NEW YORK — It was strange – Welcome to Night Vale was nonexistent one day and then was nearly everywhere on the internet the very next morning. It wasn’t a slow spread through word-of mouth. Instead, it seemed to be the effect when you spill a glass of milk, and suddenly it’s everywhere, dripping down the cabinets and seeping into the cracks between your fridge and the floor space.
Welcome to Night Vale, or WTNV, is a podcast about the fictional town called Night Vale. The narrator is the radio-host for the town, and voiced by Cecil Baldwin. The story is created by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor and it’s a production of the company Commonplace Books.
Each episode is about a half-hour long, produced every 15 days. Though the length of the podcast lasts around 30 minutes, WNTV never drags on. The pacing of the episode is split up near the end with “The Weather” — or more importantly, it’s a mark that something awful has just happened in the show, and they’re giving us a small cliff-hanger while giving us a breather.
Ah, the weather. Featuring such classics as “The Bus is Late” by Satellite High, the weather lasts about three minutes and breaks up the soothing voice of Cecil and the narrative turns.
The town of Night Vale itself is incredibly topsy-turvey, and not quite what you would expect from a small desert town in the middle of nowhere. Because WTNV is in the style of a radio show, the narrative is not linear and is wandering.
Cecil tells us about this strange town where (in the very first episode) we are introduced to the Dog Park. The first thing we learn about the Dog Park is that humans and dogs are not, in fact, allowed to go into the Dog Park. In fact, acknowledging existence about the Dog Park is not allowed either.
In another episode, we learn about how Hiram McDaniels, a five-headed dragon, is a fugitive sought by the Secret Police wanted on suspicion for insurance fraud.
There’s also Old Woman Josie can talk to Angels, and it is illegal to acknowledge the existence of Angels, because they Do Not Exist. Every Angel is named Erika, with emphasis on the K. They may or may not be good at changing light bulbs, bowling, shopping — oh, and granting angelic protection.
And then we find out about a hovering cat named Khoshekh that appears to be stuck in the Men’s bathroom – who is perfectly content to just exist.
These are just some of the strange characters that we find introduced to us in this surrealist town. WTNV does a fantastic job of normalizing the weird, giving an equal measure of horror and humor that leaves you begging for more.
One of my favorite episodes of the podcast is Episode 13 – A Story About You. WTNV breaks common story structure and starts the episode just like this:
“This is a story about you,” said the man on the radio. And you were pleased, because you always wanted to hear a story about yourself on the radio.” The story continues, telling this brilliant second-person story. “This is a story about you. You live in a trailer, out near the car lot, next to old woman Josie’s house. Occasionally, she’ll wave at you on her way out to get the mail or more snacks for the Angels. Occasionally, you’ll wave back. You’re not a terrible neighbor, as far as it goes. At night you can see the red light blinking on and off on top of the radio tower – a tiny flurry of human activity against the impeccable backdrop of stars and void.”
This exemplifies some of the beautifully poetic writing that is the very muscle and sinew of the strange show.
There’s a reason why it suddenly grew in popularity.
Three hours until the show started and there were already twenty people already lined up, waiting for the show to begin.
The best part about waiting in line, sitting on the cold pavement for a couple hours, was the interaction of new people – complete strangers, driven by their shared interest. The fans themselves are impressive, too. There’s a high diversity among them with gender in particular, among other things. They exude creativity, and almost everyone has a shade of purple to their outfit (which is the color of the town.)
I’m not going to write the exact details about the podcast, because it will be released on their iTunes shortly enough, however:
The actors excelled at their performance. Though they are majorily voice actors, none of the characters are stiff on stage. They add just enough movement and vibrancy to emphasize and add to their words. It was energetic and entertaining, there was never a dull moment. The plot and dialogue were well written, as always.
I was somewhat skeptical of the performance of what is a radio podcast live in person – but what they presented us with was brilliant. I highly suggest attending one of these events if you ever have the opportunity.
Welcome to Night Vale is avalible free on iTunes, and other major podcasting websites for free devices. I suggest you start listening to it.