Located just behind Great Portland Street station (Metropolitan, Circle and Hammersmith & City lines) it couldn’t be more convenient to get to The Albany for a mid-week giggle or some weekend fun. The pub is a 5-minute walk from Warren Street (Northern and Victoria lines); a short walk from London Euston, just a couple of tube stops away from King's Cross and Regent's Park (Bakerloo line) is also very close. Oh guys, the possibilities of travel are endless! You're onto a winner already.
We went to The Albany on a Monday night and the bar was buzzing and busy upstairs, we just managed to spot a free table. The pub is decorated with a lovely elegance, whilst not feeling hoity toity (that is a thing, we looked it up) and there's a lovely, warm atmosphere. There’s a pleasing range of draft beers, ciders and wines and a great pub grub menu with vegetarian options and, wait for it, a vegan option - and we hear it's pretty tasty! The staff are friendly and with each trip to the bar, we were greeted with a smile and left with a nicely topped up wine glass.
Downstairs in the basement, the comedy club is cool with large pop art pictures hanging on the wall and intimate, dimly lit booths (perfect for a date night after a long day). The club has a saloon style and the whimsical side of us felt like we were stepping back in time.
Then we met the lovely Head of Comedy at The Albany, Martin Willis. As a gigging stand-up comedian himself, Martin has first-hand knowledge of what makes a great comedy night and what audiences want. We had a right good chat with Martin - talking about elephants, alternative comedy, Bob Monkhouse, fish and chips, JOE (all will be revealed) and so much more...
How long have you worked at The Albany for and what was your journey to get here?
I came in last April (2017) just looking for a venue to run a gig. I went to The Phoenix, which is a slightly bigger venue, and they sent me here, because it’s a sister venue, weirdly gendered that… Tom the manager here said, “I just really want someone to run a festival”, so I was like, all right, I’ve got the time, so started running the night and putting together a festival (The Objectively Funny Festival). I did that last September and off the back of that basically told Tom to hire me! I’ve been lucky to have free reign, Tom’s really supportive with letting me do as much as I want to really.
We love the Albany, what do you think makes it unique?
It has a rich history. There’s been stuff on here since the 80’s and it’s been a favourite venue for loads of acts. Bob Monkhouse did his last stand here, which is great. To have something like that is a jewel in the crown. It’s a history of alternative comedy as well, Book Shambles was here and Spank! started here as well. So edgy stuff has always been here. Apart from that, I think it’s just right – it’s beautiful upstairs, it’s elegant and got a regal vibe and you come down here and it’s a bit dingy and dark and basement like and I really like that, I think comedy venues should have that kind of vibe, I love that burlesque-y feel.
What is a working day in the life at The Albany like for you?
It really varies, it really, really varies. At the moment, I’m coming off the back of the festival, which was such an intense way of working. The festival itself was eleven days so I was here every day for that. The set up for it took about 5 months and now it’s the fall out which takes a month or so - doing all the maths and paying everyone. So I’m in this kind of limbo state at the moment, I’m here today ‘cos we’re running the gig, but often I won’t need to be on site for a few days or even for the rest of the week so I’ll go to a café and do maths. I’m quite fortunate that Tom who’s the manager here is here a lot and he knows everything inside out. He’s training up a lot of the other staff as well so everyone is capable, or is getting to that point where they’re quite capable. So I don’t have to be on hand for it for as much as I could be. It makes such a huge difference to have a trusted team. Cos I’m a gigging comedian so I might be in Portsmouth that night or whatever so you want to know everything’s in hand. Although I have now, outside of the bar staff, hired my own intern - Joe!
Who are the team that run The Albany?
So yeah, there’s the team that’s like Tom. It’s mostly Tom and myself that collaborate and work on all of the Objectively Funny stuff. Because this place is used for parties, obviously, he has to manage it as a free space and then there’s the assistant managers who are really helpful when it comes to setting up or running the bar and all that kind of stuff. We also have a collaboration now with a brewery; Tom’s just gone and got us a sponsorship [with Meantime Brewery]. They are going to be rolling out across Comedy at The Albany. At the moment, we’re waiting because they’ve fronted up some money for signage etc. So, that’s the kind of stuff that Tom can do that I wouldn’t know where to start with. So now I’ve got my own team, people that come and help out with shows, which helps if I can’t be there and just helps to take a load off.
Who’s your favourite?!
Oooh, well I’ve got Joe [intern Joe!]. He’s just graduated and he helped out during the festival and was just so keen. As soon as a show finished he’d be out collecting glasses, doing all the typically less attractive jobs, he was just really on it, to the point where I could just trust him to train others. Friends would come in who are my age and ask what they could do and I was like, just talk to Joe, ask Joe. It’s so good to have someone who’s so enthusiastic and hardworking, especially because the pay is dog sh*t, we definitely do it for the love!
Hot top tip! We know you serve fab food here at The Albany but do you have another favourite restaurant recommendation nearby?
