Kevin Allison’s legendary storytelling podcast RISK!, which celebrates its 10th year this month. The live show and podcast invites people to tell true stories they never thought they’d share in public and runs on both coasts.
RISK! has meant so much to so many people over the years, regularly being credited as pioneering both storytelling and podcasting as a whole. Now with ten years of gloriously jaw-dropping stories under its belt, and over one thousand episodes, we’re celebrating RISK! by sharing some thoughts from founder and ringmaster, Kevin Allison. The podcast is a phenomenon, and now there’s also a book sharing thirty-one of the all time best moments from the podcast with six brand new bonus stories from folks like Kevin Allison, Aisha Tyler, Marc Maron, Michael Ian Black, Lili Taylor, Ts Madison, Dan Savage, Jonah Ray, Jesse Thorn and ordinary folks from around the world.
“RISK!: True Stories People Never Thought They’d Dare to Share” is available wherever books are sold, in paperback, audiobook or e-book format.
I’ve been laughing my ass off this week. Hundreds of ridiculous and outrageous memories flooded over me while I prepared the 10th Anniversary episode of the podcast I host, RISK! I was putting all the clip montages together — highlights from 1,408 true stories — and was astounded by how goddamn funny the show can be.
In the summer of 2009, when I started RISK!, I didn’t know many people in the storytelling scene, but I knew lots of comedians. Just in the first two months, folks like Marc Maron, Margaret Cho, and Janeane Garofalo did the show. I remember telling Maron on the phone, “The idea is that this is the storytelling show that goes where the others fear to tread. Where the performers are going outside their comfort zone and risking revealing the kinds of things they might normally only share with their therapists or close friends, but shy away from sharing in public.” He said, “Oh fuck. That’s a great idea for a show. Well, damn. I guess I’ve always avoided telling my hooker story.” I said, “Okay then, that sounds like the one!”
It was another comedian, Michael Ian Black, who planted the seed of RISK! in my head to begin with. I did a solo show where I played a bunch of ridiculously cartoonish characters at San Francisco Sketchfest in January of 2009. Mike saw the show and afterward he said to me, “I feel like most of the audience just wanted you to drop the act. I mean, I feel like we all wanted you to just be yourself and tell your own true stories.” I said, “Ugh. I’m too gay, too kinky, too goofy, too Midwestern, too emotional… I’m just such a bizarre mix of things that it feels too risky to get up onstage and just be myself.” He said, “If it feels risky, that’s a good sign. If you open up to the audience, they might open up to you.”
A few days later, I took Mike up on his advice and I told my first true story on stage at the UCB theater under the Gristedes in Chelsea. It was about the first time I tried prostituting myself. It’s a ridiculous story about a mess of a night, complete with public nudity, a fistfight in a cab, and a cameo by Kevin Spacey. I wasn’t too worried about it getting laughs, but I was terrified about the underlying emotions in the story. The first time I tried prostituting myself, I was desperate and terrified. So yeah, the story was funny, but sad and scary too. But it turned out that level of honesty did not lose the audience. In fact, every time I thought I was saying something that might sound too gay or too emotional or too whatever, they leaned forward even more. I felt this energy in the room that I wasn’t used to feeling when I was up on stage doing purely silly stuff. I left the UCB theater that night and was walking down 8th Avenue when the whole idea came to me. I said, “I’m going to create a show called RISK! where people tell true stories they never thought they’d dare to share in public.”
Not all the stories on RISK! are funny. In fact, some are terrifying. But huge laughs have come out of stories told on the show by people with almost no stage or comedy experience. The guy who burnt his penis from fucking a microwaved orange. The woman who became obsessed with pegging terrified men with her strap-on. The woman who seduced a man online by sharing all sorts of BDSM fantasies with him, then realized he was her dad.
And the smartest comedians who do the show still get that original premise of it. When Trevor Noah came to do a RISK! live show in New York in 2015, he thought he’d tell a pretty harmless story about some fun he had in high school. But as he sat backstage listening to the other storytellers on the line-up, he said to me, “Whoa. You weren’t kidding. People really do bare their souls on this show. Do you mind if I improvise a totally different story than we went over before?” I told him to go for it. He told the story about the day his mom was shot in the head. It was breathtaking. It had plenty of laughs, of course, but it dared to go to a really dark place too, and ended up being perfectly in line with the spirit of the show.
It’s insanely hard to keep an independent podcast that takes so much prep and production work going as long as we have. But we’re still going. There’s 461 episodes to check out, with laughter and everything else in them. And now for our next ten years…
Buy the new book, “RISK! True Stories People Never Thought They’d Dare to Share” anywhere books are sold, or at www.TheRISKbook.com
Available now in paperback, e-book or audiobook. Contains 31 of the best true stories ever shared on the RISK! podcast, plus 6 brand new stories as well, and a Q and A with all the storytellers.