True stories

RISK! Live Show and Podcast

Steve Emmerich and Jessica Levity are storytellers who helped bring <i>RISK </i>back to Reno.

Steve Emmerich and Jessica Levity are storytellers who helped bring RISK back to Reno.

Photo/Josie Luciano

The RISK: Live From Reno taping will be held at Cargo in the Whitney Peak Hotel, 255 N. Virginia St., 398-5400 at 8:30 p.m. on July 25. Earlier in the day, the Storytelling Workshop featuring Kevin Allison will be held at 11 a.m. at the Whitney Peak Hotel. To attend the live taping or workshop, go to Listen to RISK at

You can’t throw a microphone without hitting a storytelling podcast these days. The Moth, This American Life, Invisibilia, Wiretap—it’s all very confusing as to which one deserves 30 to 45 minutes of your valuable time.

Unless you’ve listened to RISK. As its name suggests, RISK is a little more risky than standard NPR fare. Shows have themes with titles like “Death Defying,” “Misfits,” “Family Secrets,” and the less subtle “Dicks!,” “Butts!” and “Vaginas, Vaginas, Vaginas!” Anyone is welcome to submit stories and everything from the hilarious to the disturbing is fair game, as long as it’s true.

For RISK creator and host, Kevin Allison (of MTV’s The State fame), the truth was hard to face for a long time. Though he had come out with his big gay secret many years before, Allison realized that in his professional life, he was hiding behind the kooky characters he played on stage. That’s when another former cast member of The State, Michael Ian Black, made Allison take a second look at his life.

“Michael said, ’Most of the audience just wants you to drop the act and be yourself,’” said Allison. “And I thought, ’That scares me, because I feel like Hollywood will not get what makes up who I am. I’m too gay, too goofy, too uncensored. But at the same time too nice and too polite. … I just feel like it’s too risky.’ And Michael said, ’That’s the word. If it feels risky, then that’s the thing that is going to make the audience open up to you.’”

The next week, Allison got up on stage, told a story about the first time he prostituted himself, and RISK was born. “It was a very sexy and embarrassing story,” he said. “It went over really well with the audience. Now that I wasn’t playing a character, I was actually looking in people’s eyes and conversing rather then just reciting something to them.”

Over the years, the level of crazy in Allison’s stories has often set the bar for how much other people were willing to share on the show. Five years into the podcast, listeners are experiencing a max-event of truth as RISK has morphed from a platform for famous comedians to a fan-driven storytelling vehicle with no brakes.

In April 2014, RISK taped its first live show in Reno. And something about the Biggest Little City and the podcast really clicked.

“The first show we did in Reno was so good that we turned it into two episodes,” Allison said. In the two-part taping, locals shared tales about psychic shamans, LSD revelations, and fake surgeries performed by a dominatrix.

Jessica Levity and Steve Emmerich (of psychic shaman and LSD revelation story fame), are also the two people responsible for inviting Allison and RISK to town via their production company, Cincinnati, NV. This weekend, they are bringing the podcast back for a reprise.

Almost certainly the most risqué event on the ARTown calendar, the theme for Reno’s RISK show is “Mindfuck.” It will feature local storytellers sharing their accounts of “drug overdoses, freak accidents, gender reassignment, and unrequited love.” The lineup includes Emmerich, Jeffrey Jay, Michelle Leutzinger, and Allison himself.

In the end, there are lots of reasons why people tell stories. Personal expression, shared laughter, shock and awe, and good old-fashioned attention whoring. But Emmerich has the best theory in the room. “I think for a lot of people it’s a cathartic release,” he said. “It’s kind of like the story has held too much power over them … and what better way to get rid of it than to stand on stage and tell everyone?”