Many independent comedy showcases in New York City go dark in August, either because the potential audience members all have gone on vacation, or perhaps because the comedians themselves would like to enjoy a summer break.
Kevin Allison is going the other way. This alum from MTV's The State is starting up his new weekly comedy storytelling showcase in August, starting Thursday at Arlene's Grocery in NYC's Lower East Side. A risk, you say? Well, that sounds about right for a title, too, so there you go, and here we are, talking to Allison about his new show, RISK! This week's debut focuses on "Strange Sex: Our Wildest Encounters," with stories from Margot Leitman, Marc Maron, Jessi Klein and Jonathan Kesselman.
"I had been doing these character monologues for so long, because I was never really into stand-up for myself personally. I loved telling a story," Allison told me. "(The shows) were always great. But the last show I did, I felt I was trying to say a lot more about myself…and then I thought, f*ck it. why not just get up and tell my own f*cking stories? Why such a production? And the response, was a full 180 degrees. People were giving me really big laughs, (saying) thanks, that was inspiring hearing you talk about that stuff."
How would you compare RISK! to other storytelling series that already exist, such as the long-running "Moth" showcase, which itself has seemed to spawn other comedy storytelling shows around New York City?
"A lot of people in the storytelling world aren't really pursuing it for a career. They have jobs that they love," Allison said. "It's more relaxed than the stand-up scene is. Just a lot of nice people. When you go to a lot of those shows that are storytelling…they hang on your every word, and they're fine to go for a few minutes without any laughs." When Allison has talked to comedians, he has found they realize that would "take some getting used to," knowing they can talk without laughs punctuating every single line.
Here are the first few weeks of themes and storytellers for RISK!: Aug 13: Why Did I Do That? (Baffling or Unexpected Behavior), Ophira Eisenberg, Kurt Braunholer, Andrea Rosen, Greg Walloch; Aug 20: Just for the Money (Awful Jobs), Adam Wade, A.D. Miles, Julia Segal, Joe Mande; Aug 27: Seeing the Light (Spiritual Breakthroughs and Breakdowns), Elna Baker, Anthony King, Janeane Garofalo, Kumail Nanjiani; Sept 3
Secrets Revealed (Mysteries and Surprises), Desiree Burch, Tim Ellis, Dave Hill, Juliet Wayne; Sept 10: Good Grief (Wrenching Failures and Growing Pains), Tom Shillue, Katina Corrao, Michael Ian Black, Taren Sterry; Sept 17: The Cruel War (Meanness and Fights), Matt Higgins, Michael Showalter, Joe Schiappa, Daisy Rosario; Sept 24: Love Is Blind (The Crazy Romantic Urge), Martin Dockery, Andy Christie, Samm Levine, Keith Powell.
In addition to the live shows each Thursday, Allison and his team will be launching a podcast version of the show with Breakthru Radio. "It'll be these little things where we interview people in a side room where it's not supposed to be noisy but almost always is," Allison said. "This show will be a lot of those storytellers, plus a lot of big-name comedians, so it'll be the best of both worlds. The scene has really lit people up. I did this show for Margot Leitman at the UCB (Stripped Stories), and she said she talks to everybody before the show….what she says is it shocked her, because the subject matter is sex, it's personal and people are really nervous before they're about to get up and do the show, none more so than the most-practiced comedians. She has to calm them down. And it's true. When you do something that makes you especially nervous and it's not something you're used to doing, it's not you're usual spiel. It's more rewarding because it's a leap and the audience rewards you for that. They like that. So why not build a whole show around that?"
As for starting in August, Allison said he figured: "It would be nice to have dipped our toes in the water by the time the school year has started again, because then we know what we're doing when people are ready to come out to shows again." The podcasts will start a month later in September, with hourlong episodes coming out twice a month — installments also will appear in shorter segments more often on iTunes.
How did you pick your themes? Did you just examine your own life for all of the risks you've taken so far? "Most of my stories come around to insane gay sex adventures," Allison joked. "Fortunately you can take a story title like Why Did I Do That, or Secrets Revealed, and finagle any story into that subject heading."
Allison said he also has begun writing columns called "Kevin Allison's True Stories" for Zug.com, which has given him some practice in writing his own stories.
But Allison said he might not appear onstage every week to perform his own contribute to that week's theme. "There are people like Chuck Klosterman, Margaret Cho, David Rakoff," who Allison said have expressed some interest in contributing but have not committed to a specific week yet. "If one of those people were to pick up the phone and say, 'I can do it Thursday," then that's the day I skip."
Has putting together this show inspired Allison to take more risks already? "I said to my husband, 'Jesus Christ, I should take a road trip!' All of my stories are from my 20s…my life is pretty f*cking dull. I should go out and find myself some hookers and blow! I am definitely examining my life. I have got all of these journals, letters and stuff like that. They are so hard to look at. I have got a lot of stuff. I've got journals from all of that period, but it's so scary to look back at yourself."
But that's a risk Allison just might have to take.