Manchester’s Frog and Bucket Comedy Club has helped launch the careers of the biggest names in British comedy, including Peter Kay, Johnny Vegas, Jack Whitehall and John Bishop.
Opened by David Perkin in 1994, the acclaimed club celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and will mark the occasion with a special party on Sunday 24th February.
Here, David tells us about founding the venue, the famous faces who’ve graced the stage, and what the future holds.
How did it all begin?
Basically, 25 years ago I was offered a little pub called The Brittania, which was on Newton Street. I invented the name Frog and Bucket and we moved forward from there. I just enjoyed comedy, always had done, but there wasn’t a comedy club at the time. We started with two nights and then expanded to the amateur night on a Monday, which became Beat the Frog, and we had touring shows and poetry nights and live music nights. It was hard work. There was no staff, it was basically just me.
When did you move to the current venue?
It was around 1997. I was at a social function at The Lowry Hotel when they were laying the foundation stone. Yates’ Wine Lodge was sponsoring and the chief exec was there. He liked his comedy and had been to the Frog and thought it was too small and said, ‘Why don’t you have our building on the corner of Oldham Street and Great Ancoats Street?’ There was nobody up here back then, just myself and Band on the Wall, really.
Which famous comedians started out at the Frog?
Peter Kay started with us, he did his first gig at the little Frog and Bucket and did his first compering and first one man show at the big Frog and Bucket. Johnny Vegas, Chris Addison, Dave Gorman, Lucy Porter, Lee Mack did his first tv programme with us, Jason Manford, John Bishop, and all the young comedians who are doing the circuit now. About 13,000 amateur acts have been on the stage over the 25 years. The audience is very supportive on our amateur night. We don’t make it too gladiatorial.
Do you know when someone’s going to make it big?
Yeah, and it’s weird, it goes in a sort of five-year cycle. You’ll have good jobbing comedians but then suddenly you’ll have someone who stands way above the parapet. It’s the interaction with the audience. On a Monday, I look at the audience rather than the comedian to see what the reaction is. It’s a northern thing as well, they’ve got some warmth in them and they seem to bring people on board. And they’re good storytellers, not just joke telling, they know how to tell a story.
Are there house rules?
Yeah, we’ve put the lights up on people on the amateur night and made them leave the stage if they’re being homophobic, racist or misogynistic. To give you an example, you can take the mickey out of your own religion but not someone else’s. And you’re not allowed to steal material. Our stage manager has been here 19 years so knows which material belongs to whom.
Do you see a lot of people dying on stage?
We’ve had a comedian go on stage, get hold of the mic and literally run out of the building. He never said a word, he was just overwhelmed by it all. But I mean there’s always over 200 people at the Frog and Bucket so it can be a bit daunting if you’re not used to the stage.
Do you understand why people want to put themselves through that?
Yeah of course. I mean look how successful people who’ve come out of the Frog and Bucket have been. Someone like Peter Kay’s worth £40million. You’ve got John Bishop whose net worth is probably around £20million, so it’s a great career and you don’t have to rely on anyone else.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
Watch as much comedy as you can, get to every gig you can, there are lots of open nights around the country so go to all the open nights, meet other comedians and learn your profession. We run a comedy training course too where you can learn the grounding, the stage presence, how to structure a set, and learn about the logistics of comedy and how to get gigs. But writing and performing and the ability to establish yourself with an audience, that’s up to the individual, you can’t really teach that.
What have been your favourite nights over the years?
One of the best was Johnny Vegas, when he did a show to 1.30am. Smug Roberts did The Wizard of Oz at the little Frog and Bucket and Caroline Aherne, god bless her, played Dorothy and her first husband Peter Hook from New Order was the backing band.
Another night, Smug decided to take everybody, like the Pied Piper, to a working men’s club on the tram to have a game of bingo and brought them all the way back. Caroline and Peter wouldn’t get on the Metro so they went to a famous old bar on Oldham Street called Idol’s, stole all the posters and redressed the Frog and Bucket so by the time we got back, it looked like it was a disco bar. And another one was Peter Kay and Johnny Vegas doing a double act of sketches on stage.
Do you often welcome the big names back?
We don’t broadcast it, but we’ll get a phone call, and someone will want to try some new material on stage, and they’ll want to do it in front of a comedy audience, not their fans, if that makes sense. Russell Kane will quite often give us a call and Jack Whitehall has been down for a few secret gigs. Obviously, the story will get out once they’re in the building with Twitter and all that, but we won’t say ‘guess who we’ve got tonight’.
Do you think more women are going into comedy?
About 17 per cent of all the comedians are women, but it’s certainly improving. My daughter Jessica runs the Frog and Bucket for me now and we have a very positive female bias, if you like. We keep spots open on Monday to encourage more women to come and we get a lot more women than men on our training courses. Jessica also runs a Women in Comedy Festival in Manchester and we work with Laughing Cows. We’ve got a massive do on 8th March, which is International Women’s Day.
What are your future plans?
We’re always doing little things. We’ve got more shows; children’s comedy we’re doing every eight weeks; we’re looking at matinees, and looking at lots of touring shows coming in. The great thing is every five or six years you’ve got new comedians coming through, but you’ve also got new audiences coming through, too.
Did you have any idea you’d be here 25 years later?
No. I didn’t know whether I’d be here 25 years later, let alone the club.
The Frog’s 25th Birthday Party is on 24th February from 6.45pm.