What do jello, lava, Britney Spears and a bunch of words from Urban Dictionary have in common?
They are all words that audience members may shout out during a Porkchop Volcano improv show at the Arlington Drafthouse. Jon Milstein, Seth Alcorn, Conor O’Rourke and Matt Stephan, the four members of the Arlington-based troupe, then have to take these suggestions and turn each into a scene or character, all in the hopes of a good laugh from the audience.
“My favorite part of improv is the thrill, is the rush of a real audience you’ve never met before, you don’t know them, blowing them away, and having them laugh, a good and hearted, genuine laughter,” Milstein said.
While their group does not perform any single “typical” show, each performance will consist of a combination of guessing or scene improv games. The show starts at 9 p.m. in the Arlington Drafthouse’s Green Room — its side bar — and begins with a game that will interact with the audience.
“It’s usually packed by the end of the first game,” Stephan said.
By the time the game is done, the members will also know what the audience will like, and whether their suggestions will be more along the lines of kittens or sex positions, Alcorn said.
A favorite finale is “Dating Game,” where the troupe pulls an audience member up to play a bachelorette or a bachelor hoping to find his or her perfect match. The catch is that each of three improv members involved in the game are in characters suggested by the audience and the bachelor(ette) has to guess what the character is. O’Rourke plays host.
“It’s a high risk, high reward game,” Stephan said. “If we can hit a home run with that one, that’s been a good day.”
Suggestions can get wild. One of the members once had to play someone missing a chunk of his body after a tragic swordfish accident. Ideas also range from family friendly to adult only and even uncomfortable.
“I had a couple of friends who would basically go on Urban Dictionary and the come to the show,” Alcorn said. “So they would shout out all kinds of very disgusting sex acts that nobody actually performs, and then I would have to then explain to the audience what they meant and then work it into a scene.”
The four guys have a couple tricks up their sleeves, though, as they don’t want to go for the gross out, which gets awkward, Stephan said. Even when audience members suggested something dirty, the performers could take it in a different direction that made it cleaner.
“Being able to take an inappropriate or a cliche suggestion and then do something with it that they weren’t expecting, but still works with the suggestion, is pretty great,” Alcorn said.
One example is “Twilight,” a series that both Alcorn and Milstein despise, Alcorn said. It turned into a scene of Milstein playing a human who wanted to be a vampire and Alcorn playing a very reluctant vampire.
“It was just Jon throwing himself at me saying, ‘I want to feel the night rushing through my veins, bite me,'” Alcorn said.
The group tries to keep the suggestions new and challenging, O’Rourke said. To prevent common suggestions, which can happen when they ask for B-list celebrities, the members will use one of the common ones as an example. Even with common suggestions the group can work together to take a boring suggestion and create a new, fun angle.
“What’s always a lot of fun is taking a suggestion, but not taking it too literally, and jumping off and doing something weird with it. Because just because you get the suggestion vampire does not mean you have to come out as a vampire,” O’Rourke said.
The chemistry the group may be its biggest strength, they said. The four men can create a funny scene even if they are not sure where the other is going right away.
Milstein and Alcorn were doing a scene with tweezers last week. It started out with Alcorn giving Milstein a haircut with tweezers.
“And then he came to me with with a bad tooth and I was going to pull it out with tweezers,” Alcorn said. “And the third time we came around in this game, he didn’t say anything, but I knew I was going to do surgery and he put his hand on his appendix, and that was it.”
Once they formed the group, and spitballed until they randomly came up with the name “Porkchop Volcano,” the troupe needed a place to perform. Milstein was friends with the owner of Arlington Drafthouse who offered them two Saturdays. They now are performing up to four shows a month at the bar.
“The Drafthouse is our place,” O’Rourke said. “It’s our home.
Having a permanent spot also allowed the group to build up a loyal audience. At first they were doing improv at the audience, not with them. Now people come to the bar to see them perform.
The Drafthouse also attracts big comedy acts, which gives the members a chance to open for large acts, such as Dave Coulier from “Full House.” Coulier got beers with the four members after the show, which impressed Stephan’s Full House-loving daughters. There have been other well-known comedians that have seen Porkchop Volcano perform, as well.
“[“Saturday Night Live” cast member] Cecily Strong saw us once, but she didn’t say anything,” Alcorn said.
While the group has gotten to open for big names, there are other comedians they idolize and still hope to perform with, including Amy Poehler and Paul F. Tompkins.
“I don’t want to be paid. I don’t want to be famous,” Alcorn said. “I just want to do improv with Paul F. Tompkins.”