By Graeme Wiggins
VANCOUVER – Think of a story in your past. Something embarrassing, or shameful, that you’ve never told anyone before. Now imagine getting up on stage in front of a theatre full of complete strangers and sharing that story with them. That’s what Kevin Allison’s podcast and live show Risk! True Tales, Boldly Told demands of its storytellers. The result is a mix of cringe and catharsis, stories of an imprudent, illegal, or immoral nature. It’s an interesting and compelling listen in podcast form, and live, one can only imagine that the stakes are heightened.
Allison was a member of popular sketch comedy group The State. When The State went their separate ways, he struggled to find somewhere he was comfortable. He decided that focusing on the real Kevin Allison and sharing his own stories might be a way out of his creative rut. So Risk! was born, and in the 10 years since, listening to people share these stories has had a profound effect on him.
“It’s done a lot for me,” he says. “It’s made me a much more empathetic person. I was always an empathetic person, but I’m even more aware now that when I see someone who I would have been like, ‘What the fuck is going on with them?’ Now I’m more aware that there is so much that happens in people’s background and experience and brain chemistry and circumstances they can’t control.”
This has also affected how he sees himself and his past more clearly.
“I’ve become more and more curious and compassionate towards other people, but I’ve also become more compassionate towards myself, and that’s the most radical thing that’s come out of it.”
In his work with The State, Allison spent a lot of his time beating himself up about things. Risk has allowed him to re-evaluate that time with a radical empathy. “From compassionately listening to what’s going on with other people’s thoughts and feelings after almost 10 years of doing this, I realize, oh my gosh, everyone in The State was beating themselves up for this and that reason, and I look back with a much more compassionate look with how it all went down.”
For the touring Risk! show, Allison relies on local talent and stories. This leads to an eclectic group of storytellers. In his words, “It’s always a really interesting mix. It’s usually a few people who have a lot of experience getting up on stage and one or two people who are getting up on stage for the first time ever and sharing something that’s super emotional or important to them. It’s very exciting and very unpredictable.”
It’s rare to see people open up like they do on Risk! Its popularity is in some sense a reaction against that rarity, and provides a much needed correction.
“I think the popularity of Risk! is a reaction against some of the fakeness,” says Allison. “So much of the political discourse nowadays is soundbites and arguing across one another, and there’s always lots of pre-packaged Hollywood bullshit where you’re watching and are like this feels so fake. I think that a show like Risk! is kind of a reaction against all of that. Hearing people be that real is very cathartic for us all.”
Catch Risk! True Tales, Boldly Told with Kevin Allison live September 8 at the Biltmore Cabaret.comedy, Kevin Allison, risk!, the state