Over the course of six years and 700-plus episodes, there isn’t much that RISK!—the popular storytelling podcast hosted by Kevin Allison of The State semi-notoriety—hasn’t done. The comic and his eclectic assemblage of guests he tabs to take the mic to tell “true stories they never thought they’d dare to share” in front of absolute strangers tackle topics that are weighty, immensely personal, sexually explicit, downright hilarious, and abjectly tragic. By this point, there seems to be no uncomfortable or revealing interpersonal crevice that RISK! has yet to explore. However, Saturday night’s RISK! Live in the Back Room at the Prospect Avenue Colectivo did manage to tread some new ground. Not only was the sold out podcast recording the first vaguely comedic and non-musical act booked at the intimate young performance space, it also marked the first time RISK! and its beloved host ever performed in Milwaukee.
Bounding on stage with the backing of his podcast’s theme song and the raucous cheers of the 150-some crammed in the cafe’s cozy back room, Allison started things off by issuing a warning about the show (with the loose “Fuck This!” theme) to come. “We’re going to go to sad places. We’re going to go to uncomfortable places…and then I’ll come in and tell silly stories about my balls,” he said. True to his word, the host kept with his new city tradition of re-telling the first tale he ever shared on RISK!, a sidesplitting story of meeting a dominant guy named Ham who told Allison to tie his shoes to his balls, which transitioned into a similar story of hanging Doc Marten boots from his testicles while away at “Kink Camp” years later. Audience effectively warmed, the host gave way the first of four guests of the evening, Alecia Altstaetter.
The local improviser and comedian managed to turn in one of the funnier performances of the night when chronicling an especially turbulent trip on a Lake Michigan boat, which she dubbed “The Wreck Of The Lake Express Ferry” (with a nod to Gordon Lightfoot). The mother used her improv training to harvest laughs from a heavy reliving of a trip that sent her daughter to the emergency room, forever changed her opinion of the Great Lake, and cost her family at least two pairs of pants. After the applause subsided, Allison returned to the spotlight to read an explicit-yet-enjoyable story of “gorgeous ass feeding” he wrote for now-defunct Playguy Magazine.
Dissociated Press blogger Jess Leonard offset the laughs and reduced the room to complete silence with a moving and difficult recounting of enduring two years of coercive rape by her high school boyfriend and the long path to happiness and a promising new relationship thereafter. She told the captivated crowd it was her first time ever telling anyone any of the traumatic details. Yeah, Bro! podcast host/local improviser/gay bar sherpa Jacob Bach echoed the tone of hardship breeding new perspective by talking about seeing his father nearly die in his living room. Fortunately, his father survived and the family is allegedly closer than ever, which was hard to refute when Bach’s father ran across the room to hug his son when he departed the stage.
First-time storyteller Jeffrey Barsoum brought the night home in grand fashion. “How are you all doing tonight?” he asked, which was met by cheers. “Let’s see if we can change that.” He proceeded to tell a tragic story of his failed marriage to his high school sweetheart, her infidelity, abortion and drug abuse, his homelessness, and “a switch” being turned off in him. The packed coffee house performance space was taken on a rocky, revealing, and altogether emotional ride. Careening the crowd from laughter to building tears to grappling with tenseness and discomfort over the course of two hours, RISK!’s Milwaukee installment brought new perspective, catharsis, and a sense of support to a public setting. Fortunately, it will be an evening iTunes subscribers can relive any time they want when the episode is posted soon.