They laugh, they cry, sing and dance, and occasionally come up with something brilliant enough to use for an upcoming competition. They are Illinois State University’s Improv Mafia, and someday they hope to be coming to a theatre near you.
Formed in 1998 with Mikel Matthews ’99, Improv Mafia is a self-run, student-based improvisation comedy group that is capturing the national limelight as members sharpen and expand their acting skills.
Initially they only performed short form, which is the most common form of improvisation. “Short form is like ‘Whose Line is it Anyway?’ The scenes are shorter and quicker. It’s more of a game and usually based on a gimmick, or suggestion from the audience,” said Andrew Bogue, junior communication major and two-year member of Improv Mafia.
In the past five years the group has begun to incorporate long form improvisation into their skits as well. “Long form is a more intricate performance. Instead of just one quick scene we have to develop the story, and figure out how to connect the scenes in an interesting and entertaining way,” Bogue said.
Since the Chicago Improv Tournament (CIT) started three years ago, Improv Mafia has competed and watched it flourish. The first year CIT only had 16 groups competing in one region. The second year of the tournament Improv Mafia competed against 23 teams from three regions and won first place in nationals.
As the competition winner, the group was sent to the Aspen Comedy Festival where they performed with well-known stand-up comics from all over the world. This year 72 groups entered from seven different regions. Improv Mafia entered with high hopes as the returning champion.
“There were a lot of weird circumstances surrounding our return. For instance, about an hour before our performance I came down with food poisoning. It was awful,” Bogue said.” They performed anyway, but any time you take a person out of a tight knit performance group, it gets weird.”
Improv Mafia got second place in the Chicago regional, but only the first place teams get the chance to compete for nationals.
“We did really well in the preliminary round, and we heard from a lot of people that the judges really liked us,” Bogue said.
The improvisation group doesn’t have upcoming competitions, but you can catch them on Tuesday nights performing on the ISU Campus in the Center for Visual Arts, and at the Free Stage Festival this April in Normal.
“Basically what we’re doing is Commedia dell’arte. It’s classic improvisation that started in Italy, and was really popular in the 16th century,” Bogue said. “It’s cartoonish in style and really fun.”