Since meeting James in May of 2014, I’ve gone head first into the comedy scene in Saint John. Not only that, I’ve added James to the list of my friends who like Sons of Anarchy more than I do. This is awesome because he is literally my only friend who likes Sons of Anarchy.
In the short time James and his family have been back in the Saint John area (Rothesay, specifically), they have made it their home. James has supported numerous charities through his comedy gigs (including a cash donation of over $6300 to KV Outreach!), has hosted more than one yard sale (a New Brunswick must) and still seems to be on the Town more than I am!
He has a new show on Bell’s Community One called Blimey! An Englishman in Atlantic Canada (featuring a full length from his fall tour in England)!
Here’s case No. 14 of creative people living and working in the Saint John area….
Hi James! Tell me about yourself and what you do.
Hi Barb. Well firstly I am a big fan of what you do. As are many people in Saint John. So thank you for all you do to celebrate this fantastic city on your blog and in your work with local culture and the arts.
I am also a husband, a dad and a comedian.
What is the main function of what you do, day to day?
Admin! For a comedian this is the bulk of what we do (travel arrangements, booking arrangements, chasing work, contracts, interviews, promotion – which is another way of saying ‘Facebook’!). Looking after my sons while my wife works (she is the North American Publisher of Monocle Magazine) and then in the evening I go and do shows. A few days a week I film my TV show Blimey: An Englishman In Atlantic Canada. So my days are split between sitting at my desk doing boring stuff, laughing at my sons then going out to make other people laugh. I like it.
Who is your typical client?
Interesting question. Almost anybody I suppose. Obviously comedy clubs. TV companies. For the main bulk of my work as a comedian. But all kinds of people and companies might hire you to either perform at their events, write press releases for them that are funny, write pieces for newspapers and magazines (I was a journalist for a number of years before becoming a comedian), consult on ways to reach wider audiences for their products. It could literally be anyone.
What is the coolest thing to have happened to you in the past year?
Well, moving to Saint John, New Brunswick without a shadow of a doubt. It’s one of the best things I have ever done. I left a lot behind in London – family, friends, work, clients and audiences I had spent years building up. So it was a risk moving here. But my wife is from here. I love it here and we knew our children would love it here. I knew our home life would improve dramatically. But I really wasn’t expecting my career to take off like it has here. I expected to be travelling back to England frequently to earn. Luckily I don’t need to do that. Because I want to be here with all of you!
But a lot of cool things have happened here this year. I am working on the second series of Blimey! An Englishman In Atlantic Canada for Bell Aliant. I sold out the Imperial Theatre with a new show about my life here, which turned out to be one of the most enjoyable shows of my life. In England it is very difficult for a comedian who isn’t very well known to sell out a venue that size (almost 900 seats). I was honoured and very emotional which I think shows in the televised film of the show.
Very few comedians can even tour solo in the UK because there is so much going on in every town and city that you have purpose built comedy clubs with four of the best stand ups in the country selling struggling to sell out on a Friday night. I loved playing clubs but I also booked my own tours and was lucky enough to build an audience that way, without the backing of the industry in any way, shape or form. I didn’t do Edinburgh every year because I didn’t have money to burn, I wasn’t on panel shows. I was never a darling of the industry suits. Quite the opposite. I built an audience myself by finding people who liked what I do, created a TV show (Movie Kingdom) with a very talented filmmaker friend named Mark Murphy and it found a following. A lovely commissioner at Comedy Central named Sarah Farrell took a punt on us and helped us finance a web series for them which was a dream come true. This led to another show focused solely on comedians. And even then when I toured, I could only sell out on average 200-seater venues. Sometimes bigger, sometimes much, much smaller. I got to a point where it was quite easy to tour because I would go back to the same places where I knew I had a following or rather people that liked what I do. People that had the same sense of humour as me.
Last year though, after 10 months living in Canada I had to go back to the UK to do a tour that had been booked in for some time and it was a bit of a struggle. Some loyal supporters came out but I was out of sight out of mind. I wasn’t there on the ground to promote it and we struggled with numbers. Only about half of the shows sold out. But that’s obviously not what it’s about and why I do it and I did enjoy going back. I only say this to illustrate that while it was hard leaving England, things aren’t all rosy there. As you will see in The Blimey! feature length special that shot during the tour. It really is warts and all. I had been told though prior to moving here that things were even worse for comedians in Canada by a few people. Turns out that – in my case – they were totally wrong. I have been enormously lucky. I hope to continue doing things people like here and most importantly introducing all the nice people who come and see me to all the awesome acts that you have here on your doorstep that you perhaps weren’t aware of. People like Glen K Amo, Shane Ogden, Darren Elmore, Roger LeBlanc, Neal Mundle, Scott Campagna, Debra Steeves. All great acts who have been doing great work here for some time. And there are many more. Right here in New Brunswick. These people are now the funniest thing about my TV show. I am not afraid of being upstaged by them as I frequently am.
