Celebrating its 10th year Jan. 20-23, the New Orleans Comedy and Arts Festival continues to attract top talent to the city.
“The idea from the beginning was to do something different, to bring together top talent and industry reps who were scouting — the big deal makers,” said Yvonne Landry, owner of Nola Comedy Theater on Freret Street, host of the event. “One of the first big names we got was Mosaic Media, the management company for Will Ferrell. They actually contacted me after Katrina saying that they wanted to do something to help the city, so I told them they could come down here and see some talent.”
Some of the top names in comedy representation and production have attended the festival, including: CAA, among the top talent agencies in Hollywood; Principato-Young Entertainment, a comedy-centered management firm with clients including Jonah Hill, Will Arnett and Ed Helms; and film production company Gary Sanchez Productions, operated by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. This year’s attendees will include Mosaic Media, NBC-Universal’s SEESO Channel and the Independent Film Channel.
Drawn by top scouts, the festival attracts top up-and-coming comedy talent in stand-up, sketch comedy and improv.
This year’s event will be headlined by one of the festival’s success stories: Nick Vatterott. Since being discovered at the festival, Vatterott has performed on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” been named one of the “break-outs” in the new faces showcase at the Montreal Just For Laughs Comedy Festival and performed all over the world.
“Nick started as a showcasing comic with us and through the festival was able to get his foot in the door. We’re excited to welcome him back, as a paid performer this time, to be the special guest in our Comedy-Sportz Show, which will kick off the festival,” said Landry, who describes ComedySportz as competitive improv, similar to the show “Whose Line Is It Anyway,” but with a referee.
Other performers this year include a monologue show by Ann Mahoney Kadar, who plays Olivia on the hit AMC television series “The Walking Dead,” the musical comedy stylings of JP Incorporated; and Dan Nainan, who has performed his 100 percent clean comedy with famous comedians including Jerry Seinfeld, Tim Conway and Jim Gaffigan.
Landry says the recent film industry boom has had the added benefit of boosting New Orleans’ comedy scene.
“These big-name performers will sometimes be in town shooting something and they’ll take the opportunity to drop in at places and do a set,” Landry says. “I had Robin Williams come in once.”
While most of the showcased comics at the festival hail from the East Coast, on the last day of the festival, local comics will have a chance to do a sort of speed dating meetup with talent representatives.
“They’ll have one minute each to pitch their stuff,” she said, adding that they’ve had people get signed to contracts following the event. “It’s always been that you pretty much have to go to Los Angeles if you want a career, but we’re trying to change that.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of comedian Nick Vatterott.