New Barrack Tavern – Ben Briggs, Mark Kennedy, Julian Lee, Scott Bennett and Steff Todd (MC)

Tonight I was at the New Barrack Tavern in Sheffield for the Funhouse comedy night. This is a fantastic gig with an audience that are more than up for the show. Kev, the landlord, played host, announcing our MC, Steff Todd onto the stage. This was Todd’s 3rd stint as compere and whilst not the finished article, she is moving in the right direction. I was rather surprised she didn’t reference the fact that she is local to Sheffield, but either way she covered everything that a compere needed to do. She got the room cheering to loosen up a few vocal chords, did the rules, explained the format and found a few people to chat to. The audience members that Todd spoke to largely served as foils for her material. She would do a one-liner and then tie it into one of the people she had been chatting with and this made the night feel nicely inclusive. I still thought that the room work/material balance was a bit skewed in favour of material, but it worked very well and the audience quickly warmed to her.

Ben Briggs

Briggs opened strongly and was playfully provocative in his comments about the age of some of the audience members. He divided the room by cheers into those over and under 40, which was a nice way into the routine, but I felt that he could have been more creative than going with ‘the sound of hope’ – a well used line. It’s odd that he used that line, as Briggs is an original act with a lot of thought to his material. The routines were as you’d expect, dark in tone and the audience stayed with him all the way. I really appreciate seeing Briggs, as he will push people’s expectations of what is and what isn’t funny. Sometimes a comedian can be controversial for the sake of it, but there was far more intelligence behind the writing in this set than that. The observations that he makes are sharp and readily identifiable. When he announced that he was going to see how far he could push it there was a definite sense of anticipation in the room. There was one odd moment were Briggs referenced Peter Sutcliffe, but didn’t pursue it, swiftly moving on, making this seem like a throwaway comment, but it didn’t interfere with the flow of the set. Having not seen him for a while I could see lots of little improvements and tighter wording in this set. Briggs delivers his material with vigour and joy and it is always interesting to see him perform.

Mark Kennedy

We resumed after the intermission with Mark Kennedy, who had quite a contrasting style to Todd and Briggs. Kennedy was low energy and softly spoken with a rather quiet voice. His set was based around short set ups and then the reveal. The material was well written with some well thought out jokes, such as Cigar, which in hindsight was straight forwards but in the way that it takes someone rather smart to think of it in the first place. One man show was a bit obvious, but this was the only line that was. The reveal on bridesmaid worked wonderfully, as it was totally unexpected. I enjoyed the callback to films and felt that this was a very good set from a clever writer.

Julian Lee

I’d only seen Lee once before and that was at the Pun Championship, where despite being runner up, he had given a commanding performance. I was curious as how he would fare tonight, as Todd had used a lot of one-liners and Kennedy had done short set up and reveal jokes and I did wonder if the audience would be happy with puns or want something more long form. The answer is that Lee had a good night, although he did become the millionth comedian to use the line ‘tell you a bit about myself’. The puns were mostly 1st class, especially the opening pun about the Union. The odd one didn’t land and these were of the kind that were more intelligent than funny, but given Lee’s work rate the few that didn’t do well made very little difference to the overall feel of the set, which was one of momentum building. I was particularly pleased with the asides and off the cuff comments made by Lee as puns landed and these did a lot to establish his presence and added to the impact of his set. This was a very enjoyable routine and he is a comedian with a big stage presence.

Scott Bennett

Closing the gig was Scott Bennett, who began by working the room and having some fun with Kev the landlord. His observations were very perceptive and delivered in a totally disarming manner that had everyone onboard within seconds of him beginning his set. Despite only having seen Bennett a few weeks back there was obvious improvement in his routines, just the odd word changed here and there, but it was enough to make tangible gains. The movements from topic to topic were flawless and imperceptible. This was a tremendous set from a superb comedian.

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