In previous posts looking at people coming to New Brunswick in search of career opportunities and a better work-life balance, we’ve focused mainly on the ICT sector.
Today, we take a different route and connect with UK comedian James Mullinger to learn why he and his British magazine publishing powerhouse wife chose to move to Canada, and specifically, Saint John, New Brunswick.
ONB: Where in the UK are you from originally?
Mullinger: I was born in Maidenhead, Berkshire but lived all of my adult life in London. My wife and I met 15 years ago. She was working for Vanity Fair and it was my first day at GQ magazine. We met on my first day.
ONB: Your wife is from New Brunswick, how did you meet, and how did she persuade you to move to the province?
Mullinger: She didn’t need to persuade me to move here. It was my idea. We had visited her family here many times over the years and I knew it to be the most beautiful place in the world. I have travelled almost everywhere you can imagine as a journalist then as a comedian, and I have never seen anywhere more beautiful than New Brunswick. So when we had our second child I knew I wanted our sons to have the amazing childhood my wife had here. Leaving friends and family behind was hard but the decision to move was an easy one. We could either live in the most expensive and busiest city in the world, or move to the most beautiful and cost-effective. It was a no brainer.
ONB: What was it like transitioning to life in New Brunswick?
Mullinger: It’s a whole different life but it’s a better one, so it’s been easy.
It’s like asking a lottery winner how he is enjoying being a millionaire. Every day I wake up, look out of my window at the Kennebecasis River and I can’t quite believe that I get to live in such a beautiful place.
My wife and I assumed I would be on the road the whole time because so many people said there would be no work for a comedian here. Yet I have been turning down work elsewhere in other parts of Canada and America because there has been so much in this province thanks to the lovely people at Yuk Yuks, all of the local businesses who hire me on a regular basis, and people like Shane Ogden who put on awesome comedy events all the time and of course my awesome agent Robert Gallant. I could work every night if I wanted to. As it is, I work about four nights a week and film my TV show most days. In England, a comedian will count themselves lucky if they get one corporate gig a month. I’ve been getting at least two a week. So I have had to get used to being happy every day.
ONB: Based on your experience, do you believe New Brunswick to be a best kept secret?
Mullinger: Yes, very much so! That is changing but I hope it doesn’t change too much because I don’t want it to become full of people with negative or rude attitudes. This is a friendly, happy place and I’d like to keep it that way. We have had many visitors from London come and stay with us and they can’t believe how beautiful it is here. The Associate Publisher of Tatler Magazine came to visit last year with her family. This year she is coming back for longer. The award-winning novelist and journalist Alex Preston is coming to stay also with his family because he has seen the pictures on my Instagram page of how stunning it is here.
ONB: What did people say when you told them you were moving to New Brunswick?
Mullinger: That I was mad. That there would be no work for a comedian. That the Canadian comedy scene was dead. That if I wanted to get any work as a comedian in Canada, I needed to be in Toronto. That they call it “No Funswick.” Everyone was totally, categorically, insanely wrong. I am glad I ignored them. I would implore others to do the same. I am a do-er, not a talker. So I don’t listen to gossip or negativity. I am too busy living my dreams and having fun with my family.
ONB: What has that been like working as a comedian in New Brunswick?
Mullinger: Thanks to the lovely people of New Brunswick I am working constantly. And filming my TV show for Bell Aliant has been a dream come true. Last year my show at the Imperial Theatre sold out. That is 850 in a population with a population of about 60,000 coming out to see comedy. That’s a high proportion. So I am thankful. I am doing the Imperial Theatre again on October 8th with a brand new show called Londoner To Maritimer.
I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it because I like to donate a lot of my ticket sales to charity (KV Outreach and the Saint John Animal Rescue) but these big shows are expensive to put on and I wasn’t going to do it if I couldn’t help these amazing charities. Luckily the lovely people at Lexus Of Saint John came in and rescued me and offered to sponsor the show. So thanks to them the show is happening and the charities will benefit. Lovely people doing kind things; another reason I love it here.
ONB: You have spoken about the talent of the people here in New Brunswick. In fact, you were surprised by how much talent there is. Tell us more about that and how we compare to the larger centres?
Mullinger: Yes, I have been surprised by the mass of talented people that live 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 I have ever worked with. Incredible. She never fails to wow and amaze. My favourite poet lives here in Saint John. Wayne Hansen is my favourite musician. I had no idea it had a creative pool as deep and varied as London.
