by Tim Crisp, Daily Vidette Reporter

The term “national champion” usually evokes images of athletic competition. It is a term that has come to signify the image of sports glory: a team of student athletes raising their fists in victory while the whole world watches.

What many people do not know is that ISU is home to a national champion-not in sport, but in the art of improvisation.

Last November, ISU’s own Improv Mafia took the national title at the Chicago Improv Festival’s College Improv Tournament. The ISU Improv Mafia stormed through the 24-team competition, defeating the Suffolk University group, Seriously Bent, in the final round.

The victory was a long time coming according to Annie Rix, a senior theatre and acting major.

“We worked so hard to get there and we really felt good just to be there,” Rix, a member of the Improv Mafia for four years, said. “But to win was really amazing. I definitely shed some tears.”

For Improv Mafia co-president Keith Habersberger, a senior acting major, the national championship was the summation to the four years of hard work he’s put into the group.

“[Winning] was pretty much my main goal this year,” Habersberger said. “It was a pretty lofty goal, but we ended up achieving it which was wonderful.”

Habersberger also noted that the group was one of the few teams at nationals to not have a coach.

“[The group] has always been self-taught,” Habersberger said. “And to go to Chicago, which is the heart of improv, and beat all the Chicago teams and beat all the teams that come from other parts of the country was pretty great.”

ISU’s Improv Mafia was created 11 years ago by a former student, Mikel Matthews. As Habersberger noted, the group has always been student-run and student-taught, making their nationals victory that much more impressive.

Since the Mafia’s inception, the group has held free shows every Tuesday night on campus.

The group utilizes both short and long form improvisation. Short form involves themed skits and musical numbers comparable to the brand of improv comedy made famous by the television show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”

Long form is a free form improvisation in which the group works a 20-minute story based solely off of one suggestion from the audience.

Over these past 11 years, members of the Improv Mafia have dedicated themselves to perfecting the art and fans have come to notice, according to Chris Bogue, a senior public relations major.

“We’ve had a very large, dedicated following on campus,” Bogue, who has been in the Mafia for three years, said. “Some of our fans have been coming for three or four years.”

However, what is most noteworthy about the members of the Improv Mafia is not necessarily the love they all possess for their art and performance, but their love for each other.

“We see each other a lot during the week for rehearsals but we also get together outside of rehearsals,” Rix said. “We are like a family, everyone looks out for everyone, it’s a really nice feeling.”

“When you’re in the Mafia, you’re in the Mafia for life,” Bogue added. “That’s our motto.”

These tight friendships have allowed for the members of the Mafia to not only build a social circle, but to ultimately gain a better grip on performance.

“We believe that spending time together outside of improv is the best way to gain trust and respect for each other,” Bogue said. “There’s really a lot of love in the group.”

For this semester, the group will be looking to share their art not only through performance, but through teaching of workshops, according to Rix.

“This semester is really focused on sharing our knowledge of improv and to help teach the art,” Rix said.

Along with workshops and weekly performances, the Improv Mafia will be performing at ISU’s Free Stage Festival, the Chicago Improv Festival in April and the Aspen Comedy Festival in May.

The Improv Mafia’s website,, is loaded with information on the group, its members and upcoming performances. There is also a group on Facebook.

Weekly performances are held every Tuesday night at 8 p.m. in room 145 of the Center for Visual Arts.

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