Strange News
5:21 pm
Sat August 31, 2013

Welcome To 'Night Vale' — Watch Out For The Tarantulas

Originally published on Sun September 1, 2013 10:06 am

Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink have the news of the weird covered: they're the creative masterminds behind the popular sci-fi podcast Welcome to Night Vale. Though only a year old, the spooky Night Vale — which channels David Lynch, Orson Welles and H.P. Lovecraft in its descriptions of a small, weird desert town — has rocketed up the iTunes ratings list to claim the number one most downloaded spot.

Fink tells NPR's Jacki Lyden that he wanted to work on a podcast with Cranor, but he didn't want it to be anything like the podcasts he already listened to. "And I've always been fascinated by conspiracy theories. And also, to a lesser extent fascinated by the Southwest desert. Fascinating things probably happen there on a regular basis. So I came up with this idea of a town in that desert where all conspiracy theories were real, and we would just go from there with that understood."


Interview Highlights

Cranor on Night Vale's mysterious dog park

"It's a small community town. It has the mundane qualities of everyday life in small town America. As you hear more about the dog park, you realize it is completely locked down, not only physically, but somehow spiritually, too, you have no concept of what's happening in there, and there aren't even people in the dog park, just hooded figures that are in and around the area. So it sets the scene of, here's a mundane, quaint American town, sort of overrun by ghosts, or spirits, or conspiracies or underground societies."

Cranor on Night Vale and post-9/11 paranoia

"The paranoia, taking that level of panic and internal angst ... and turning it into the norm in society, I think that's one of the things we love about the character of Cecil [the narrator]. He gives a dry, radio journalist approach to the news most of the time, and he gives a sense of, like, that this is a normal way of society, that this isn't trying to create sheer panic in the reader or the listener, that we've entered dystopia. It's trying to take the dystopia model and actually make the people who live there quite happy with it."

Fink on maintaining a sense of mystery

"It's interesting, you know, the fact that no one knows what most of the people look like. We very intentionally leave off most physical description, unless it's for like a joke, like mentioning that someone has spider eyes or something. Other than that, we tend to leave out physical description ... so if they're faceless, we might mention that they don't have a face, but we don't really get into hair color or height, or things like that ... I get a lot of emails every day being like, 'tell us exactly what Cecil looks like,' and then a bunch of other emails every day, being like, 'never tell us anything about what Cecil looks like.'"

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

JACKIE LYDEN, HOST:

If you're just joining us, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

In Night Vale, a podcast from the twilight zone, so to speak, strange things happen.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE")

CECIL BALDWIN: A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep. Welcome to Night Vale.

LYDEN: Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink have the news of weird covered. They're the creative masterminds behind a popular sci-fi podcast called "Welcome to Night Vale." Though only a year old, the spooky Night Vale has rocketed up the iTunes ratings list to claim the number one most downloaded spot. Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink, welcome to NPR.

JEFFREY CRANOR: Thank you so much.

JOSEPH FINK: Thank you.

LYDEN: So I loved being in Night Vale, which is set in this desert town somewhere out there, maybe the land beyond Area 51. How did you come up with the concept? Joseph?

FINK: So basically, I listened to a lot of podcasts - so I wanted to work with Jeffrey on a podcast, but I didn't want to do a podcast that was anything like any of the podcasts I was already listening to because they all already existed. And so I spent about eight months thinking about what to make. And I've always been fascinated by conspiracy theories and also, to a lesser extent, fascinated by the southwest desert. Fascinating things probably happen there on a regular basis. So I came up with this idea of a town in that desert where all conspiracy theories were real, and we would just go from there with that understood.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE")

BALDWIN: Hello, listeners. To start things off, I've been asked to read this brief notice. The city council announces the opening of a new dog park at the corner of Earl and Somerset near the Ralphs. They would like to remind everyone that dogs are not allowed in the dog park. People are not allowed in the dog park. And now the news.

LYDEN: The dog park is one of my favorite bits. Where does this come from? Jeffrey?

CRANOR: It's a great set-up to the whole show. It happens right at the beginning. It's one of the - the first news item you really get about the town of Night Vale and sets the scene for the idea that it's a small community town. It has the mundane qualities of everyday life in small-town America. As you hear more about the dog park, you realize it is completely locked down, not only physically but somehow spiritually too. You have no concept of what's happening in there. And there aren't even people in the dog park, just hooded figures that are in and around the area.

So it sets the scene of, here's a mundane, quaint American town, sort of overrun by ghosts or spirits or conspiracies or underground societies.

