10 Reasons to Listen to Welcome to Night Vale
Welcome to Night Vale is a podcast written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, and produced by Commonplace Books. Each 20-30 minute long episode is narrated almost entirely by Cecil Baldwin and takes the form of “a twice-monthly podcast in the style of community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, featuring local weather, news, announcements from the Sheriff’s Secret Police, mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable powers, and cultural events.”
Often sinister, frequently funny, always brilliant and utterly unique; here are ten reasons why you should “turn on your radio and hide”:
The overall tone of the podcast is arguably its most distinctive element. Comparisons have been drawn between Welcome to Night Vale and H.P. Lovecraft, Lemony Snicket, David Lynch, and The Twilight Zone but, although similarities can be identified, no comparison comprehensively fits. Welcome to Night Vale is clever, comical, creepy, philosophical, adorable, gripping, theatrical, romantic, chilling, horrific, hilarious, minimalistic, soothing, reassuring, eccentric, and insightful – often all at the same time – and despite frequently being described as something-meets-something, is completely innovative and utterly unique. There is no single film, book, game, TV or radio show, let alone a podcast, that comes close to what Welcome to Night Vale achieves in atmosphere alone.
Welcome to Night Vale’s style of dark, witty humour is perfectly suited to Twitter’s 140 character limit, and @NightValeRadio currently has over 20,000 followers. The tweets range from puzzling to downright disturbing, curious to giggle-inducing, and are very similar in style and tone to “Today’s Proverb”, a feature of the end of every podcast episode (“A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A basilisk”, “Does the carpet match the drapes? No, it doesn’t. You’re the worst interior decorator. Please leave my home”, “If you love someone, set them free. Set them free now. This is the police, and we have you surrounded”). Each tweet is like a tiny snippet of the podcast itself and the account features such gems as these:
Welcome to Night Vale’s fan following has always been enthusiastic, creative, and devoted, but a recent surge in popularity spreading across Tumblr has resulted in a bright new Welcome to Night Vale fandom appearing.
The outpouring of recent fanart is incredible. Despite having no visual aids from the podcast itself, there is a surprising alignment in visions of what Cecil Baldwin and his love interest, Carlos the scientist, look like. Cecil is frequently white (although there are some excellent depictions of him as a person of colour) and blonde, wears glasses, a shirt and tie (many artists’ view of his attire shifted slightly with the revelation in episode 27 that he wears a “tunic and furry pants” on a first date), and often has kinetic tattoos and a third eye in the middle of his forehead. Carlos is dark-skinned, as stated by Cecil in episode 16, wears a labcoat or a plaid shirt, and his infamously “perfect hair” is generally intact following his run-in with “the barbarous barber Telly” in episode 3.
However, the fanart is not just limited to depictions of Cecil and Carlos. Work featuring recurring secondary characters such as Old Woman Josie and her angels, the Hooded Figures who lurk in the dog park (“Dogs are not allowed in the dog park. People are not allowed in the dog park. Do not approach the dog park. The dog park will not harm you”), and Khoshekh the cat, who hovers in a fixed location above the sink in the men’s bathroom at the radio station is also prevalent. One artist has even drawn up a detailed map of what the town of Night Vale could look like, using only references made in the podcast.
Music is a key feature of each Welcome to Night Vale episode. Disparition provides original instrumental music for both the theme tune and background music played in some sections of the podcast, which can be downloaded for free from their website. The theme tune, which starts during Cecil’s introductory “Welcome to Night Vale”, is suitably sinister, and the background music is remarkable for its fluidity. Whether Cecil is poetically discussing the void of the universe or cheerfully relaying a message from the radio show’s sponsors about how “the earth is eventually going to be swallowed by the sun”, the background music aptly enhances the atmosphere of the show without ever becoming intrusive.
Indie musicians are also regularly featured on Welcome to Night Vale. Towards the end of each episode, Cecil announces “The Weather” but, instead of the expected weather forecast, a song such as A Little Irony by Tom Milsom or Those Days Are Gone And My Heart Is Breaking by Barton Carroll plays. These songs, aside from being great music in and of themselves, contribute somewhat towards the narrative of the podcast; they always fit with the tone of the episode, often right down to seguing out of the previous spoken segment, and create a sense of familiarity in their regular appearance in amongst a story world full of the strange and unfamiliar, in which even Cecil’s voice is not a guaranteed constant (see episodes 19a and 19b).
6. Recurring Characters
The recurring characters of Welcome to Night Vale are perhaps even more intriguing than Cecil himself. Occasionally, another character’s voice is featured on the show, such as when Cecil plays a series of voicemails from Carlos in episode 16, or the Faceless Old Woman who lives in your home releases a series of statements in episode 26. Often, Cecil will quote directly from another character but, aside from these occurrences, the listener’s only experience of the other citizens of Night Vale is through Cecil’s reports of their actions. Through these, we learn that many of them have supernatural tendencies that Cecil so far seems not to possess.
There’s Old Woman Josie out near the car lot and the angels who change her porch light (she offers “to sell the old light bulb, which has been touched by an angel”). There are the interns at the radio station, all of whom die or disappear at some point. There’s Mayor Winchell and her impromptu press conferences, which often involve her “pounding the podium with her bleeding fists” or “vibrating slightly and staring at the sun for five straight minutes”. There’s Hiram McDaniels, a fugitive who “has previously announced interest in becoming mayor of Night Vale and is a thirty-six hundred pound five-headed dragon”.
The less supernatural-orientated characters are no less entertaining. Big Rico and his pizza place are mentioned in many episodes, Cecil’s vehement dislike of Steve Carlsberg results in occasional outbursts of “you don’t do anything except bring unacceptably dry scones to PTA meetings. Get it together, Steve”, and fifty-year-old Jeremy Godfrey is understandably upset when “the sound of chanting and machinery from under the pin retrieval area of lane five” at the Desert Flower Bowling Alley and Arcade Fun Complex interrupt his birthday party.