Interview: James Mullinger25th October 2010
I do think it’s important for comedy to push boundaries but not as important as I think it is to make people laugh. That’s the important thing. Comedy should be funny first and foremost.” James Mullinger certainly adhered to his own dictum with The Bad Boy of Feminism, his first live stand-up show, which received hugely positive reviews, and Schooldays his second, which was first performed earlier this year. He has also been photo editor of GQ Magazine for over a decade, and holds a curious and rather impressive command over the two very distinct fields of magazine journalism and comedy, remaining very active in both.
After graduating, he took up a two-week work experience placement at GQ and claims that he started there aiming to make himself an inestimable part of the team: “I came to GQ with the sole intention of working there. As a result I grabbed every opportunity with both fists and didn’t let go. I made sure I was invaluable so that they had to give me a job. I arrived early every day, made sure I was the last to leave, worked weekends, and missed my graduation ceremony so I didn’t have to ask for the day off.” Such dedication permeates his comedy as well as his day job and he took the decision to perform stand up with the same sense of driven purpose, reaching the finals of Jimmy Carr’s Comedy Idols in 2005. In the same year, he also reached the finals of You Must Be Joking at the Newbury Comedy Festival and Your Comedy Stars at the Edinburgh Festival, earning the distinction of a Guardian ‘one to watch’ for comedy.
Mullinger’s shows are anecdotal, and he quarrys his past for bizarre and outrageous stories to recount. He is thankful for having lived a crazy life. “I did find that the first show was easier to write because I had five years of stand-up experience to cull from and a lifetime of anecdotes. A second show is always harder to write because you have put everything from your entire life into the first. With Schooldays, I had to dig a little deeper into my past, which meant being even more open and honest.” James had considered the schooldays theme for his first show but thought the idea unoriginal: “Richard Herring has already done the ultimate show about schooldays with The Headmaster’s Son and I knew I’d never be able to get anywhere close to producing as good a show as that. However, the most crowd pleasing bits in my feminism show were about my schooldays and after the shows people always came up to me saying they wanted to hear more, so I thought, ‘Why not do the Schooldays show next?’”
Next year, James will be supporting American comedian Scott Capurro in Oxford, and having gained contact with other comedians through work at GQ and extensive compering, he compliments the work of other comics. Of Scott, he says that it is “a real dream come true” to work with him. “He is one of the most underrated comedians in the world,” James adds, “He is a truly great stand-up, but is not a household name despite being in Mrs Doubtfire and storming 8 Out Of 10 Cats. Jimmy [Carr] is lovely: I met him when I entered his Comedy Idol show and he kindly put me through to the final. That was the best thing that happened to me during my first year of stand- up. Jimmy is very supportive of new comics and stayed in touch with all of us, often giving advice and helping us out. I owe him a lot.”
Yet it seems that most of his success stems from his own determination and desire to succeed. It’s the refreshing openness with which he treats his dual working life satisfaction that comes across most strongly in the interview. “I consider myself very lucky that I am able to excel in both fields without having to choose between them; I am extremely fortunate that life allows me to pursue all my passions – and pays me for them.”