Brit Happens* (*Or Living the Canadian Dream) By James Mullinger

Brit Happens* (*Or Living the Canadian Dream)

British-born comedian (and recently sworn-in Canadian citizen) James Mullinger is a happy man these days. That’s because his years-long quest towards living the Canadian dream is now an accomplished reality.

“Perhaps I was always meant to be a Canadian … I feel pretty darn lucky. But things haven’t always been this way,” he writes in the opening chapter of his recently-published memoir Brit Happens* (*Or Living the Canadian Dream).

Although he had a successful career as a journalist and editor of the British edition of GQ magazine in his native London, where he got to interview and profile many of his comedy and show business idols, Mullinger knew that stand-up comedy offered a stronger calling for him.  But somehow, travelling across Britain practically every weekend to appear in open spots at comedy nights in a number of clubs and pubs gave him the cold hard truth of the chances of succeeding in the British comedy scene: that no matter how hard he worked at it, or how good he was, nobody cared.

That’s when Mullinger decided to make a major personal sacrifice in order to reach that pinnacle of success that could work out in his favour, or crash and burn with a loud thud. Pulling stakes from his roots, Mullinger and his Canadian-born wife Pam (who established an impressive career in her own right with a number of prestigious magazines in the UK) bit the bullet and settled in Saint John, New Brunswick (Pam’s native province) and started all over again. Things weren’t easy at first; however, over the past 20 years since that major move, Mullinger and his family has certainly lived (and continues to do so) the Canadian dream. In a way, he practically single-handedly revived the New Brunswick and Maritime comedy scene (which for many years was the domain of Newfoundland and Labrador), toured in clubs, corporate events and festivals across the Maritimes (where he sold out the Harbour Station arena in Saint John; the other comedian to do so was his idol, Jerry Seinfled) and Canada, wrote and produced a major motion picture called “The Comedian’s Guide to Survival”, co-created a glossy quarterly lifestyles magazine called The (Maritime) Edit, and has become a tourism ambassador for his adopted home province of New Brunswick.

Needless to say, that’s quite a mighty accomplishment, and it’s told with a great deal of humour and honesty in his engaging memoir. What I enjoyed about Brit Happens* is that Mullinger opted not to follow with the nearly 30-year literary trend of popular stand-up comedians publishing books in which they decided to dig into their comedy material rolodexes instead of their own lives. Happily, he chose to go along the path of the more classical autobiographical approach that was undertaken by comedy legends such as Fred Allen, Groucho Marx, Lenny Bruce, Steve Martin, George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Joan Rivers, as well as such recent related offerings by Rick Mercer, Mindy Kaling and the late Louie Anderson.

The text of Mullinger’s personal narrative is reminiscent of his entertaining solo show “Living the Canadian Dream”, which was the show he was performing when I saw him in person for the first time at the Montreal Fringe Festival in 2014. His lively, energetic performance style and his wealth of stories from an interesting career that worked so well onstage, transcends just as well on the printed page.

Besides the usual road stories, encounters with celebrities (his anecdote about meeting Paul McCartney for the very first time is a gem), and how he successfully conquered that “fish out of water” feeling after he moved to New Brunswick, Mullinger shares with the reader a number of lessons he absorbed that was essential to both personal and professional survival in a new land. That includes never underestimating the power of the people that make up a community (which came in handy when he personally had to spread the word and sell tickets to comedy shows that he helped put together in a number of small towns in New Brunswick shortly after his arrival there), and do your homework by familiarizing yourself with what makes a community tick (which was embodied with the catchphrase that Mullinger developed and used as part of his stand-up act, which involved a local landmark or business that were currently located where a branch of the Zellers department store chain used to be).

Brit Happens* (*Or Living the Canadian Dream) is not just a comedian’s memoir, but also doubles as a handbook to how a comedian can survive in such a difficult – yet sometimes lucrative – way of making a living. So let James Mullinger be your guide to how you can do what you enjoy and conquer the impossible … yet be ready to pay those dues on that journey.

Oh, and by the way, an official welcome to Canada, James, eh?

Stuart Nulman
By: Stuart Nulman – info@mtltimes.ca

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