The story of comedian James Mullinger's early performing days has some chuckles hidden in there, a few belly laughs scattered around, but misses the mark when delivering its deeper message about chasing dreams and not giving up and all that unoriginal crap. But it has a lot of famous comedians in so, really, it kind of balances out.
In case you haven’t been introduced, James Mullinger is one of those very successful comedians. One of those very successful comedians who can live abroad and sell sold out shows and is just generally loved by everyone whose heard of him. One of those very successful comedians who didn’t start out very successful at all, and in fact came close to giving up before hitting the glittering limelight. One of those very successful comedians who can co-write a film about himself and his shaky start and get other very successful comedians like Mark Heap, Jimmy Carr and The Inbetweeners’ own James Buckley to co-star in it. You know, one of those comedians.
The Comedian’s Guide To Survival follows a bit of a proto-Mullinger, played by Buckley, who gets brutally heckled and wets his pants on stage on multiple occasions – so quite a way off the Mullinger we know today. As Buckley’s Mullinger goes on to show, this isn’t just a comedian’s guide to survival, this is survival in its truest, gruelling form. Chasing a far-flung dream not one single other person is supporting – it’s a harsh world. On his path to comedic redemption, Mullinger is passed from oddball to oddball, forced to interview the very comedians he beats himself up to be and at one point is drugged, kidnapped and robbed by a truck driver with a questionable sufficiency of genetic background. So, really, it’s not the smoothest path.
One critic describes The Comedian’s Guide as a film ‘made by comedians, for comedians, about comedians’ which is true to a certain extent, the extent being it’s definitely written by a comedian or two, and it’s evidently about comedians. That much you can get without even going near the cinema screen – but it’s in no way merely for comedians, and certainly not exclusively. The Comedian’s Guide serves as an inspirational checkpoint for all ways of life, and all far-flung dreams -or rather that’s what it aspires to be.
It’s glaringly difficult to deliver a grounded, captivating message whilst delivering chuckles, which is exactly the position The Comedian’s Guide attempts to straddle. And by all means, good on it for the attempt, but in all honesty it misses the mark. Nothing it says is original or captivating, and it idles maybe a little too much in the realm of the grounded. Even breaking the fourth wall – something I’m beginning to see as less of a clever, artistic resource (a la Annie Hall), and more of a cheap trick to alienate an audience before embracing them again because its oh so shocking to acknowledge an audience (although to be fair, The Comedians Guide pokes a lot of fun at the technique, using it more as a mockery than a way of validating its daring ingenuity) – becomes tiresome.
And tiresome is exactly what the film reluctantly continues to be, though whether it’s aware of its downtrodden fate or is blinded by its occasional monologues of supposed inspirational morals, I do not know. Still, there are plenty of chuckles hidden away in there, and a handful of those rare belly laughs, many at the hands of a nearly unrecognisable Paul Kaye who plays Mullinger’s coke-snorting, insult-spewing, just generally incredulously OTT boss and who has some of the best lines of the entire film. Look out for him, he’s a tad different to his alter-ego, Thoros of Myr.
The Comedian’s Guide to Survival isn’t anything special. It’s not memorable, it’s not original and it’s not the epiphany-esque inspiration it wants to be. But it’s funny and solid and you’ll come out with a smile. Also it has basically half the comedians I can recognise in it somewhere, and I can’t fault that.
The Comedian’s Guide To Survival, directed by Mark Murphy, is distributed in the UK through Signature Entertainment, certificate TBC.