After returning to her native New Orleans in 2002, veteran improviser Yvonne Landry founded The Comedy Conservatory in a roach-infested building with concrete floors and paper-thin walls - the perfect place to gather students and explore the difficulties and rewards of long-form improvisation. With a city full of talented and unique actors and comedians blossoming into a new Hollywood South, New Orleans was practically screaming for institutions like the mammoth comedy training centers in Chicago and Los Angeles, but Landry was always insistent on developing a tight, local community where the pupils felt like family members and partners in art instead of short-term students.
In 2003, in lock-step with some of New Orleans’ best comedians, Landry founded God’s Been Drinking, a team of improvisers that would become an overnight sensation, the first of its kind in the Crescent City. GBD performed shows everywhere from Lakeside Mall to the House of Blues and were regulars at Martine’s Bar in Metairie and True Brew Café. Recognized as the only long-form team to come out of a training center in the Gulf South, GBD was twice invited to perform at the Los Angeles Improv Festival to rave reviews.
In 2004, the Comedy Conservatory became only one part of Landry’s sprawling improv empire when she founded La Nuit LLC, the company that would oversee the operations of the Conservatory as well as acquire franchise rights to ComedySportz, a national comedy organization specializing in short-form improv played competitively. ComedySportz NOLA debuted at Harrah’s Casino.
That same year, La Nuit hosted the first New Orleans Improv Festival and drew nearly 20 teams from all over the country for what many agreed was one of the most fun improv festivals in the country. By now the Comedy Conservatory had spun out two new long-form teams, Lets Settle for Mediocrity and One Hand Clapping and was adding new students, classes and staff at a breathtaking speed.
2005 saw ComedySportz, GBD and a fourth team, Coldtowne Heroes, move into permanent headline slots at Le Chat Noir, New Orleans finest theater establishment. That spring, Le Chat Noir was for the first time voted the Best Place to See Comedy by Gambit Weekly Readers Poll.
The very day that ComedySportz NOLA was to return from its first ComedySportz World Championship, Hurricane Katrina upset the whole apple-cart. With her home, office and studio blown clear off the map and Conservatory students stranded in every corner of the country, Landry doggedly began offering classes in Baton Rouge and Houma. A small tribe of determined students returned to their tattered city and weekly ComedySportz shows resumed less than 90 days after the devastating flood. In the next year, La Nuit would perform all over the New Orleans area: Barrister’s Zeitgeist, ChickieWahWah and Season’s in Slidell all graciously played host while Landry planned her next move.
November of 2006, La Nuit needed a home for the 2nd Second Annual New Orleans Improv Festival. Landry and her unwavering team of crack theater artists converted the old studio (which had flooded five feet deep during the hurricane and remained submerged for nearly two weeks) into a 50-seat cabaret-style theater to use as a performance and rehearsal space. With the warm hum of the spotlight and the arrival of national comedy celebrities for the Festival, La Nuit Theater roared to life.
Half a year later, La Nuit Theater is already receiving close attention from the New Orleans comedy and theater communities as an institution providing an invaluable service to the city. The much-heralded return of God’s Been Drinking, as well as the addition of an Open-Mic Stand Up show and the freewheeling Improv Jam have unleashed a critical mass of creativity and fun on Uptown New Orleans. Thanks to a massive grassroots push to re-zone Freret Street into a new theater and arts district, La Nuit Theater has a very bright future as a model of New Orleans' creative phoenixing.