LYDEN: Were either of you channeling Orson Welles or Ray Bradbury, Rod Serling, any of the places that have taken the American imagination to a little place that looks normal but isn't before?

FINK: I mean, it's, you know, there's this whole tradition in American storytelling of that, right, of the small town where everything's a little off. And so I don't think it was written with those specifically in mind, but certainly, there's no way of avoiding that influence when you write in that genre. The very first Night Vale thing I wrote, which is in the very first episode...

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE")

BALDWIN: Lights...

FINK: We have this piece about the lights up above the Arby's...

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE")

BALDWIN: Not the glowing sign of Arby's, something higher and beyond that. We know the difference. We've caught on to their game. We understand the lights-above-Arby's game. Invaders from another world.

FINK: The entire tone and intent of Night Vale is in that one paragraph.

LYDEN: One of the things you guys do really well, I think, is blur the line between reality and fiction. For example, here's something we've all heard before - if you see something, say something - and you turned it into this.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE")

BALDWIN: Remember, if you see something, say nothing, and drink to forget.

LYDEN: Night Vale, it seems to me, does tap into the paranoia that we're expected to take for granted in this post-9/11 world.

CRANOR: Oh, sure. This is Jeffrey. The paranoia of taking that level of panic and internal angst and turning it into the norm in society, I think that's one of the things we love about the character of Cecil. He gives a dry radio journalist approach to the news most of the time, and he gives a sense of, like, that this is a normal way of society, that this isn't trying to create sheer panic in the reader or the listeners that we've entered dystopia.

It's trying to take the dystopia model and actually make the people who live there quite happy with it.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE")

BALDWIN: The Boy Scouts of Night Vale have announced some slight changes to their hierarchy, which will now be the following: Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Eagle Scout, Blood Pact Scout, Weird Scout...

LYDEN: You've got a very creative cult following, as you are the number one podcast, and you've got the web world where people are creating for you - in a sort of crowd-sourced way - fan art, fan fiction, trying to depict Cecil, because, of course, they don't know exactly what he looks like.

FINK: Yeah. It's been very overwhelming, kind of, seeing the amount of work being made based on our work, because, you know, as a reader and as a watcher of television and as a listener to music, I'm very familiar with having someone else's work be important to you and be inspiring to you. And so to have that happen with my work, you know, to other people is a very weird experience that is kind of very new to all of us.

The fact that no one knows what most of the people look like - we very intentionally leave off most physical description unless it's for, like, a joke, like mentioning that someone has spider eyes or something. Other than that, we tend to leave out physical description.

LYDEN: Well, it's the faceless children who deliver press releases today.

CRANOR: Right.

FINK: Yeah. So, if they, you know, if they're faceless, we might mention that they don't have a face. But we don't really get into hair color or height...

CRANOR: Yeah.

FINK: ...or things like that. And so we get a lot of emails, and I get a lot of emails everyday being, like, tell us exactly what Cecil looks like, and then a bunch of other emails everyday being, like, never tell us anything about what Cecil looks like.

LYDEN: I'm more from the never tell us exactly what Cecil looks like.

CRANOR: Well, I think you're going to be more pleased with where we go. Yes.

LYDEN: But, you know, I'm just completely in love with the idea of the weather. That's one of my favorite parts of this.

CRANOR: Sure.

LYDEN: Let's hear the weather, and then I want to ask you about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE")

BALDWIN: And now, the weather.

CRANOR: Each episode, usually around two-thirds of the way through, Cecil throws it to the weather report. And each time we go to the weather, it is not a weather report in the literal sense. It is simply a song.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE")

BALDWIN: I give you the weather.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) I was pouring love, I was pouring...

CRANOR: Also, there is kind of that beauty of calling something the weather and then having it be something else. Anything can be a weather report if you just before doing it say this is a weather report.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LYDEN: What are you looking for, Jeffrey Cranor? Is there an overarching storyline that guides the podcast, or do you spin one episode off of another?

CRANOR: We do not have an endpoint for the show. We have a lot of ideas that we've talked through - an arch for Cecil or an arch for some of the things going on in town and things like that.

LYDEN: Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor are the creators of the "Welcome to Night Vale" podcast. Thank you both for coming onto our real world radio show.

FINK: Thank you, Jacki.

CRANOR: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LYDEN: And for Saturday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Just to recap: the president today surprised most observers when he said that while he has the authority to punish the Syrian regime for its use of chemical weapons, he will seek authorization before launching a strike. The president said he made the announcement after taking a walk last night. Congress appears to be welcoming the news. We'll keep you on top of further developments. In the meantime, thanks for listening and have a great night. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.