If you think you need to be in the capital to get a good laugh, think again.
Manchester has a proud history of producing some of the finest comics in the country, if not the world, and the Frog and Bucket is potentially the city’s most diligent manufacturer.
It’s also the oldest comedy club outside of London, at the ripe age of 25 this year.
The club has plenty of events over the next couple of months to celebrate its birthday, but I wanted to take a look into its history, and could think of no one better to speak to than its founder Dave Perkin.
Dave struck me as an exceedingly modest man: he said that he got into the comedy business entirely “by accident”.
Accident it may have been, but its success hasn’t been by chance – The Frog and Bucket has seen 13,500 comedians on Monday nights for its inimitable Beat the Frog, 4000 professionals, and a million customers walk through its doors since it opened in 1994.
Back then, it wasn’t in its current iconic Oldham Street venue. It was above the Brittania pub on Newton Street with a capacity of just 60 people. Dave said he had no money at the time, so built the club’s popularity up from scratch.
In 25 years, it’s seen its fair share of history. Not only has it been home to the likes of Peter Kay, Johnny Vegas, Caroline Ahern (all through Beat the Frog), and was the venue of John Bishop’s first ever gig, it has lived through some of the most troubling times the city of Manchester has ever seen.
On Saturday June 15 1996, two years after the Frog and Bucket first opened its doors, the IRA bombed the Manchester Arndale Centre. Although thankfully no one died, hundreds were injured, and it completely changed the landscape of the city centre forever.
It’s a day that Mancunians won’t ever be able to forget, especially Dave.
Newton Street is right around the corner from the Arndale, as is (what was then) the newly-bought site on Oldham Street, where David was when it happened.
“Little Frog” as David dubbed the Newton Street club reopened on the Monday after the bomb went off, and “it had never been so busy.”
I asked why he thought that was, and he very simply said: “People were cheesed off at all this nonsense.
— British Comedy Guide (@BritishComedy) February 9, 2019
“People want to have a laugh, sit down and get their minds off all the rubbish that’s going on in the country.”
And that seems to me why comedy clubs still remain so popular today. With so many things in the country (and indeed the world) going completely topsy-turvy, and with horrendous acts of terrorism like the one which struck Manchester in 2017, comedy clubs like the Frog and Bucket provide much needed respite.
So what does David see for the Frog and Bucket now?
“Another million customers in the next 25 years,” he said, while also stating he wants to carry on the club’s proud tradition of nurturing new and upcoming talent, with a particular focus on female talent.
This he says has partially stemmed from the fact his daughter, Jessica Toomey, has taken over the day-to-day running of the club.
At 25, the same age that David was when he founded it, she leads an almost all female team now, and is looking to breathe new life into the place.
I asked him to what extent he thought developing female talent was important. He said that it’s “important to develop all talent”, but nowadays the impetus has to be on clubs like the Frog and Bucket to empower more women into comedy.
It’s in safe hands then, as Jessica also manages the annual Women in Comedy festival in Manchester, which sees female talent come to the city in droves to show people what they’re made of.
It’s clear that not only does the Frog and Bucket have an important place in Manchester’s history, it’s also going to be an important part of its future too. I can’t wait to see what the next 25 years brings.
Here are some highlights for the upcoming months starting with a February 14 special where you can ditch the roses for once and roar your head off instead…
Thursday 14 February
Not sure what to say to your beau? Spend Valentine’s evening sitting in a comfortable, non-talking-audience environment with the object of your desire. Three national acts and a fab compere – MC Danny McLoughlin introduces the romantic threesome of the excitable Dan Nightingale, the classy Lauren Pattison and the cerebral Josh Howie.
Saturday 16 February
Gabby Killick: Girlfriend From Hell
Killick explores the break up with her ex through a series of telling and hilarious set pieces. Killick dispenses inappropriate advice from picking the time to start stalking your boyfriend, what to do when you’ve taken too much ketamine and tips on the sexiest Instagram poses. A hit at the Edinburgh Fringe last August.
