Laughter has been in short supply these last 12 months but ironically it was the coronavirus pandemic which provided the opening for ROFL Comedy Club, which already had venues in Preston, Derby and Newcastle-Under-Lyme, to expand into Sheffield
Pizza Express’s Devonshire Street restaurant was one of the victims of the lockdown and ROFL’s founder Lee Jones says that in normal times he wouldn’t have been able to secure such a great city centre location as ‘somebody like Starbucks’ would have snapped it up.
Starbucks’ loss is comedy’s gain, with the new club ready to open this summer as the lockdown is lifted.
And Mr Jones is confident that live comedy will bounce back quickly from the devastating impact lockdown has had on the industry.
"I’m hoping we’re going to have a roaring 2020s after people have been locked down for 12 months,” he said.
"Town centres are going to change quite a lot after everything that’s happened. Offices are going to struggle a little, with more desk sharing and home working likely, and shops might struggle too, but socialising can’t be done online and entertainment isn’t really the same online.
"There have been some stand-up shows online during lockdown but the atmosphere’s not the same and it just doesn’t work as well, so I think live comedy’s going to be really busy when it comes back.”
Mr Jones said that although Sheffield has plenty of comedy nights, this would be the city’s first purpose-built comedy club.
The comedy club will be upstairs, with food and drinks served at the table, and is set to open from June 21, restrictions permitting.
Sheffield comic Joe Zalias will be the MC, with three new acts each week, and it will initially open on Friday and Saturday nights but as life returns to normal that should be extended to include Thursdays and Sundays.
Some of the acts already booked include Esther Manito, who has performed on ITV’s The Stand Up Sketch Show, and Paul Tonkinson, who has appeared on Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow.
Reginald D Hunter, Sara Pascoe, Zoe Lyons are among the big names to have appeared at other ROFL Comedy Clubs.
Mr Jones says he hopes to bring many more top comedians to the new venue in Sheffield and is already in talks about securing some major acts for the new venue.
Below the comedy club will be a new bar and restaurant called Hemingways, opening throughout the week from May 17, rules permitting. It will serve food cooked on a hot stone in front of diners and will offer a range of cocktails, Belgian beers and other drinks.
Pizza Express announced in August last year that it was closing 73 of its 454 UK restaurants, including the one on Devonshire Street.
Crosthwaite Commercial announced in February that the 5,000 sq ft building had been let to ROFL Comedy Club on a five-year lease at an average rent of £58,000 a year.