Welcome To Night Vale is the combined efforts of Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. It is a surrealist/absurdist humor podcast about a small town somewhere in the Southwestern American desert where strange things happen. Fink (who came up with the idea) has stated he wanted to make a town where conspiracy theories were real, and have that be the starting point.
What they have created is a fascinating, funny, and often creepy world where cats can levitate, glow clouds rain dead animals, sandstorms render human existence meaningless and dog parks are off limits to everyone except the hooded figures. The podcast has clearly touched a nerve in the American psyche, it is currently the most downloaded podcast beating out popular favorites such as This American Life.
Preparing for this interview I came up with a bunch of intellectual/theoretical questions about the nature of Night Vale: about internal vs. external trust, fact vs. faith-based realities, how the ideology of the show is handled through linguistics, etc.
I was really excited to hear how the two creators, (Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink) would respond. After reading (listening to) other interviews, they both seemed incredibly considered and well-spoken and I was interested hearing more of their thoughts about the world they created.
Cut to me asking them these questions on the phone in succession, each met with silence and rather measured responses. It was unclear why they weren’t landing until Jeffrey Cranor benevolently mentioned advice from a fellow writer he recently recieved, “Don’t read anything about your work…because what happens is they tell you what you’re saying.” …Which I realized was exactly what I was doing.
So I closed my Word document with all my painstakingly researched questions and started just asking about the experience of it all: What their parents think of all this, how the tour’s been going, favorite compliments, weird experiences, etc.
Joseph Fink mentioned that one of his biggest regrets is that his father passed before hearing Night Vale and he thinks he would have loved it. Both men talked about how Cecil Baldwin (voice of the Narrator) has been one of the highlights of the live shows because his training is in theatre and how much more opportunity the live shows offer him versus the microphone in his apartment. They discussed fears of heights and spiders and flying, and how weird the popularity of the show was to them.
This realization about process gave me more insight to their creativity than any questions ever could: I came away understanding their philosophy that you don’t need to defend or explain your art to make it valid, or even have to have intentionality when you create. They have mentioned in other interviews that often what seems like a complicated planned plot arch is really the result of being stuck and going back and expanding on things they gave themselves earlier. For example, mentioning an errant Boy Scout troupe.
The show is an anomaly in form, in content, in production, in almost all aspects it is unlike other projects. When I asked them if they have unknowingly set any traps for themselves they both laughed and responded, “Probably.”
This complete blind trust in your own ideas- the resolution that despite not knowing why or where something is going, to follow it anyway, I think is in large part responsible for the popularity of the show. The world of Night Vale seems infinite but also incredibly sturdy in its own logic. This seems to be born from a fluid writing style that allows both authors to continuously give themselves gifts.
The live show is one such gift, it is a departure from form and an expansion of new ideas. This will certainly be a new and different ‘Welcome’ to Night Vale.