Sunday 17 February
Lloyd Griffith: All-Rounder
Comedian, choirboy and host of Soccer AM, Griffith brings his latest show to the Frog. Expect jokes, dubious impressions, a bit of choral singing, a fact about a cathedral and if you’re lucky the story of the toilet incident he had on the A46…
8pm, £10 (£7 conc).
Sunday 24 February
The Frog’s 25th Birthday Party
On the actual anniversary of the first night of comedy at the Frog and Bucket, professional acts who were all around in the early years of the club celebrate. Alex Boardman leads the way presenting juggler Steve Royle, local legend Tony Burgess, former rapper Steve Harris and a very, very special guest…
Wednesday 27 February
Olga Koch: Fight
Edinburgh Comedy Award Newcomer Nominee 2018, Koch is Russian born and her debut solo show hinges on a trip her father Alfred took to Moscow airport in June 2014 and the incredible consequences that were born out of it. One to catch for sure.
8pm, £10 (£8 conc).
Friday 1 March
St David’s Day
Special edition with an all Welsh line up. The line up includes the award-winning Matt Rees, the gloriously below-the-belt Jenny Collier and the all-man Mike Bubbins.
8pm, £18, (£15 conc).
Sunday 3 March
Second Birthday Party – Plans to be announced! Something very special is in the offing but we’re playing our cards very close to our chests…
After tonight in Brighton, @rocknrolga‘s FIGHT tour comes to @LeicsComedyFest (15th), Edinburgh @BarrelComedy (19th), @CambJunction (21st), Manchester @frogandbucket (27th), and York @burningduckcom (28th), plus more dates in March. All tickets: https://t.co/AnNvrZhvZM pic.twitter.com/3AvcExT9Pi
— Berk’s Nest (@BerksNest) February 9, 2019
Friday 8 March
International Women’s Day
An all female line up to celebrate International Women’s Day. MC Lou Conran introduces consummate Canadian comic Dana Alexander and Stockport superstar Barbara Nice.
8pm, £17 (£14 conc).
Sunday 10 March
Comedy Course Showcase
Comedian Dave Williams and The Frog have been encouraging folk onto the stage to tell their first gags. Here another 10 graduates test out what they have learned.
Sunday 17 March
St Patrick’s Day
An Irish comedian special (obvs…) with smart gags from Andrew Ryan, the philosophical Peter Flanagan and skilled tale-spinner Rory O’Hanlon. Compere to be confirmed.
8pm, £10 (£7 conc).
Tuesday 19 March (extra date added on 12 May)
Kiri Pritchard-McLean: Victim Complex
The critically acclaimed show Victim, Complex from Frog regular Pritchard Mclean that took the Edinburgh Fringe by storm in 2018. One half of the All Killa No Filla serial killer obsessed podcast, Pritchard-McLean charts her difficult last few years with humour.
8pm, currently sold out.
Wednesday 27 March
Never Mind the Backstop – It’s the European Farewell Tour!
Or is it? Two days before the UK are due to leave the EU the Brexit show hits the Frog! With a positively European take on the chaos from Romania’s Radu Isac, France’s Arielle Souma, Italy’s Luca Cupani and Austria’s Alice Frick. Meanwhile Malta’s Steve Hili holds it together. It’s probably likely that we’re as non-the-wiser as to what’s going to happen even by this date.
Sunday 31 March
Keith Farnan – Kidocracy
Family show. Interactive theatre experience for children aged 6 plus. Farnan appears as Brehon, an Irish know-it-all, and the show begins where the children are told they have an island to run. Let’s hope it doesn’t go all ‘Lord of the Flies’.
Sunday 28 April
Bilal Zafar – Love Bots
As seen on the telly and many awards lists, Zafar is worried by the amount of bots influencing people’s decisions of late so has hit back with his own technological warfare – love bots spreading love and compassion to all.
Plus, coming up in May –
Sunday 19 May
Lou Sanders – Shame Pig
Sanders’ highly acclaimed show from the Edinburgh Fringe last year in which she takes all her embarrassing moments and owns them with chutzpah. Running deeper than just a few drunken exploits, there’s real grit to her life story yet all her tales are filtered through her irreverent and often surreal sense of humour. A blast of a show.