Let’s put it this way. If you’d asked me any other year what is the coolest thing that happened to me that year, it would have been one simple answer. The birth of my son. Or selling out this venue. Or getting that TV show off the ground. But this year – the year I moved to this beautiful city – the list is endless. I can’t pick just one thing. So it would have to be moving here. Because that is why all of these wonderful things have happened. My wife and family happier than we’ve ever been. We’ve made dozens of wonderful and amazing friends here. The TV show I’ve been dreaming of making for a decade being commissioned thanks to Jeff Liberty introducing me to Csaba Domokos. Selling out my favourite theatre in the world. Doing the Montreal Fringe. Getting nominated for the Just For Laughs Best Comedy Show award. Opening for Orny Adams in Edmonton. Being booked for a corporate gig in Banff. Working closely with New Bruswick’s best comedians. Working with a director I respect massively on the TV show. Raising lots of money for charities I feel very strongly about like KV Outreach. Any other year it would be easy to pick a highlight. This year, not so much. There’s too many. Every week a new highlight arrives. Which is why I love it here so much. And I will never leave. Moving to Saint John is the best thing I ever did.
I should also say how surprised I have been by the mass of talented people there are here. I have been lucky to meet and work closely with some of the hugely talented writers, photographers, journalists, interior designers, poets, musicians, chefs, music promoters, charity workers, designers that you have here. It’s incredible. So many brilliant people here at the top of their game. Loads of great photographers. And Lindsay Vautour is just the best designer. Incredible. She never fails to wow and amaze me. My favourite poet lives here in Saint John. And then you have people like Wayne Hansen who is not only a highly skilled musician but also a very funny stand up. How dare he be so good at two things! Bastard. I knew it would be a great place to live. I had no idea it had a creative pool as deep and as varied as London.
What’s a typical day like for you?
The biggest misconception and greatest myth about comedians (which is often perpetuated by comedians) is that we only work for 40 minutes a night. In many ways I work more hours now than when I had an office job because the work never stops. You are always looking for ideas all the time. And I am turning over material much quicker living here. I am currently building a whole brand new 90-minute show for the Imperial Theatre this year. About 850 people kindly came to see me and I want them to come again and bring their friends. And they deserve to hear brand new material so I am building a whole new show. Bit by bit, writing all the time, testing the jokes in small venues like the R-Bar where Jon Forward runs an experimental comedy night called No Jokes Barred.
And then there’s all the desk work. Booking shows, arranging travel, all the admin stuff. Especially if – like me – you do all your own PR, marketing, tour managing, venue booking. And for the TV show I am responsible for everything relating to the production side. I have an amazing director John Borbely who has the really hard job of editing hours of footage of me being an idiot into something that make sense. But I have to sort the locations, script, performers, everything. It’s a lot.
It’s not than I am a control freak but it has just ever made sense to me to pay someone to do so something for me which I will be chasing them about all day ever day. Why not do it yourself? No one wants the show to go as successfully as me. Because it’s my name on it. One thing I learned working on the picture desk of a glossy fashion magazine and organising shoots with the likes of David Bailey and Mario Testino is that nothing can wait. Everything must be done now. No excuses that this has to wait until that is done. There is a way to do everything now and you have to find a way. I did this for 14 years. I hate excuses, I hate whining. Just do it now. And I live and work by that philosophy. It’s the only way to survive when you are a full time parent, have a full time job that involves performing most nights and making a TV show and also want to help out your local community, son’s school etc.
In short, I spend a lot of time on the road but also a lot of time at my desk. It’s a mess. Piled up with journals, folders and envelopes stuffed with jokes, half formed ideas. I am writing all the time, analysing my material, reworking it, polishing it, honing it and I keep everything. You never know when you may find a way to make a joke work that you have been struggling with.
How can people stay in touch?
Email me, find me on Facebook. I am also on Instagram and Twitter. I even have a separate Instagram page for my collection of weird and wonderful movie memorabilia. I love sharing this with people.
I love people getting in touch. The greatest pleasure for me is people emailing me after shows saying that they have had a good time. And given I love every single person I’ve met in Saint John and surrounding areas, I’d love to hear from anyone!
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We’re happy to have you :)
Enter below to win one of five copies of James Mullinger’s Living the Canadian Dream recorded live at the Imperial Theatre!
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See you soon!