Review: Stories in a Time of Risk
Hosted by Kevin Allison
May 1, 2020
Upcoming shows May 8, 16, and 23Social distancing has turned us all to our screens for socializing, constantly checking when this will end, and endless movies and series that we would never have watched in “normal” times. Some previously live shows are now seeing that the only way to move forward is holding their events online, and this is what Risk!, a live show with an associated podcast, has done. I joined in for the series of stories and was surprised at the possibilities for storytelling that exist right now for our diminished social lives.
The show begins with Kevin Allison, creator of the show, doing a bit of intro and selling Risk! to the audience. We are all now familiar with this sort of killing time for the first few minutes of Zoom calls while everyone joins a meeting. Allison’s brand is filthy humor and taboo. So, he, of course, talks about his adventures as a BDSM educator and stories of sticking cucumbers and corn cobs in his ass as well as showing the audience all of the pot that fans and sponsors have sent him. Producer and emcee of the event, JC Cassis, managed the technical side of the event and kept Allison on track while simultaneously responding to the audience and keeping the storytellers organized. Four people told their stories, and only one (thank god!) mentioned the crisis. Ellie Dvorkin told of her experience getting a Today Sponge stuck inside her and her boyfriend Josh having her pull it out with no drama. In that moment, she says, she knew that this was the man for her. She fast forwards several years to where Josh, now her husband, is standing beside her as another thing comes out of her body: her baby.
Nima Kharrazi tells of his strip club addiction leading him to defraud his bank of $2000 to feed his habit. He delves into the world of what strip clubs are like at 11am and the range of stories he has heard from women who strip. Faced with a debt he could not pay and a possible fraud charge with the FBI becoming involved, his dad pays the bill. To this day, his family does not know what he stole the money for. After a brief intermission with some tales from Allison and an embedded Zoom survey (good to know I can do this, Zoom), Judith Hertog recounts her complicated relationship to the national anthem. Originally from Amsterdam, she and her husband decided to settle in the US reluctantly because of geopolitical reasons. She tells of taking a knee during the national anthem at her daughter’s gymnastics event. She then attempts to rally everyone at her U.S. citizenship ceremony to take a knee during the anthem—which she realizes would serve no purpose other than to disrupt the lives of people who are just looking to live more fully. Finally, Jamie Brickhouse (author of Dangerous When Wet: A Memoir of Booze, Sex, and my Mother), gives a stunning performance as he tells the touching and hilarious story of his mother’s decades-long help in getting him sober.
Part of the wave of storytelling outlets that arose with The Moth and Story Corps in the 90s, Risk! has a podcast and holds in-person events that have now been moved online. Risk! bills its niche in the storytelling market as “true stories people never thought they’d dare to share.” Their stories are irreverent and a bit filthy. Well, sometimes. They can also be sentimental, touching, and hopeful. Kevin Allison, creator and host of Risk!, got his start with the comedy troupe The State, which had a two-year run on MTV in the 90s. Members of the troupe went on to direct and act in Reno 911! and Wet Hot American Summer.
The experience of watching these stories told on Zoom was a bit of a reminder about just how diminished life has become. We teach, hold meetings, talk to mom, get drunk with friends we haven’t talked to in years, and have doctor’s appointments all on Zoom now. Of course, it’s depressing, but the Risk! team made the Zoom experience a little less depressing by having a seamless and interactive experience. The audience was not able to join with video or audio, but we could participate in the chat, which Allison and JC responded to throughout the show.
When this is all over, the stories that emerge are going to be an important repository of this time not only for recording the sheer human toll of the crisis but also to archive what life was like at this time. Surely, given humanity’s penchant for forgetting, we will go back to some sort of normal and not remember the worst of these days. Yes, I am a cynic. But for now, we are immersed in everything Covid-19. What Risk! provides is not just a brief respite from our now-shitty lives but a reminder of all the things that mattered before this crisis: nonjudgmental relationships, working through our addictions, challenging given norms, and the endless humor that the human body produces with its sounds, orifices, and urges.