We always like to look at stories about how the web has changed (and continues to change) the media landscape, whether that be journalism, entertainment or anything else. When I was growing up, one of my favorite shows was MTV’s The State – a sketch comedy show that was simply too short-lived.
Many of the actors from the show have gone on to appear in and write numerous movies and TV shows. One member of the comedy troupe, David Wain, for example, wrote and directed movies like Wet Hot American Summer, Role Models, and Wanderlust. He also Does Wain Days for My Damn Channel (which recently launched a new YouTube channel). You probably know Michael Ian Black, as well – another member of the state, who manages to keep Twitter interesting and humorous on a regular basis (in addition to his various movie and television roles).
Both of those guys (and the rest of the cast) are great, but I don’t think many fans of The State would argue that Kevin Allison was one of the best parts of the show. And that’s who we’re talking to today. Allison isn’t as much in the movie and TV spotlight as some of his peers, though he does make occasional appearances. Kevin spends more of his time podcasting and focusing on his show RISK! – a live show/podcast he created and hosts.
“I spent a lot of time telling stories as characters after the State broke up, but I had a breakthrough around 2008, when I started telling stories as myself,” Allison tells WebProNews. “I found that when I did that, I saw people’s eyes light up and it was much more like being in conversation with the audience. I realized that I had found my voice, which, it turned out, was simply my real voice all along.”
“So I thought the best way to learn about storytelling was to do it in public constantly,” he continues. “I started the live show and podcast RISK!, where people dare to share stories they never intended to tell in front of a live audience. At RISK, I’m the host of the podcast and live show and I still tell a lot of true stories of my own.”
“If it weren’t for podcasting, my career would not be what it is today, because I am one of those people that doesn’t fit so easily into the stereotypical things that Hollywood or the TV industry is looking for,” he adds. “I’m kind of an oddball, an idiosyncratic characer. So, you know, a lot of comedians like me, who have not found their place in the TV or movie realm, are putting their truest voices out there by self publishing their stuff through podcasts.”
As most podcasters will probably tell you, using the web as the medium of choice gives them a much different kind of connection with their audience that really wasn’t possible not too long ago.
“RISK! itself and the way the show is run have developed largely because of interactions with fans on the web,” Allison tells us. “They’ll invite us to tour to places we never would have known about, or submit stories or songs, or make suggestions of other types of things they’d like to hear on the show. Even a great deal of the staff of the show were fans who contacted me online about coming aboard in real life.”
“I feel like I can be more intimate and experimental with a public audience through this medium than I can through anything I’ve ever done before,” he says. “It really is a straight-from-the-artist-to-the-audience sort of experience, kind of like what happens in small room comedy clubs where there’s not a lot of oversight from some sort of corporation or standards and practices. And so it’s the ultimate in free speech and freeing up my own self expression.”
Obviously YouTube has been a huge element in the web success of many, many Internet celebrities, and even for some who have managed to grow much larger than the “web celeb” status. Don’t forget Justin Bieber got his start on YouTube.
“YouTube has been great for us because it allows us to share videos from our live shows with fans who otherwise might never get to know what our live shows are like,” says Allison. “It also helps us spread the word about what we’re doing, since when people look for people who’ve been on our show on YouTube, they’ll stumble upon RISK! videos.”
Allison, of course also uses other social networks to promote RISK! and connect with fans, but he feels like there’s such a thing as worrying about too many different ones, so he mostly sticks to Facebook and Twitter.
“It changes over time,” Allison says about Facebook. “Originally it was hugely helpful because it helped me to reconnect with dozens and dozens of comedians I hadn’t seen in years and friends of theirs who were also performers. Several years ago when RISK! first started, people paid more attention to event invites. I think facebook changes every couple of years because the site is trying to control how people use it, and so we have to adjust with their way of changing things, but I don’t know, it’s still very powerful for just saying what we’re up to and hearing back from people. It’s pretty necessary for an artistic endeavor to hear back from the people listening to it, positive or negative.”
“Frankly I think it’s pretty much the same,” Allison says of Twitter. “Our fans on Twitter are always telling us what they thought of shows and retweeting our episodes and talking to storytellers about how much they loved their stories. It’s great for spreading the word about RISK!”
“We’re not on google+ because we don’t know what it is supposed to be,” Allison says. “It’s kind of like facebook, right? After a certain point, you have to focus on getting your work done and not necessarily being on every single social network.”
“We stick mainly to facebook, twitter and YouTube, as well as the RISK-show.com website, of course, and they’re all great for keeping in touch with our fans.”
There may be some valuable advice for anyone in Kevin’s words. New social networks come and go all the time, and it certainly is a lot for people to worry about, and like he says. At some point, you do still have to get something done. You just have to evaluate the pros and cons of being on any of them, and determine which ones are worth your time and energy.
The State may have gone off the air in the 90s, but thanks to the web, it has never truly gone away. Thanks to the web, people who didn’t even watch it back then, or even know it existed can enjoy it today.
“Well, even though MTV constantly pulls the State content off YouTube, I think a lot of new fans were introduced to State sketches through YouTube,” says Allison. “And also it was web campaigns that finally convinced MTV to release the State DVD box set.”
Here’s a classic (before MTV pulls it down):
Note: While it’s great what the web has been able to do to keep The State alive, it’s never been like it was in the 90s. Unfortunately with MTV’s DVD release, the music in the sketches have been altered for the worse.
“As for my connection to the State fans, because I was not doing big corporate work like the other State members after the group broke up, I kind of fell off the face of the earth, so it was good to find out through the web that some people still knew who I was and were rooting for me,” says Allison.
I know I’ll be rooting for him.