James Mullinger’s and Mark Murphy’s The Comedian’s Guide to Survival takes the hard-won life lessons of a struggling would-be stand-up and plays them for laughs.
Get Up, Stand Upby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
James Buckley, the quiet one from The Inbetweeners, stars as hapless would-be stand-up James Mullinger in a comedy that mixes fact and fiction. It’s based on the life of the real successful comedian James Mullinger, now living and performing in Canada, and the film is co-written by him and Mark Murphy. In the film the fictional James Mullinger works as comedy editor for a men’s magazine just like the real one did – though in the film the magazine’s name is tongue-in-cheek COQ rather than the actual GQ – and his struggles to make it as a comedian are played for laughs.
Gigging by night at no-hope venues all over Britain and falling asleep at his desk at COQ by day, his scourge is his foul-mouthed, vituperative, coke-fuelled editor played by a manic, domineering Paul Kaye (Game of Thrones). So why he promotes Mullinger on the understanding that he never does stand-up again, and entrusts him with the mission of going to Los Angeles to secure an interview and cover story with top comic Dustin Stratford (Vas Blackwood, We Still Steal the Old Way) is anyone’s guess.
In the US, his culture shock starts when he mystifies his American driver (Kevin Eldon, Game of Thrones), who treats his most heartfelt pleas as jokes, believing they are that fabled and incomprehensible British irony. He interviews a host of his comic heroes including (the real) Gilbert Gottfried, Omid Djalili, Luenell, Mike Wilmot, Gina Yashere, Brendon Burns and Mike Ward. He emanates a loser vibe and they’re not encouraging. He receives a baptism of fire from Dustin’s rapacious agent (MyAnna Buring, Lost in Karastan), is given a lift by an unrecognisable Mark Heap of Friday Night Dinner (in a show-stealing turn as a perverted red-neck pick-up driver) and is humiliated by successful Brad Macey (the real James Mullinger in a cameo). We see him gigging at a gruesome corporate event (with Tim McInnerney as a nightmare boss) and at the Montreal Comedy Festival, where he’s hosted by Jimmy Carr.
But is he actually funny? Well, it’s the story of the plucky, optimistic loser who makes good – maybe. Buckley is an appealing, if low key, character and there’s some insight into what makes him keep going as a comedian despite the multiple setbacks. It’s an awkward story, he does some disastrous stand-up acts, he’s mishap-prone, it meanders a bit once he gets to the US – but maybe all that is what a comedian’s life is really like and, all told, The Comedian’s Guide to Survival is far funnier than it has any right to be. And is there a real Guide to Survival? Go and see the film to find out.
The Comedian’s Guide to Survival is released on 28 October 2016 in the UK.