Do you know, my parents are ludicrously lovely and supportive and they come all the time, and they go for dinner at all these places… and I… get staff discount! I know there are so many places around but I tend to eat here – it’s great. I can recommend the vegan lasagne, that’s my top tip, it’s got lots of lentils in and brown stuff!
What’s your favourite element of your job?
Errrmm, I love performing. It’s so little of the time spent in this job you can quite easily forget that that’s the thing that gets you here. So absolutely performing and being on stage, when it’s going well, haha! But then also…I never realised how much I love a spreadsheet before I got this job, and building a line up and treating it like a jigsaw and making sure you’ve got the right balance of weird acts and straight stand ups, or men and women, or queer acts or people of colour or people with disabilities. Making sure that you’re getting the right mix - that really excites me and feeling like you’re actually doing something worthwhile and representing people. Especially cos it mostly is fun. The boring stuff can also be fun – colour coding a spreadsheet, uh, love it!
What are the top stand out shows that you’ve enjoyed working on and watching since working at The Albany?
The launch party that we had here was great, it sold incredibly well and the line-up was all of my favourite acts - John Kearns, Sindhu Vee, Jordan Brookes, and Elf Lyons. Laura Davis was at the Objectively Funny Festival on the last day of this year, so at a point where you think nothing could ever be funny again, seeing like 39 shows in 10 days, she just blew my mind. Just so funny and so profound and philosophical, which you so rarely get in any depth in a show.
Who or what would you love to see on the Albany stage?
So I’d love to have, I was chatting to Spring Day, she’s a great comedian and she was talking to me about doing Drag Queens VS Comics, like a roast, that would be great. The comics would be torn apart it would be great. So yes, that’s an iron in the fire.
What would you do if you found a winning lottery ticket worth £10 million on the street?
OK, so I would give half of it to charity because then conscious clear. Half of it I’d go f-ing mad with…buy a boat! Why do I even want a boat?! Buy a canal boat and pimp it out as a holiday boat. Have a big party here. Just book acts that have no right to be on that stage, I have no interest in watching Michael McIntyre but it’d be great if he were there. Umm, send everyone on holiday, go on holiday with everyone!
What do you think about when you’re alone in your car or travelling?
I mean normally it is the spreadsheets, and what needs to happen here. I would love to say it’s something more profound. Or like who’s chatting to me on Bumble. That’s about all of it.
What’s your favourite song?
At the moment, there’s a song…so pretentious, I’ve got very pretentious music tastes. So there’s a song called ‘Mace Windu Riddim’ by Ezra Collective, they’re a modern London jazz collective. They’re very good.
What was the last gift you were given?
What was the last gift I was given…? You know, I don’t know…I’m sure it was lovely.
What’s the best show you’ve seen recently that wasn’t here, doesn’t have to be a comedy show…?
What have I seen recently that’s not here?! Can it be a TV show? I watched the entirety of Big Mouth, I watched Big Mouth for five hours yesterday. Ah, it’s so good, it’s a cartoon on Netflix, it’s about puberty but like not at all for kids.
If you weren’t working at The Albany what career path would you choose instead?
The job I left to do comedy was I was a mentor for a social integration charity, so I think I would work in the charity sector. I run a company teaching comedy to young kids so I think something working with young people.
What inspires you?
My grandparents. My grandad had an OBE for administration, he did admin like as a hobby and my grandma went around starting clubs and societies and old peoples groups and disabled charities wherever she went, her name is Christine Willis.
You’ve been given an elephant. You can’t give it away or sell it. What would you do with the elephant?
Well first of all this would be an echo of something that happened in The Simpsons, so first I’d tweet about that. What would I do with the elephant? Ride it? Well, befriend it. Yeah, get to know the elephant, feed it nuts.
How would you convince someone to do something they didn’t want to do?
Do I still have the elephant? [Yes you do] Turn up with the elephant! The elephant will sort you out.
What would you say is The Albany ethos?
I think just, be funny, I would like to think that kindness is a part of the brand and fairness and representation. I know it’s a very virtue signalling response but I do think it important.
QUICK FIRE ROUND:
Comedy or music? Oof, God, Music! Sorry!
Fish and chips or curry? Curry
TV or Film? TV
Russel Howard or Russel Kane? Neither
Jack Whitehall or Jack Dee? No thanks
The Albany or The Bill Murray? The Albany, but they (The Bill Murray) do programme a good venue.
Mushy peas or garden peas? Garden please
Jack or Jill? Jill
Stand up or Sketch? Stand Up
Worst comedian you know? Oh, all of them, they’re terrible!
Best comedian you know? Oh God, Jordan Brookes is incredible
Check out all the wonderful comedy coming up at The Albany HERE!!
Thank you so much to Martin Willis for being our first ever TicketText Talks To guest – what a pleasure it was! Stay tuned for more Talks To’s and get an insight into the lives and brains of some of the top comedy promoters in the UK!
Thanks for reading!
The TT Team