Sunday, August 14, 2022

“It’s a very Maritime thing” for comedian James Mullinger

With a new book, a tour, a podcast, a magazine, a sitcom in development and other projects in the works the New Brunswick comedian is embracing the East Coast idea that diversity is key in what you do.

If there is one thing comedian James Mullinger has learned since making his move from the United Kingdom to New Brunswick in 2014, diversity in what they do is the calling card for many on the East Coast.

And with a new book, a tour, a podcast, a magazine, a sitcom in development and other projects in the works, it is something this newly minted Canadian seems to have embraced wholeheartedly.

A very Maritime thing

It’s a very Maritime thing. Almost everyone I meet, or at least it feels like everyone I meet, have two completely disparate jobs.

“It’s a very Maritime thing,” he says. “Almost everyone I meet, or at least it feels like everyone I meet, have two completely disparate jobs.”

As an example, Mullinger begins to riff on a story about being pulled over by local law enforcement for speeding in a school zone.

“I didn’t know school zones existed. Afterall, the kids are in school so why do we have to go slower?” he jokes before continuing his story.

“That weekend at a wedding to do a gig, I recognized the DJ but couldn’t quite place them,” he continues. “Turns out it was the cop, who also has a highly successful DJ business.”

It is a big contrast with the life in the United Kingdom he left behind.

“It felt like almost everyone I knew did one thing in the UK. If they were a comedian, that’s all they did. If they were an accountant or a journalist, that’s all they did,” he says. “Whereas it feels like here people have so many different things going on and you never feel pigeonholed here because no one thinks less of you for doing those other things.”

Saying it is both out of necessity and an entrepreneurial spirit to survive, weathering the pandemic as an entertainer made having multiple projects on the go an imperative as it was in embracing that Maritime attitude.

“If I only had comedy to fall back on, I would have literally gone bankrupt,” he says. “So suddenly, I was able to focus my attention on the magazine, and then we launched the podcast, which I had wanted to do for ages, but I just hadn’t got round to.”

From there, he finished his first book, started the development of a new television sitcom, and headed back out on the road to do what he does best, perform in front of a live audience.

Scratching the surface with Brit Happens

Mullinger's Brit Happens will be available on May 10 at retailers across Canada.
Mullinger’s Brit Happens will be available on May 10 at retailers across Canada.

Initially pitching an idea for a photography book to his publisher, they instead asked him about writing a book about his journey to Atlantic Canada, combining a memoir with a travelogue as a comic on the road. The result is his new book, Brit Happens, published by Fredericton’s Goose Lane Editions.

“They fixed me up with an amazing editor James Langer in Newfoundland, and it became a mediation on immigration and starting over,” he says.

While no stranger to the written word as the comedy editor for GQ magazine in the UK before moving to Saint John and now as editor-in-chief of Maritime [EDIT], putting the lens on his life was a challenge.

Fortunately, he had some experience in that regard, having kept a diary as a kid. “It makes for horrific reading now for so many different reasons,” he laughs.

Writing Brit Happens wasn’t without emotional challenges, though, especially as Mullinger opened up and began writing honestly about his insecurities.

“It was like writing in my diary as a kid,” he says. “It only dawned on me later in the process that people will actually read it.”

Covering a lot of territory in the 250-page book with such chapter titles as “Meeting Seinfeld” and “Vasectomy,” it only begins to scratch the surface of the stories Mullinger has to tell.

“Some of it didn’t make the cut for whatever reason, and I’ve also had plenty of disastrous gigs since I finished the book, which always makes for fun reading,” he says. “So, I’m hoping the publisher wants another one.”

What’s in a title

Initially wanting to call the book A Brit out of Water to mirror much of his comedy, it would be his friend Paul Wilson who came up with the idea of Brit Happens.

“I loved it instantly,” he says. “If you Google the phrase, you would have thought Brit Happens would have been used millions of times before, and remarkably it hasn’t. So yeah, one of the things that I like most about the book is something that I had nothing to do with.”

