Comedy club owner Stephanie Fry on the founding of The Pie Hole, in Wigan
- Credit: Archant
Stephanie Fry, 33, was born in Billinge and has been gripped by comedy since she was a youngster. Now, she has opened her own club, The Pie Hole, in Wigan and she tells Lancashire Life the one about the young woman who walked into a pub...
Where did the name ‘The Pie Hole’ originate?
I tried to think of things which were synonymous with Wigan. I wanted the name of the comedy club to be firmly rooted in the town whilst also looking outwards, as each event features acts from national and local comedy circuits. Wiganers are affectionately and widely known as ‘Pie Eaters’, so I felt this would be a key thing to consider when naming the club. The Pie Hole is also a quirky take on ‘cake hole’ and I thought it important to have a title which refers to the mouth in some way! Its home for the regular monthly club night is the recently opened Raven Pub in Wigan town centre, a beautiful 1906 building.
What inspired you to create a comedy club?
I have been a huge comedy fan since I was a child. It was probably one of the first forms of entertainment that really gripped me. I’ve been going to comedy nights for many years and have wanted to set up my own for a long time. I’ve seen how people have organised thriving comedy events in other parts of the country and Helen Stead, who runs Nottingham Comedy Festival, has been a major inspiration. It struck me that there wasn’t a quality regular comedy night in Wigan town centre so I decided to go for it. The very first Pie Hole comedy night was held at the end of January and it was a great evening with some very positive feedback. I do it for the love of it, but it’s definitely an ambition to increase the regularity of the events and broaden the range of venues. The input of friends and family has been utterly invaluable both in terms of them physically coming along to support the night, and in providing feedback and advice. My mother, Moira, has been to every single event so far and is quickly becoming a seasoned comedy critic!
How has it been setting your own business up in Wigan?
It’s been a great experience so far in that it feels good to be doing something which I’m confident will positively contribute to the towns’ growing entertainment calendar. People have been hugely supportive. Wigan is a town which is very much on the up, having been subjected to mixed fortunes over the years and it’s so exciting to see many new initiatives and businesses starting up and thriving. I was born in Billinge and left the area when I was a baby, moving to different parts of the country before returning to live in Abram a few years ago. My heart is here.
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Is it true that women don’t have a sense of humour?
Definitely not! There’s a strong tradition of women performing stand up comedy, although admittedly it has been and still is a very male dominated environment. The balance is shifting these days as the use of the internet and social media enables people to see that comedy is not just a boys’ club and anyone can begin to break into it. There have been scientific studies which have detailed how some groups of men and women use humour and the different ways in which jokes can be communicated. Some of these studies have focused on the fact that men can use jokes which are delivered directly to rib each other, whilst women can take more of a storytelling approach. But ultimately, I think funny is funny, regardless of gender.
What is your favourite (clean) joke?
‘I’ve got a degree, does that mean I have to spend my life with intellectuals?’
‘I’ve also got a life-saving certificate, but I don’t spend my evenings diving for a rubber brick with my pyjamas on.’ - Victoria Wood.
Isn’t everyone in Wigan a comedian? Do you think Lancastrians really do have a better sense of humour?
There’s a very rich tradition of humorous storytelling among the various communities within the area, and these jokes and stories still get passed from generation to generation. Wiganers definitely have a humourous side to them, and this could come from the fact that it’s a town made up of close knit communities who have experienced ups and downs dealing with life’s hardships. There is a warmth and depth to Lancastrian humour. Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash tapped into this beautifully when they created The Royal Family.
Why are there so few female comedians and do you think it right that the BBC is positively discriminating in their favour for panel shows?
More female comedians are emerging all the time and we will see more women performing. The profile of women in comedy is definitely being raised. The success of Sarah Millican, for example. Larger comedy clubs, such as the Frog and Bucket in Manchester, run regular nights which showcase all-female lineups and nationally we have the annual Funny Women Awards. I think there’s a danger that some female comedians could be perceived as or feel that they are the ‘token’ women on such shows and would be put off from appearing for that very reason.
Do you think men find funny women threatening?
This depends. There’s a huge amount of respect, support and general camaraderie amongst performers of any gender within comedy circles. When you think about it, it’s a strange thing to stand at the front of a room full of people and make them all laugh! I think in general people do admire individuals who get up there to entertain others. Having a microphone in your hand, being at the centre of a busy room of people who are all there to see you is a very powerful thing. The very fact that an individual can have this type of power can prove threatening to some. The humour of certain female comedians makes some men feel threatened, and this is probably due to social and cultural factors.
What would be your ideal bill for the Pie Hole and why?
That’s an unbelievably tough question, but if I had to choose, I would probably have Sarah Millican compering, Victoria Wood as my opening act followed by Wigan’s own Chris Washington, and finally the legendary Ken Dodd.
When is the club open for business?
The last Thursday of each month with doors open at around 8pm .