If there is only one thing that New Brunswick-based comedians Nikki Payne and James Mullinger want you to take away from their upcoming production at Moncton’s Capitol Theatre this Friday night, it is this:
Embrace the holiday insanity. That is the overarching theme of A Very Dysfunctional Christmas, the duo’s first collaborative production. Let go of what you feel an “ideal” Christmas should look like.
“Speaking from a personal standpoint, I found that I really started to enjoy the Christmas holidays when I took the initiative to own it,” Payne explains. “Instead of trying to make the holidays perfect and feeling disappointed that my family didn’t resemble the one on the front of the Sears Christmas Wish Book, the holidays became much more enjoyable when I chose to embrace them, warts and all.”
“The production is intended to be a high concept celebration of Christmas,” Mullinger offers. “Both Nikki and I love the holidays. The title A Very Dysfunctional Christmas isn’t intended to be cynical or disparaging; we are trying to encourage people to embrace the dysfunction and the madness of this time of year. Trust us, you’ll enjoy yourself that much more.”
After first having crossed paths approximately two years ago, the idea to collaborate on a production is something that each comedian admits required minimal prodding to consider.
“Nikki and I had the opportunity to perform a couple of shows together and found we got along so well, it just made sense that we would look at doing a production together,” Mullinger says.
A Very Dysfunctional Christmas began taking shape towards the end of 2015 and was subsequently fine-tuned throughout the course of this past year. In addition to performing portions of the show together, both Payne and Mullinger will be each performing individual stand-up routines during the course of the evening.
Where the career of a stand-up comedian is largely a solitary endeavour that moves forward at a specific, individualized pace, one can’t help but wonder how long it took the comedians to get accustomed to sharing the spotlight during portions of the upcoming show.
Both comedians insist it is not a matter of ego that stood in the way – after all, they are New Brunswickers – but rather getting the production properly timed to ensure jokes were landing where they should be.
“There is no doubt that stand-up comedians are used to owning the stage for the time we are up there,” Mullinger says. “In the run-up to rehearsing this production, I often had to remind myself to not talk over Nikki and to actually engage with her. Otherwise, the show would have run the risk of being two stand-up comedians on stage, each telling jokes, but in an individual, non-collaborative way.”
“It’s been some work to fine-tune the dynamic of sharing the stage with someone,” Payne concurs. “It is not a matter of ego for either of us – we just happen to be used to being in full control for the time we are on stage. It’s taken a bit of practice to remind ourselves to breathe and make the show a conversation rather than a one-sided story. Plus, I can’t tell you how cool it is to not bear the entire responsibility of the show on my shoulders. Thank goodness I have James there to help carry the show.”
Although Payne and Mullinger hail from different parts of the globe – she is originally from Nova Scotia, but lived in Toronto and Los Angeles before settling down in our province; he originally hails from London, England, but moved to Saint John to be closer to his wife’s family – their respective and collaborative abilities to continue their successful careers in comedy flies in the face of convention.
After all, just who comes to New Brunswick to sustain a career in the entertainment world?
“What’s interesting about Nikki and I is that we each moved to New Brunswick around the same time, but we also moved here by choice,” Mullinger says. “I’m sure that each of us put up with our fair share of people asking us why we would move here if we wanted to continue to pursue comedy, but the fact of the matter is, we both love it here and have successfully continued pursuing our careers.”
Mullinger says that contrary to perceptions some may have on New Brunswick and the Atlantic region in general, he has difficulty imagining being as busy as he has been here if he were living in another, more heavily-populated province or city.
“Over the course of the last eight days, I’ve had 10 gigs, combined with other events. I have a hard time believing I could stay this busy if I was living in another part of the country.”
For her part, Payne says that by all accounts, her career in comedy had been sailing along rather nicely at the time she decided to move to New Brunswick. Yet for all the success she was seeing, including high-profile appearances on the NBC show Last Comic Standing, she says her gut was telling her Los Angeles was not where she was supposed to be.
“I liked being in Los Angeles, and things were going pretty well. By all accounts, I was doing what everyone thought I should be doing with my career, but my gut was saying it wasn’t what I should be doing with my life. It was hard to acknowledge that at first because I had worked so hard and was given so many great opportunities,” she says.
Payne has now been a resident of New Brunswick for five years, and admits that despite some initial reservations of how her move to the Maritimes would impact her career, those concerns were ultimately misplaced.
“I was petrified as to what the move would mean for my career. I can’t tell you how many dreams I had where my life just completely fell apart,” she says, laughing. “While I’m confident I have missed out on some opportunities, the trade-off is that I’m getting to watch my nephew grow up and that I’ve been able to slow my life down and enjoy things a little more. You can’t put a price on things like that.”
What: Nikki Payne & James Mullinger: A Very Dysfunctional Christmas
When: Friday Dec. 2, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Capitol Theatre, 811 Main St., Moncton
Tickets are $45. Advance tickets are available at the Capitol Theatre Box Office, by phone (506) 856-4379 and online at capitol.nb.ca