Originally planning on calling his new book A Brit Out of Water, after a suggestion by his friend Paul Wilson, comedian James Mullinger landed on Brit Happens instead.
Originally planning on calling his new book A Brit Out of Water, after a suggestion by his friend Paul Wilson, comedian James Mullinger landed on Brit Happens instead.

A family affair

Of course, no memoir would be complete without Mullinger’s family. But before you think including his wife Pam and sons Hunter and River in a book may be a potential recipe for disaster and embarrassment, Mullinger reminds us that Pam and his children have always been part of his comedy.

“Certainly for the kids, they are used to me using them in the act, but they are getting to an age where I hope it doesn’t cause some problems at school,” he says.

A potentially embarrassing story involving Hunter at age four is a case in point.

“I used to make a joke in my set about my oldest accidentally biting my dick in the bath,” he says. “At the time, it was very funny, but I’ve recently removed the video from YouTube because I thought maybe it wasn’t something you would want his classmates searching for.”

Mullinger also realizes his children are at the age where he may need to start asking their permission to post pictures on social media or use them in his show. “But if they say no, I’ll tell them I won’t be able to make a living, and their allowance will be cut off,” he says.

The future is television

With so much on the go already, you might think Mullinger would not be looking to take on more projects, but nothing could be further from the truth. He is now working on a sitcom for Bell FibeTV with a logline that may sound familiar.

“The premise is about a British comedian who leaves London and comes to a small town in New Brunswick,” he says.

Unlike his own circumstances, where he chose to move here for a better quality of life, the sitcom will instead be about a comedian forced to come to Canada.

“I’ll play the comedian trying to navigate his way through life in Miramichi,” he says. “And the exciting thing is we’ll be able to round up a whole cast of Maritime comedians and get them to muck about in front of the camera.”

In April of 2016, Mullinger sold out Harbour Station Arena (now TD Station) in Saint John, outselling Jerry Seinfeld, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and Jeff Dunham. It sparked a CBC documentary about the record-breaking arena show. The comedian beat out his own record by selling out the venue for the second time in 2018.
In April of 2016, Mullinger sold out Harbour Station Arena (now TD Station) in Saint John, outselling Jerry Seinfeld, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and Jeff Dunham. It sparked a CBC documentary about the record-breaking arena show. The comedian beat out his own record by selling out the venue for the second time in 2018.

Back on the road

The stops and starts of the pandemic have helped put things in perspective for Mullinger. “After the last two years, I’ll never complain about travelling,” he says.

But he is trying to be sensible about being back on the road, given he rarely declined a gig when he first began building his comedy career in Canada.

“I would drive from Saint John to Sydney, Nova Scotia, and back in a night for 200 bucks,” he says. “It wouldn’t even cover the gas now, but that’s what I needed to do.”

Being on the road, though, is a big part of the job for most comedians, which brings Mullinger to Yuk Yuk’s in Halifax on May 6 and 7.

“While I love playing big theatres up to a certain size – I think a thousand is the sweet spot – there is no atmosphere like playing a comedy club,” he says. “Being in a packed room in a club environment where the audience is literally on top of you is where I get to play and where anything can happen.”

Allowing him more freedom than playing in a larger venue, a room like Yuk Yuk’s is also fertile ground for new material.

“You can go on hundred tangents, talk to the audience, and that’s where you become alive as a comedian,” he says. “It also helps me build new material because I feel confident going off on a tangent, and suddenly, those tangents might become a new bit.”

But while audiences will be coming to see Mullinger, in typically British/Canadian fashion, he is most excited to share the stage with Halifax comedian Sarah MacLellan, who opens for him for his two local shows.

“She is, without question, one of Halifax’s finest comedic talents,” he says. “So come for Sarah and stick around for the British guy.”

The book tour

Mullinger will return to Halifax the following month with a free event to promote Brit Happens with a reading, some stand-up and a live Q&A at the Halifax Central Library on June 25.

“This will be my first time doing readings from my book, which is a little weird because many of the stories in the book are bits that I’ve done as part of my stand-up.”

You can keep up to date with Mullinger on his website or follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. You can also listen to his podcast Mullinger Meets Canadians, and check out his magazine [EDIT]. His new book, Brit Happens, hits bookshelves on May 11.

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