Matt Owens' name has appeared on the bright white marquee outside the Joy Theater several times. Owens — a self-described "Kenny Rogers" comedian whose deliberate, Southern-drawl storytelling recounts an overly detailed online dating profile and the time he rode in a trunk to buy crack — says his friends often text him, "Hey, your name is up here."
"I'm like, 'Don't worry about it, I've already taken a bunch of pictures,'" he says.
A new series of stand-up comedy shows at the Joy is the first in town to put local comedians on a marquee. Kicking off the Joy's 2016 comedy season is the first of eight Stand-Up NOLA shows — on March 4, Laura Sanders headlines a bill with Shervey Carter, Dane Faucheux, Lauren LaBorde, Kamari Stevens and Chris Trew. This year, Stand-Up NOLA features four locals-only showcases and four shows over the summer featuring touring headliners with local openers, all with diverse lineups and styles — of "people who are more cerebral, others who are more animated," Owens says.
In 2014, Owens was among a handful of local comics (including Joe Cardosi, Katie East, Drew Platt and Andrew Polk) opening for Louis C.K. at the Joy. "My goal after that night was, 'Man, I really want to get back on that stage,'" Owens says. Last year, Owens premiered, produced and hosted three locals-only comedy shows at the Joy that served as a trial run for the 2016 season. "I wanted to build this thing bringing different people together on a big show," he says. "I really want to grow the scene in New Orleans and be an integral part of it."
The city's stand-up comedy renaissance has expanded from a handful of open mics and showcases to shows every night of the week, whether in bars, a full-time improv and sketch theater, or standing-room only crowds at music venues. And comedians now are moving to New Orleans to make it their home base.
"I kind of wanted to move here before it got huge," says Sanders, who moved from Ohio to New Orleans in 2015. "I wanted to sneak in here now while it's a new thing rather than get on the train late. I want to be part of the train. ... It's so awesome to see a scene where anything you see, a comedian built. The creativity that goes into shows, the passion that goes into shows, and how many shows can thrive here. It's all people coming here because they liked the energy of the scene."
Sanders has performed comedy for nearly a decade, and in February, her live album Oh God Please Like Me debuted at No. 1 on iTunes' comedy chart. (A bonus track, "Lagniappe," featuring fellow Ohio ex-pat Kamari Stevens, was recorded in New Orleans.)
"If you really want to do comedy — what really made me want to move here the most, which sounds dumb because it sounds like a diet plan: It's a lifestyle, it's not one decision," Sanders says. "It's the thing you're doing every day. I was like, 'Where do I want to be doing that every day?'"