An Interview with Comedian James Mullinger

Category: stage 303

Catch his performance in Fredericton on July 4, 2015.

20150504-1119-IMG-285. Image by Sean McGrath (http://www.seanmcgrath.ca).
Image by Sean McGrath (http://www.seanmcgrath.ca).

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 as well as Simon Pegg and Stephen Merchant. 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.

Are you looking forward to your show at the Delta in Fredericton?

Absolutely. I can’t wait. Firstly because Fredericton has a truly awesome comedy scene so it is a real honour to play there especially for a great comic, awesome promoter and all-round lovely man like Troy Haines. Secondly because the Delta is Fredericton is absolutely beautiful. I did a corporate gig there a few weeks ago and had a blast. I fully intend for this show to be just as lively.

Have you performed publicly in Fredericton before?

Many times. I moved to New Brunswick from London, England a year ago and when I arrived here everyone was telling me about the fantastic comedy scene going on in Fredericton. People like Trevor Muxworthy and Jimmy MacKinley and Shane Ogden and of course Troy putting these awesome shows. I always have a great time in Fredericton, both on stage and off. A lot of what I have been able to achieve in my first year here is down to these guys and their hard work building this incredible comedy scene here. They even bring in Canadian stand up superstars like Kathleen McGee (who also happens to be one of my favourite people on the planet as well as one of the funniest) and Darren Frost.

Why did you move to New Brunswick?

My wife is from here, it is incredibly beautiful in Atlantic Canada and we wanted a better life for our kids.

You had a good career going in London though.

Well, not really. 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 a 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 so play I 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. I have never been so busy as I have been since I moved to New Brunswick. Things are pretty bloody good.

When did you realise things were going to be so good here?

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.

James Mullinger Live at Imperial Theatre
James Mullinger Live at Imperial Theatre

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 likes 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. Those bear no resemblance to a real live show. Our fans like their stand up real.

How do you promote the gigs and the TV show?

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.

What’s next for you?

More of the same. I love what I do. I became a stand up because I wanted to do stand up until the day I die. There is no big gameplan 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.

You must have some dreams.

To continue working in Canada. And never having to work in the States or go back to England.

What can Fredericton expect come next Saturday?

That I will be raring to go and will be doing an hour of my best stuff. You might like it. Come and find out. Troy Haines always puts on the best shows. And I will not let him down.

Thank you James Mullinger.

Thank you Grid City. What you do for the arts in Fredericton is awesome.

Watch James in action here:

See James Mullinger live, and watch Blimey! An Englishman In Atlantic Canada here.

 

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