The Frog and Bucket comedy club sits on the far edge of the Northern Quarter in Manchester city centre and was one of the first venues to open in the now creatively bustling district. Back in the nineties when Oasis were hanging out in Dry Bar around the corner, comedians who are now household names were honing their art at the only dedicated comedy club in the city at the time.
Dave Perkin opened his first club back in 1994 at the Britannia pub on Newton Street with a capacity of just 60.
Cheekily renamed as the Frog and Bucket, the club firstly just presented weekend shows then, a few months after opening, it took on an amateur night too. Three years later the club moved to its current premises at the end of Oldham St, into a reinforced building that was a former bank and so was completely unmarked when the IRA bomb went off in 1996 just down the road. When the cordon around the city centre was lifted three days after the bombing, the club reopened for its amateur night and acts and punters flooded in to show their solidarity.
Over the years both the weekend shows and the amateur night have seen performances from the now famous names who came through the northern comedy scene. Johnny Vegas and Peter Kay were regulars often compering the weekend shows. At one time they even formed a double act together. Though it’s been a while since Kay was at the club Vegas returns from time to time and sometimes his infamous potter’s wheel, which the club still has, is dusted off and there he sits, regaling with gags, fashioning a pot and with clay ‘juice’ flying everywhere.
John Bishop’s first ever gig was at the club’s amateur night. Having, at the time, separated from his wife and looking for something to do he found himself at the Frog and decided to give stand up a go. He impressed even from that early gig and continued to develop at the club. As he noted just this week, ‘without the Frog and Bucket, I would not be a professional comedian today. It was a great place for me when I started out and remains just as good’.
Consequently the club is mentioned in Bishop’s, Vegas’ and Kay’s autobiographies. In his book Saturday Night Peter Peter Kay mischievously notes about the Frog, ‘the place used to be roasting all the time. I’m sure Dave Perkin used to turn the heating up full to sell more drink.’
Plenty of other famous folk have played the Frog too. At one time or another regular acts have included Lee Mack, Dave Gorman, Chris Addison, Ross Noble, Lucy Porter and Jason Manford.
Sally Lindsay performed here when she was dabbling in stand up before getting her Coronation Street break; she was spotted in the club by Granada. In 2003 Steve Coogan chose the club to rehearse the material he used in the special line up of programmes to launch BBC 3.
Even the punters are famous – Royle Family creator Caroline Aherne and New Order’s Peter Hook would pop in to the amateur night and cheer on the acts. There have been some crazy moments over the 21 years. Frog regular and actor Smug Roberts once took the entire audience from the club on a tram and up to his mate’s club in Cheetham Hill. You never quite know what’s going to happen at the Frog. In that same anarchic spirit when the Comedy Store opened with a flash press launch at the club in Deansgate Locks, Perkin teasingly responded with his own press conference in a chip shop on Tib Street. Thankfully Perkin and the Store’s Don Ward are still speaking.
Continuing with that northern sense of humour, to celebrate the 21st birthday Perkin has had a blue plaque erected to commemorate all those that have ‘died’ on its stage. A fitting memorial in honour of those that have fallen at the Frog, brought down by a cutting heckle or a deafening silence.
Perkin has some favourite ‘deaths’ over the years. Of course there are always plenty of newbie comics, ‘one time an open spot took to the stage only said hi before dropping the mic, running off stage in tears and straight through the front doors. Never to be seen again.’
Everyone’s got to start somewhere and even the most established acts have a bad gig from time to time so for every joyous stand up moment there is the occasional professional death too. Perkin recalls, ‘I once had to red light a regular act because he was being so rude to a family in the audience. I got on stage to apologise but the grandmother still attacked me at the bar.’
And even very well known acts lost it in their early years, ‘one (who will remain nameless) reacted to a heckle by trying to attack them with a mic stand.’
Still, it’s character building for the comic and often funny for the rest in the room.These days they are a family business with Dave Perkin joined by his daughter Jessica Toomey who manages the venue and has done for 13 years. Though her first contribution was at a much younger age. ‘I remember the day that Dad got the keys for the first club, he had me down there cleaning it for pocket money.’
These days the club is open four days every week. Friday and Saturday nights are the fun packed end of the week shows then there’s Thursdays for a more sedate, connoisseur led show. On a Monday it’s still the newcomers turn as they attempt to Beat the Frog by staying on stage for 5 minutes without getting ‘croaked off.’ Plus there are many special nights every month including Laughing Cows all-female comedy night, solo touring shows, themed and charity nights.
The club has always prided itself on supporting northern acts. Comperes are invariably northerners and the club always employs northern comedians alongside many guest acts. It sits perfectly alongside the London based, Comedy Store, the only other dedicated Manchester comedy venue.
The Frog and Bucket continues to provide a place to nurture new talent, for Manchester to check out the stars of the future and to see those acts that though they aren’t a household name now they are at the grass roots of truly fantastic and exciting live stand up.
This is where it happens.
Here’s to the next 21 years.
(Written for our 21st birthday)