‘And now a brief public service announcement. Alligators: can they kill your children? Yes.’ – Welcome to Night Vale, Episode 1 ‘Pilot’
Welcome to Night Vale is fortnightly podcast. It is in the format of a community radio for the fictional American town of Night Vale, hosted by Cecil Gershwin Palmer (voiced by Cecil Baldwin). There are currently 89 episodes as I’m writing this, along with 7 bonus episodes and separate live performances that are available to purchase separately.
The podcast is free to listen to and ad-free. It usually starts with co-creator Joseph Fink discussing tour dates, merchandise and other Night Vale related updates, and ends with a brief message and proverb from Meg Bashwiner. There are many guest voices, including Wil Wheaton as Earl Harlan, Mara Wilson as The Faceless Old Woman and Retta as Old Woman Josie. It is available on iTunes, via their website or YouTube channel, on most podcast apps and more (see their website).
I must admit, I’m not actually up to date on the show. I started listening when there were about 25/30 episodes and unfortunately didn’t have time to catch up and keep up to date with them. I pick it up every few months or so but I’m yet to catch up. This past week however I’ve been listening to it a lot – I’ve had a lot of packing/tidying/unpacking/tidying to do, and it makes a nice change from listening to the same playlist over and over again, as I’m prone to do. As I’m writing this, I’m listening to episode 76. Each episode is around 25-30 minutes long, including the introductions and proverbs.
When listening to previous episodes of the show, especially if you’re binging as I tend to do, the introductions do get boring – the announcements are out of date and same-y, but you have to remember that the show is only released every two weeks and wasn’t really meant to be binged. The introductions aren’t very long, however, and break up listening quite nicely; so it’s not all bad.
I realise I’ve written 300 words of this review without actually reviewing anything! So, here goes. The show is darkly funny, which suits my sense of humour perfectly. Science fiction is quite hit and miss for me, however Night Vale seems to get it just right. It isn’t too complicated, and yet paints a picture of the town brilliantly. Despite the plots and events being told mostly retrospectively by our host, Cecil, Welcome to Night Vale manages to find the balance between ‘showing’ and ‘telling’ the audience well. The show aims to mix the supernatural, horrific and down-right weird with everyday life, and does so in a charmingly amusing way. It dips into the serious and profoundly philosophical matters of the meaning of life, humanity’s place in the universe and other such topics, but never for too long without returning to light-hearted comedy. For me, Welcome to Night Vale is reminiscent of the original radio performances of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and is following a similar path in the publication of the Night Vale novel last October.
The format of a podcast is a really interesting one for storytelling, and Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor use it incredibly well. Using the premise of a radio show is a convenient and effective way to use podcasting. The different segments keep it organised but interesting, and add separate aspects to the podcast as well as the main plotline for the episode. Episodes often revolve around a certain event, for example, but this is broken up by segments such as horoscopes, sponsor messages, an advice section, traffic updates and of course, the weather.
The weather segment is a song performed by a different independent artist every episode, providing exposure for new and budding artists from many different genres – even though the show revolves around similar plots and the same characters, you never know what you’re going to get with the weather. Although they are currently fully booked for the next year, they do take music submissions when they can; listeners are able to contribute to the show and get exposure for their work. Fink and Cranor truly go out of their way to support fellow independent creators in everything they do, Night Vale related and otherwise. This year saw the creation of Night Vale Presents, described on their website as;
‘The Night Vale Presents network continues Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink’s mission to encourage new, independent podcasting from writers and artists who haven’t worked in the format before. More podcasts will follow under the Night Vale Presents network in 2016 and 2017, both from the Night Vale artistic team and from other artists with a similar vision for independent, original podcasting.’
Not only is Welcome to Night Vale a great show that supports independent artists, but is also very diverse and inclusive. Cecil Baldwin, our host, is openly gay, and the cast and characters are diverse in age, race, gender and sexuality. In a town where a five-headed dragon runs for mayor and a Glow Cloud (allll haillll) is the head of the PTA, it’s difficult to be prejudiced. Unless you’re from rival town Desert Bluffs, no one really cares who you are.
Welcome to Night Vale is a well-established podcast now, and so may be difficult to catch up on, but I’d definitely recommend giving it a go, for several reasons. It is a brilliant show and a fantastic success story for independent creators, which is giving back to the independent arts community in many ways. If you do want to listen but are behind, don’t panic! Most episodes can be listened to as stand-alone plots, and they recently released a catch-up episode for the last few episodes. There are long-standing jokes and mentions of previous plotlines, however these are largely explained enough for new listeners to understand as well.
In the words of the Night Vale website: Turn on your radio and hide.
See you soon,