This Is The Story of a Man Named James and a City Named Saint John
CBC’s ‘City on Fire’ documents the unconventional journey of comedian James Mullinger who moved to Saint John, New Brunswick from the UK. That’s a BIG hop, skip and a jump. The typical industry story usually involves Canadian comedians moving to the UK for more work and opportunity. A common criticism of the Canadian comedy industry is that there’s a lower ceiling and less room to create a full-fledged career. There’s some truth to it as we see more and more respected comedians packing their bags and heading elsewhere.
But not James. Where everyone in the Canadian comedy scene seems to be spreading their wings and flying away, James flew against the grain and came here to Canada where these obstacles weren’t a concern to him. I can’t imagine what that transition originally looked like. Probably scary leaving a well-balanced career, connections and familiarity of his stomping grounds to come to a foreign place with a different idea of what works and what doesn’t. You would think his first inclination would be to keep his head down and “learn the rules until you’re ready to break the rules” but he showed up and said “To hell with the rules!” and did things his way. My kinda guy.
I had the opportunity to watch ‘City on Fire’ available on CBC’s official website. The documentary functions as both a love letter Saint John and a dreamer’s time capsule. One day, James is going to dig all this up and think, “Wow, I did that. I dreamed and watched my dreams come true. What a way to live.” (I’m very good at knowing exactly what people are going to say about their own lives when their old and grey because I’m an Oracle.)
The documentary serves as a lead up to his stand-up special ‘Anything is Possible’ available on Hulu and Amazon Prime. Speaking of anything being possible…
James Likes To Say That Anything Is Possible
Look at that face! The face of inspiration. Joking aside, James expresses the heart of many hungry comedians throughout ‘City on Fire’ when he discusses what it means to be pegged as the outlier relentlessly searching for a sense of belonging. The through-line of his documentary, his comedy special, his act and his life, is that anything is possible. Bold AND underlined. James is the obvious product of years of hard work, you can’t fault this man’s hustle, but beyond that, he digs deeper. And this is my honest attraction to Mullinger as a comedian. He has a genuine interest in his new home and the people that live there.
Many comedians make the mistake of making comedy about themselves when the power of standup is in bringing people together. It’s always about the audience. James makes a lot of investments. In the people he’s performing for and the place he’s performing in. It makes you wonder, if he can make Saint John turn from forgotten misfit to rootable underdog, what can he do for the rest of us? I would love to see James in Hamilton. What would he have to say about our defunct steel mills? Our thousands of waterfalls? The hectic one-ways and labyrinth-style bike lanes?
The age of the social wears on all of us. In our pursuit to ultimately connect with everyone and everything, we’ve lost out ability to connect to anyone and anything. Some people see the job of the comedian as purely mindless entertainment. Others put philosophical responsibility on the comedian to hold culture and power figures accountable for their actions through precise dissection. The way I see standup comedy is simple. I see it as an opportunity to bring others together and create some good in this world. Either on a small independent level as I’m committed to or a large-scale level as James has found for himself. Anyone can get a laugh these days. You can find it in a 140 characters on Twitter or through a cat chasing a laser pointer on Youtube. The comedian as an entertainment option has been saturated by almost everything. Comedians are learning to transcend the art form. We’re not mere entertainment. We’re memory makers. Authors of the now. Seekers of truth.
Wherever that is and whatever that may be.
James Also Likes To Prove That Anything Is Possible
As they say in the UK, the proof is in the posset. James has carved a path for himself that should stand as an inspiration to young comedians who dream of a career in comedy but don’t want to leave Canada. I personally love this country. I have travelled east and west and marvel at the beauty of this land we’re so fortunate to live on. I watched the saga of Gord Downie. A man who truly understood what it meant to not only be Canadian but to be human. It made me so proud to live in Canada and proud to live in Hamilton. It’s people like James that have made young comedians like myself rethink what standup is and what it can be.
If you’re reading this and you’re a comedian don’t write James off as the UK guy who fricken’ loves Saint John. He’s more than that. He’s a comedian who carved his own path his own way. He didn’t wait for gatekeepers. He didn’t walk the well-beaten path. He made the best out of a foreign situation and fought the urge to resent his new place of residence by fulling emerging himself in the people and city of Saint John. When things feel shallow, the only answer is to go deeper. That’s so cool! Doesn’t that just pump you up? To know that it’s never over, that our dreams can still come true, just not the way we thought they would?
I’m sure this isn’t the path James imagined for himself but it’s certainly the one he made for himself. And you can too. Make the best of where you are, invest your time and energy into people and places, and together maybe we can ignite a mass return to humanity. Where we’re looking at each other, not our phones. Where we’re talking to each other, not just stalking each other on Facebook. Let’s get back to that.
I want to get back to that. Because, hey… anything is possible.
Clifford Myers is an independent comedian from Hamilton, Ontario who also believes anything is possible! Check out this WAY TOO CANADIAN show on November 17th at The Zoetic Theatre featuring Clifford as the opening act and Graham Chittenden as the headliner extraordinaire!
PS: There’s two poignant moments in ‘City on Fire’ that really stood out for me. The swimming analogy that James heard from his comedy hero Jerry Seinfeld and Clyde A. Ray’s words on the only sin being “not trying.” But to get the full impact of these great moments you’ll have to watch the documentary!