UNT Improv Group Takes Home the Top Prize at Regional College Improv Tourney

A trio of University of North Texas (UNT) improvisers who went to Austin to compete in the College Improv Tournament came back to Denton with a first-place plaque.

UNT seniors Daniel Matthews, Colten Winburn and Ryan Goldsberry, known collectively as Cell Block Tango, beat 11 other teams to win the southwest regional title, an honor that won them a spot in the national tournament in Chicago at the end of March.

The three have been performing together for years as part of UNT's weekly improv show but their time on stage in Austin was their first as Cell Block Tango.

"For me, improv is more like a team sport whereas doing something like stand-up is more of an individual thing and you don't get the same level of camaraderie among standup comedians," Winburn said. "You can have a community stand-ups but there's still that competition between them and it's easier to judge who's better and drawing more of a crowd. In improv, when you're with a team, it just feels better."

The tournament consisted of a preliminary match and a finals round, the latter of which ended with a unanimous decision that won them the tournament. Matthews said they presented their show as a "mono scene," a brave choice for an improv troupe because if "things are going slowly or you get off on the wrong foot, you're stuck with it and you have to find a way within the scene to fix it," Matthews said.

"A lot of groups do what's called a montage where several themes take place over 20 minutes or so and you're allotted different characters and settings," Matthews said. "When we performed as Cell Block Tango, we stayed in the same theme and the same characters for 20 straight minutes."

The fact that the show took place during a competitive event also ramped up the pressure, Matthews said.

"It definitely made me a lot more nervous to be competing than just performing for the sake of performing," he said, "but that goes away once you're on stage and we started the scene up and started performing with one another and just focused on the scene and having fun with your friends."

That might make something as large as a national tournament sound downright nerve-racking, but Goldsberry said that the regional win is a big confidence booster.

"It certainly can seem daunting to compete in the national tournament," he said. "Honestly, I'm not sure how we'll do in the end but I'm confident we'll be able to put on a great show and have fun together, as cheesy as that sounds."

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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.