PODCAST SPOTLIGHT: Welcome to Night Vale

written by David Steffen

Welcome to Night Vale (produced by Commonplace Books) is a fiction podcast, but quite different from any of the other fiction podcasts I listen. Most of the others publish short stories by different authors, where each new story has nothing to do with the others and is written by a different author.  The easiest way I can describe the podcast is that it is a community radio show ala Prairie Home Companion, but one which takes place in a mysterious sleepy little town ala Stephen King or HP Lovecraft.  If that sounds like something you’d like, you probably will!  If you’re not sure what to think about it, download a few episodes for free and give it a try.

The format of the show is a wonderful idea, one of those wonderful things where a clever person takes two familiar but disparate elements and melds them together and somehow the whole thing is shiny and new.  The idea is nonsense.  Wonderful, hilarious, weird nonsense of the best possible kind.  The show is written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor.  After three years they’ve still managed to keep the show fresh and interesting, introduce new weird elements that keep everything interesting.

The show starts out strong from the very first episode, and is a good example of the kind of humor that the show excels at.  For example, the episode starts off with an announcement about the city’s new dog park.  “Dogs are not allowed in the dog park. People are not allowed in the dog park. It is possible you will see hooded figures in the dog park.  Do not approach them.  Do not approach the dog park.”  (and more)  After that, a guide for parents of children playing in the sand wastes and gauging the safety of the area by carefully watching the color of the unmarked helicopters circling the area.

The main voice actor of the show is Cecil Baldwin, who plays the host of the radio show (whose name is Cecil Palmer).  Most episodes are mostly his voice, announcing the strange news of the town, traffic (which is often very unrelated to traffic), community calendar, sponsors (which are usually real companies but just made up parodies rather than actual ads), and the weather (which is actually a track from an indie musician, a different one every episode).

There are numerous guest stars scattered throughout the three years of the show, including Dylan Marron, who you might know from the Every Single Word tumblr page where he posts edited versions of feature movies cut down to only the parts spoken by people of color (a very clever and illustrative project for what an issue that is).  Wil Wheaton and Retta both have recurring roles on the show, and a number of other actors that I have only come to know through the show itself.

The show has grown hugely in popularity.  They have toured across the United States and Europe, and are now planning their first tour to Australia and New Zealand.  A book written by Fink and Cranor, also titled “Welcome to Night Vale” is scheduled to be published on October 20.  (I have read the book and will be reviewing it right here on October 19, so check back).  The live shows have a somewhat different feel to them–I would recommend listening to the podcast before attending because the show that I went to felt like it was aiming mostly at people who were already familiar with the world of Night Vale.  Also consider checking out their merchandise store which has a lot of excellent stuff that is meant to appeal to fans of the show–I have been meaning to order a Boy Scout badge for “Subversive Radio Host” among other things.

I love this show.  I think it can appeal to a lot of people, SF fans or otherwise with its strange brand of humor and weirdness.  I hope it lasts a long time and expands into new and exciting things as it goes.