“I’m not even on stage and I’m getting heckled.”
Imagine you’re heading into the office in the morning. Heading towards your desk, coffee in hand, when for the fourth time that week, you’re reminded not to piss on yourself at work. If you’re anything like me, you’ve quit that job as soon as the first trickle hit your thighs. You certainly haven’t made it such a regular enough occurrence that colleagues feel the need to drill into you that urine on your jeans is simply not the way to go.
While you or I might quit and take solace in a darkened corner hoping for the ground to open up and swallow you whole, that’s not how veteran stand-up comedian James Mullinger rolls.
Maybe he’s got less pride than me or you? Maybe he likes the feel of warm urine leaking into his socks? Or maybe, if semi-biographical comedy The Comedian’s Guide to Survival is to be believed, it’s just that a shoe filled with warm asparagus scented fluid isn’t even close to the worst thing that happen to James Mullinger on his journey to become a stand-up comedian.
Stuck at a career impasse, magazine writer James Mullinger (The Inbetweeners star James Buckley) has aspirations to be a stand up comedian. And he would be able to do it, except for one rather large problem: he sucks harder than one of them toothless £1.50 cum-buckets you can smell coming down Catford High Street. Oh, and he pisses his pants on stage.
Failing to balance a job he’s beginning to loathe with countless hours on the road, urinating on pub stages, and spending time with his wife and kids; James is fast coming to a point where something has to give.
The writer’s abusive twat-bag boss (the equal parts sublime and hilarious Paul Kaye) gives him an ultimatum: take a promotion to deputy editor but drop the dreams of making people laugh, or lose his job and try and live on the pittance bar room comedy pays.
It seems the difficult decisions are being made for him. If having his dreams shat on isn’t bad enough, his dick-breath editor sends the down-trodden writer half way around the world to interview some of his comedy heroes and cover Montreal’s Just for Laughs comedy festival.
One way or another, James is going to have to take control of his own destiny and decide what he wants to do with his life. Only once he hits several feet below rock bottom does his path become clear.
Biographical comedies are a tough sell. You’ve got to make someone’s story interesting enough to watch, but make it funny as well. This can only have been made more difficult for a stand-up comedian as the audience will be expecting side-splitting, laugh out loud funny from start to finish. Of course, the early gigs where everything is going laughably bad are easier to win the viewer on side, but the tricky part is saving a little for when all is going well in the life of Mullinger.
For a barrel-scraping hobby writer like myself, the mere thought of having to do that is giving me heart palpitations, but the man himself, writer James Mullinger along with co-writer and director Mark Murphy, have not only pulled off the great comedy balance, but managed to squeeze a little soul into the film that I really didn’t expect.
James trudging through the bar and pub comedy scene is a depressing little look into the lives of all those stand-ups that have told us stories of their early days. The fourth wall is broken to regale us with stories of journeys with people he couldn’t stand, running for busses and trains, and of nothing ever really going right. At the point that our protagonist gives in, going about his regular writing job, trying to move on with the 9-5 life, you truly feel sorry for this man who can’t catch a break. You can’t even find it in yourself to will him to keep going. The poor bastard is done.
And you really feel it when a line of the man’s heroes, in a string of “as Himself” credits from the likes of Omid Djalili, Mike Wilmot and Gilbert Gottfried, tell him to give it up repeatedly, brutally and painfully.
Conversely, The Comedians Guide to Survival is a real joy to watch. Particularly after the turning point in the film as a sense of purpose and a new found confidence washes over Mullinger. It’s almost humbling to watch – which says just as much about the direction and Buckley’s performance as it does about the writing.
It’s not all plain sailing. I do have one minor complaint about the film and it’s simply this; while I appreciate seeing Mullinger’s story on the screen, I would have liked to have seen a little more of the darker, behind the scenes stuff that the comedy scene can be known for. I only say this because it seems like the film should be telling me the whole story. This rings especially true when your film features Brendon Burns; a man who has very prominently, very loudly and very bluntly spoken about the comedy scene in the past. I just would have liked to have seen it explored a little more.
But this isn’t a deal breaker by any means. Comedians Guide doesn’t suffer without this aspect, it’s more a personal preference and I wouldn’t expect everyone that watches this laugh-out-loud comedy to come out wanting it.
What I would expect for everyone that sees the film is to see a big old smile on their face. The Comedian’s Guide to Survival is a comedy with a steady stream of chuckles right from the start that gradually builds into some brilliantly delivered laughs. It will have you pissing in your pants (not literally, James) and at the same time rooting for our hero the whole time. There are even some unexpected moments that had me wanting to reach in and give the guy a hug.
As the credits roll, you will find yourself with a massive involuntary grin on your Chevy Chase. Just remember who told you how much you were going to enjoy this cool little comedy.
The Comedians Guide to Survival is released in UK cinemas nationwide on 28 October 2016