The Frog and Bucket comedy club sits on the far edge of the Northern Quarter in Manchester city centre. It 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 on Newton Street with a capacity of just 60. Cheekily renamed 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. So, was completely unmarked when the IRA bomb went off in 1996 just down the road. Three days after the bombing when they lifted the cordon around the city centre, the club reopened for its amateur night and acts and punters flooded in to show their solidarity.
These days, they are a family business with Dave Perkin and his daughter Jessica Toomey who now manages the venue. Though, her first contribution was at a much younger age. ‘I remember the day Dad got the keys for the first club, he made me clean it for pocket money.’
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. Consequently, Bishop’s, Vegas’ and Kay’s autobiographies all mention the club. In his book Saturday Night Peter Peter Kay mischievously notes ‘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.’
John Bishop’s first ever gig was at the club’s amateur night. After separating from his wife and looking for something to do he decided to give stand up a go. He impressed even from that early gig and continued to develop at the club. He notes ‘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’.
Plenty of other famous folk have played the Frog too. At one time or another regular acts have included Lee Mack, Jack Whitehall, 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. 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 & 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 erected a plaque to commemorate all those that have ‘died’ on its stage. A fitting memorial in honour of those who were brought down by a cutting heckle or a deafening silence.
Perkin has some favourite ‘deaths’ over the years. “One time someone only said hi before dropping the mic, running off stage in tears and out the front door. 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 an act because he was being rude to a family in the audience. I got on stage to apologise but the grandmother still attacked me at the bar.’
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.
The club is open at least 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. Mondays is the amateur night where they compete to stay on stage for 5 minutes without getting ‘croaked off.’ Plus, many special nights every month including solo tour shows and charity nights.
The club always prides 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 comedy venue in Manchester.
The Frog continues to provide a place to nurture new talent, for Manchester to check out the stars of tomorrow. Who, although not household names, are at the grass roots of truly exciting live stand up.
This is where it happens.
Here’s to the next 21 years.
(Written for our 21st birthday)