Just For Laughs premiere of The Comedian’s Guide To Survival: http://www.hahaha.com/en/show/comedians-guide-survival