13 Mar 2014

I laughed, I cried: my visit to ‘Night Vale’

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“The past is gone, and cannot harm you anymore. And while the future is fast coming for you, it always flinches first, and settles in as the gentle present. This now, this us, we can cope with that. We can do this together, you and I.”
– Cecil, “Welcome to Night Vale,” “The Candidate”

nightvalelogo-web“Welcome to Night Vale” never ceases to surprise me.

The podcast, which tells the story of the weird little fictional town of Night Vale, is always funny, sometimes a little scary and/or creepy, and always finds a way to hit you right in the feelings.

In its brief history, the podcast has skyrocketed in popularity. First it was a harmless little podcast, then came merchandise and a book deal, and now the show is on tour and it’s selling out at nearly every single venue it hits.

“Welcome to Night Vale” has been touring the country for a while now, bringing along host Cecil, a musical act (for the weather segments, of course), and a few special guests. The show made a stop in Birmingham this past weekend, and I went with my best friend Hannah, who introduced me to the podcast.

For those who’ve never listened to the show, “Night Vale” is like NPR set in the Twilight Zone. Cecil is a community radio host and he tells that week’s news, whether it’s the community calendar (“Wednesday has been canceled, due to a scheduling error”), horoscopes (“Pisces: you’ve won a brand new car!”) or the latest on the mayoral candidates: Hiram McDaniel (literally a five-headed dragon) and the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home. The weather is always a song. Faithful listeners are familiar with the town’s residents, whether it’s Cecil’s boyfriend Carlos, John Peters – you know, the farmer, Old Woman Josie, intern Dana or Tamika Flynn, head of a gang of children who love to read and defeat the evil librarians.

The Birmingham show started out with a quick set by singer-songwriters Danny Schmidt and Carrie Elkin (Schmidt was featured as the weather in a previous episode). Then, the show started – and it’s even better than listening to the podcast at home. This episode they’re touring with now, “The Librarian,” tells the story of an escaped librarian – a terrifying concept in Night Vale. I won’t say much more to avoid spoilers, but trust me when I say, I laughed until I cried, I was creeped out but the ending – oh, the ending – just about made me cry. It was the kind of message I needed to hear, you know?

One of the night’s surprises (and I hope I’m not spoiling this for anyone who hasn’t seen this show yet) was an appearance by Tamika (voiced by Symphony Sanders). It was so fun to be in an audience full of fans who audibly gasped when Cecil announced her.

It was such a wonderful, fun night. We tend to complain a lot that the entertainment industry has run out of original, creative ideas – you know, movie remakes, tired song samples, etc. But then there’s “Night Vale.” It’s never predictable. And it has it all, from a bit of horror to a lot of heart. And I love that it’s in podcast (and now live theater) form. So much of the detail is left to our imagination; fan art varies wildly on what the characters look like. Not only is the show creative in and of itself, but it inspires its listeners to be creative, too.

Check out “Welcome to Night Vale” if you need a dose of out-of-this-world entertainment, and try to catch a live show if you have the chance. You won’t be disappointed.