James Mullinger Comedian's Guide To Survival

The Making Of The Movie About James Mullinger’s Life

James Mullinger tells The East in his own words what it’s like to oversee a big screen film production all about you…

It’s an odd experience having a big screen movie about your life when you are a nobody. Because that’s what I am. I know I’m not Muhammad Ali. Some of my family don’t even know who I am. I am a jobbing comedian who does okay and that to me is living the dream. It’s all I ever wanted. Which is what the film The Comedian’s Guide To Survival is all about. Starring James Buckley (as a younger me) and MyAnna Buring (Twilight, Downton Abbey), Paul Kaye (Game Of Thrones) with cameos by Omid Djalili, Jimmy Carr and Derek Seguin, the film documents the plight of a men’s magazine journalist who, despite the fact he has an enviable job, desperately wants the life of the comedians that he interviews.

And this was my life for more than a decade as I worked as GQ’s Photographic Director & Comedy Editor by day and travelled the county by night dying on stage, desperately trying to get good at stand up. It took me longer than most to get good. I was dying on stage four nights a week for about six years (although Chris Rock once told me that it took him ten years to get good but I think he has a higher standard than me) which takes a lot out of you mentally, spiritually, physically. I think being bullied at school was great preparation for this masochism I subjected myself to. Stand up is like anything, work hard enough at it and you can get good at it. No-one takes to it naturally. It’s hard work. As most of you know, I have always lived by the mantra that ‘Anything Is Possible’ but often during this period, I never thought my dream would come true.

Filming Hollywood beach scene in Montreal (Courtesy of James Mullinger)
Filming Hollywood beach scene in Montreal (Courtesy of James Mullinger)
James Buckley on set (Gavin Bond)
James Buckley on set (Gavin Bond)

During this time, the writer and director of Comedian’s Guide, Mark Murphy, directed a web series that I hosted for Comedy Central in which I interviewed superstar comedians like Judd Apatow, Simon Pegg, Amy Schumer and Jerry Seinfeld. He thought it was hilarious I spent my days interviewing these gods of comedy, then jumped on a train to a small town on the opposite side of England to die on stage in front of ten people. He suggested we write a script about it. We did and – like so many projects – nothing happened with it. Then two years ago, having become a respected film director in his own right, he called me to say he had rewritten the script (ie made it good) and that the film was happening with a £3m budget and an all-star cast.

By that time I had moved to Canada so he flew to Saint John, New Brunswick and we sat in his room at the Hilton Saint John by day and Alehouse by night and added my real stand up material to the character’s act in the script and inserted real life stories of indignities that had occurred to me on the road, in clubs, and at corporate gigs. It was somewhat cathartic but also distressing to first relive these horrors on the page then watch them being acted out by James Buckley on these big film sets. Fans of trivia: my favourite scene in the film was actually written on the terrace of Reeds Point Pub. I’ve always said that those ferry boats inspire me!…

When I used to sleep on train platforms after shows having missed the last train home (this happened so frequently that I actually kept a spare pillow in my wok bag), I would always optimistically think that the horrors I was experiencing were karma; that they somehow were ensuring that I would find success. One night as I tried to sleep in a photo booth on Northampton train station, I thought to myself: “Oh well, at least it’ll make a great story when I’m on a TV chat show in thirty years.” I never imagined that just over half a decade later I would be watching a forty-strong movie crew re-enact the scene with one of the UK’s biggest comedy actors playing me. Given that was my life for almost a decade I find it funny when people ask me now how I find time to do all the things I do. I used to do all this and hold down a day job. So life is a breeze now by comparison.

Equally surreal was watching James Buckley sit in the same chair that I had sat in (five years prior) and interview the same comedians I had interviewed in a hotel suite in Montreal. I was often asked to leave the room during the filming of these scenes because I was laughing so hard. Seeing the likes of Omid Djalili, and Canadian superstar comics Derek Seguin, Pete Zedlacher, and Mike Ward improvise with Buckley (who had just left the set of Judd Apatow’s improv heavy Popstar: Never Stop Stopping, so his ad-libs were on fire) was a hysterical experience and a real highlight. But the funniest thing I heard during this absurd and bizarre process was from my dad. Having heard that James Buckley was to play me in a movie about my life, he asked to see an episode of The Inbetweeners and my brother duly obliged. Upon seeing Jay rampaging down the street spewing filthy words and outrageous, grotesque statements, my dad (a retired bank manager, now antique book dealer who lives in Somerset and goes to church religiously – so to speak – every Sunday) leaned back, sighed and said: “Well, no wonder they asked him to play James.”

James interviewing Omid Djalili (Courtesy of James Mullinger)
James interviewing Omid Djalili (Courtesy of James Mullinger)

In the dozens of interviews I have done about the film in the past few weeks I have been asked a lot as to whether there could be a sequel. My life has changed a lot since the events depicted in the film. I obviously moved to Canada with my family, started a new life in beautiful Saint John and had to launch my stand up career all over again. Which was nowhere near as easy as people think it was. But I did it. (This was documented by Hemmings House for CBC). So could there be a sequel? Absolutely. If James Buckley doesn’t mind coming to Saint John for six weeks to film here. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in this past 18 months, anything is possible…

The Comedian’s Guide To Survival is released in cinemas across the UK on 28th October. It will be released in North America next year with its Atlantic Canadian premiere in Saint John on 16th November at the Saint John Theatre Company. Tickets are here and Mullinger is donating every cent to the theatre company to help them with future productions.