For the first time, Cincinnati native Kevin Allison — a successful actor and comedian — is bringing his popular podcast and live show RISK! to his hometown.
“I’ve never brought it to Cincinnati because I was afraid my parents would be terrified of the show if they actually saw it,” he says with a laugh via phone from New York City.
Determined to have a career in the arts, Allison attended film school at New York University and later rose to fame as a member of The State, a sketch-comedy series on MTV that aired from 1993-1995.
“I left Cincinnati because I felt like it was a difficult place to be gay,” he says. “It’s come a long way, though. Back then I was very excited to go to a city where I could explore being gay and out and being as adventurous as I wanted to be — and New York City was the place to do that.”
Allison created RISK! nearly a decade ago in 2009. Since, the weekly podcast has featured famous comedians — Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee and Kumail Nanjiani, to name a few — and regular folks telling stories “they never thought they’d dare share in public.” Since 2010, Allison has also hosted monthly live shows in New York and Los Angeles, with stops in other cities sprinkled throughout.
Despite having monthly shows on both coasts, Allison finds that the most compelling stories often come from smaller cities. In places like Cincinnati, he says, people have “incredibly” fascinating lives but don’t necessarily have the opportunity to share them in public. He says that makes their on-the-road shows invigorating, exciting and moving. At the time of the interview, dozens of potential storytellers had already contacted him about appearing in Cincinnati’s show.
“It’s been really exciting to see the range of experiences people in Cincinnati want to share,” he says. “We have people of color, trans people and people wanting to talk about having different sorts of experiences around religion.”
Allison grew up in Westwood and graduated from St. Xavier High School in 1988, which acts as the backdrop of several of his personal stories. One such tale involves a missionary trip he took to Peru with Jesuits while attending the private Catholic high school. But that’s about as wholesome as it gets.
“The show is extremely adult in nature,” he says. “Sometimes there can be some really kinky stories, or really violent stories, or some emotionally raw stories, or just some outrageously funny in a non-politically-correct sort of way at times stories.”
The success of RISK! has spawned a cottage industry of sorts for Allison. Last year, a book based around the podcast was released. He also runs a sibling company called Story Studio, which he calls the brand’s “education wing.” Through video courses and various workshops, they offer lessons on how corporations can use narrative storytelling to communicate in more human, emotional ways.
The latter presents unique challenges, regardless of background. Before speaking on RISK! — for both the live show and podcast — each potential guest goes over their story several times with Allison and the producers.
“The biggest thing is we want people to zero in on a very specific incident like the afternoon of the car crash or the night they lost their virginity. We have to poke and prod almost as a therapist would,” Allison says.
To extract those details, that might mean asking them to recall certain distinct feelings, sounds or even smells.
The stories shared are often intense, and though they carry varied contexts, how they’re told is more or less through the same formula — raw and confessional but with a humorous slant. The now expansive collection of stories covers subjects like coming out, heartbreak, trauma, growing up and everything in between.
“It does take time to craft the story,” Allison says. “There’s always some meaning people glean from going back through those experiences too. Once you start unpacking, you start having all these realizations.”