The comedians here in NB are great, which is why the scene here is building so fast because if you go to a comedy show in New Brunswick you are guaranteed an awesome fun-filled night. There are incredible comedians all over Canada doing amazing work, and my wish is that more people go out and support the local talent they have.
I am enormously proud of the fact that two of the finest comedians working in the world today, live right here in New Brunswick. Nikki Payne and Marshall Button. They both sold out the Capitol Theatre in Moncton recently with two very different shows but both tore the roof off. It was electric. And as a proud feminist, I also love working in a comedy environment without misogyny. I was lucky enough to perform at the HubCap Comedy Festival and I love the fact that the two headliners were both women (Nikki and Elvira Kurt). And it wasn’t done as a statement or a Ladies-Special show like you might find at other festivals. It was simply that the two biggest names happened to be female. It is very hard to imagine that happening at a British comedy festival. Comedy bookers and audiences in New Brunswick want one thing: funny. Gender doesn’t come in to it. I like that.
The difference between Saint John and larger cities such as, say, London or Toronto is that people here are humble about their talent. The comedians, photographers, designers and writers I work with here are as good, if not better, than any or all I worked with in London. The biggest difference is that those in NB do not want to shout about how great they are at every opportunity. I also worked with a lot of people in London who liked to bully junior people to show how important they are. I have not seen that happen here and find it very hard to imagine that it ever would.
ONB: You have also talked about how your family has never been happier, what can you share about that? What is it that’s making them so happy?
Mullinger: Spending time together. In England, my wife travelled constantly for work, as did I. We didn’t see each other or our kids enough and that would have only got worse. So we are happier because we are all together and also because we are living in a happy, idyllic place.
ONB: Your wife is the North American Publisher for Monocle Magazine, is that correct? Does she work from home? And was it difficult to move the position to NB?
Mullinger: She works from home but as the Publisher who launched the magazine she knows all her clients personally and has built up loyal relationships over many years so she can handle most of it from her home office. She also visits New York every few months to meet clients.
I suppose it’s a bit of a change in that she was one of the most powerful and respected women in British magazine publishing and spent her days and nights wining, dining, and negotiating in the best restaurants all around the world. But now we all get to be together every day. Family must always come first. And my wife is the most driven person I know so I am extremely excited to see what big plans she has for New Brunswick!
ONB: Finally, what else are you working on at the moment?
Mullinger: Well, I am always honing my stand up act all the time. Writing new material every day. Over the summer I am playing a series of shows at a beautiful vineyard on the Kingston Peninsula, New Brunswick, and I recorded my second live comedy album at the Imperial Theatre in early October which I am really excited about because it’s in my hometown of Saint John and I am releasing it on vinyl as well as iTunes. In November I will be headlining Yuk Yuk’s in Toronto for six shows over five nights which is super exciting as it is the best comedy club in Canada. I am really proud to be able to share my love of New Brunswick with comedy club audiences across Canada.
And, at the end of next month I start work on a movie with an award-winning director and rising star of British film named Mark Murphy. He has made two very well received feature films Crypt and Awaiting, and he has written a very funny screenplay about a struggling comedian with a day job. The film – The Comedian’s Guide To Survival – is kind of based on my life when I was working at GQ and rushing all over the country to do stand shows up every night. I will be playing this version of myself and it will be packed with the best comedians in the world, and provide a very funny insight into the comedy industry and how it works. The producer Alan Latham is utterly brilliant and very well known having produced successful films with everyone from Paul Rudd, Jon Lovitz and Tracey Ullman to 50 Cent, Fred Willard and Michelle Pfeiffer so I am really excited about it.
I have done a few movies before but never been the lead before so I can’t wait. We start shooting at the end of July in Montreal at the Just For Laughs festival then film for about six weeks in London. It will be nice to be back in the UK but I can’t wait to shoot at Just For Laughs because it is not just the greatest comedy festival in the world, it is the greatest thing in the world and we will be working with many of the top stand ups from around the world. Best of all, we will be working with a film production crew from right here in Saint John. Greg Hemmings’ film company Hemmings House is one of the most respected and successful production companies in North America, so I am truly honoured to be working with them. New Brunswick is packed with awesome talent and I can’t wait for the world to see that.
Be sure to follow James on Twitter at @jamesmullinger.
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Cover image credit: Ryan Lavigne
James Mullinger image credit: Mark Hemmings