When I try to describe the Welcome to Night Vale podcast to people who have not heard it before, I hark back to the times of old radio shows. A time when families would crowd around the radio to listen to stories told strictly through sound, character development and plots that were easy to keep up with. It’s just like that, but it takes place in a town where nothing is as it seems, everything is scary and the government is terrifyingly awful (or awfully terrifying). Welcome to Night Vale, a twice-monthly podcast has grown into something even larger. Enough people have tuned into the weirdness and it’s developed such a fanbase that the creators of the show, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, have taken the show on the road to put on live productions of the fictional news report. I had the opportunity to speak with Joseph Fink and Cecil Baldwin, the voice of Welcome to Night Vale and ask them all the fan-girly questions I could think of.
The show, eliciting creepy feelings since 2012, is a small production relying on not much beside imagination, a microphone and some editing software. Going back about four or five years, Fink, Cranor and Baldwin had met in a writing and performing class. The creators have backgrounds in theater, so creating a show and taking it on tour is something everyone enjoys. Podcasting is also a free service, so going on tour is a good way to make money while keeping the show free. Creating a show about a town where conspiracy theories are real and everything is strange allows for a bottomless plot, which allows the creators to write something new for each show. As Fink and Cranor create a new script for each town, they aim to present something the fans have never seen before and not rehash material. As performers, they understand that not everyone will have heard the show before and they want to give the newcomers enough information so that they can enjoy the live show as a standalone production.
There is something about the fandom though. It’s interesting to see the comments online about their opinions on Night Vale, as no two people are alike. I threw out the disastrous word “demographic” and Fink immediately rejected the idea that their podcast needed a demographic. When first creating Night Vale, they only wanted “a small group of people that weren’t friends or family,” he says, insisting they started making episodes for fun. “I hoped that someday, someone we didn’t know would listen. If you write something that is interesting to yourself, people will recognize something in there.” Particularly, though, women between the ages of 14 and 30 seem to be the largest group of listeners. When asked about his reaction to things like fan art and cosplay, Baldwin says “I find it fascinating to see art that inspires people to create art. Something we have put our heart and soul into has inspired someone to create art in their own style.” I should mention that Baldwin has a voice that is deep, soothing, and ominous. While most celebrities will be recognized in public because of their looks, Baldwin will be casually engaged in conversation and someone nearby will turn their head to ask if he is indeed Cecil.
Speaking of fans, celebrities happen to listen to the podcast and voice their opinions on Twitter. This is how Welcome to Night Vale happened to land such incredible celebrity voices like Mara Wilson as the Faceless Old Woman Who Lives in Your Home and Wil Wheaton who appeared as an intern during a live performance. Interns for Night Vale, by the way, all mysteriously disappear or die horrible deaths while on location (much like the SLUG interns).
The Welcome to Night Vale tour stops in Salt Lake City July 21 at the Jeanne Wagner theater.