If you are a citizen of the internet – and especially if you are a Tumblr user – you have picked up on the recent hype about Commonplace Books’ year-old podcast, “Welcome to Night Vale.” I’m not generally one to jump on to too many trendy bandwagons, but the fandom surrounding WtNV was so intriguing that I couldn’t help myself.
This podcast is phenomenal. I’ve actually only listened to six of the current twenty-eight episodes at the time I’m writing this, but I’m already beyond hooked. The show, written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, is hosted by the velvety-voiced Cecil Baldwin (whose character’s name is likewise Cecil), and the entire premise is that he is relating the news of the tiny desert town of Night Vale. Cecil talks very matter-of-factly about such issues as space-time rifts, mysterious glow clouds, and high school football players sprouting extra heads, giving the overall impression that Night Vale is hardly the normal suburban community it initially seems to be.
The combination of creepy horror and out-and-out comedy is my absolute favorite combination (I’ve been thinking about re-watching the Beetlejuice and Courage the Cowardly Dog cartoons recently), and “Night Vale” is finally some new media in this niche genre. And not only is the comedy delivered with a most impressive deadpan voice, but the jokes are continuously witty and satirical, out to satisfy the intellectual listener.
It is a complete mystery to me why this podcast suddenly exploded on Tumblr, but I feel very fortunate that it did, otherwise it might have taken me much longer to hear about it. Because there are no visuals, fan interpretation for the show is varied and interesting, casting the characters in a multitude of ways. And because Cecil appears to be canonically gay and the object of his affection is more-likely-than-not a person of color (his name is Carlos the Scientist and he has perfect hair), many fandom doors are being opened in terms of minority visibility in artwork and other media.
It is comforting to know that, even though radio is something that most people listen to exclusively in the car these days, there is a venue for truly intelligent radio shows to gain the notoriety they deserve. And radio can still be something groundbreaking, utilizing uncommon character types and chuckle-inducing satire. I cannot recommend “Welcome to Night Vale” enough; if it helps, I’ve heard the show described as “The Twilight Zone as narrated by Garrison Keillor,” which is honestly pretty apt.
So if you like the idea of a desert community fraught with constant unknown circumstances, canonically queer characters, characters of color, satire disguised as propaganda, and/or songs about waiting for the bus in the rain, “Welcome to Night Vale” is sure to be a hit. Each episode is about twenty minutes long, so it’s a perfect diversion while you’re driving to work or doing some menial task – but be sure to pay close attention, because the jokes fly fast and you wouldn’t want to miss out on a single silkily-delivered punch line!