“When I had this idea, there was no second guessing,” explains comedy writer and former member of The State Kevin Allison. He’s talking about his live storytelling series, aptly titled Risk! Billed as a more risque, R-rated version of This American Life, the first season of the series featured performances from noteworthy actors and comedians such as Janeane Garofalo, Margaret Cho and Rachel Dratch. The second season, kicking off Feb. 11 at 92YTribeca, will host the likes of Marc Maron, The Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi, Andrea Rosen and a return appearance by Dratch, among others. And although comedians comprise most of the guests, this shouldn’t be mistaken for a stand-up comedy show.
“I think it took three or four shows for the audience to be like ‘OK, this can be serious.’” Allison explains.
The medium can also expose a new side to some well known personalities.”Someone like Michael Ian Black has a very well known persona and at his performance people were taken aback when they realized that he was not a snarky asshole, but this very soft-spoken man,” says Allison.
“With storytelling, you’re speaking to the audience as a peer or a friend,” says Allison, “Stories make us feel like we understand each other a little better and they force the performer to go out on a limb. It’s refreshing and cathartic.”
At the live shows, each performer is expected to tell a story revolving around a designated theme. For example, the Feb. 11 show is about “Obsessions: Things We Get Carried Away With At Some Point In Our Lives.” Some other themes slated for later shows in the series are “Blindsided,” “Unique: I’m Not Like Most People,” and “The End: When Something Is Over.”
“The irony of the ‘Unique’ show is that the audience will end up relating to what each storyteller thinks makes them unique.” laughs Allison.
When asked if there are certain themes that have worn out their welcome Allison is quick to offer that he is “getting a little leery of ‘bodily fluid stories.’
“It’s a little surprising to learn that some point everyone has pooped their pants.”
In addition to the live show, Risk! also has a companion podcast which features recorded stories from regular people in addition to the usual roster of actors and alt-comedy stars. If the numbers are any indication, the podcasts have certainly resonated with its audience. The last podcast achieved almost 25,000 downloads just a few days after it went live. The numbers are all the more impressive when considering that listeners have been amassed mainly by word of mouth.
Not bad considering the show was essentially born from a creative limbo Allison experienced after The State disbanded, when he found himself at a loss for the next stage in his career. Uninterested in pursuing work as a stand-up comic, Allison instead performed one man shows as various characters, however something wasn’t quite working for him. After a performance at the San Francisco Sketchfest, Allison hit up fellow State alum Black for some constructive criticism.
“Mike told me that it seemed like I just wanted to speak as myself to the audience,” recalls Allison. That lead him to what might be the most rewarding aspect of the performances.
“When you tell a joke, people will say it was funny, but when you tell a good story people will say ‘thank you.’”
Feb. 11, 92YTribeca, 200 Hudson St. (at Canal St.), 212-601-1000; 7, $15.