I’m 25 episodes into a podcast called “Welcome to Night Vale.”
I’m hooked. Seriously. This is one spooky, dreamy, poetic, absurd, demented, quaint, funny, quixotic, far out show. Just look at all those adjectives I used! That is a lot of adjectives. I would have said it was overkill, except it ain’t. Welcome to Night Vale is a lot of stuff at once. And its earned that. It needs to be that way.
In fact, if it wasn’t so many things at once, then it would have drowned in just one description. It would be too pretentious, if not for how much it pokes fun at itself. It would be too silly, if it wasn’t so melancholy. It would be too artsy, if it wasn’t so sincere. They built a perfect Frankenstein’s creature out of sonic aspirations, and by Odin’s beard, they make me want to write a little more poetically because of it.
The premise for Welcome to Night Vale is simple at first, and then gets… a little bizarre. The show is just the simple community radio show of a small desert town named Night Vale. The host is your everyman Night Vale citizen, Cecil Palmer, who may or may not be slightly insane. But then, as it turns out, you’d probably have to be a little tweaked in the noodle to live in that wacky place.
In the very first episode, the City Council opens up a brand new Dog Park that they immediately forbid any person or dog to enter. In fact, you should make yourself forget that a Dog Park was ever opened. And do remember to forget the Hooded Figures that inhabit the forbidden Dog Park.
And it only gets stranger from there.
The real magic of Welcome to Night Vale is both the very poetic language that the show often slips into, and the very human moments that burst forth at the most surprising of times. The poetic language is when they… well, I suppose when they refuse to describe something in mundane terms. The show will describe an aspect of a thing, person, or place. And its always in the deepest, sometimes over-the-top way possible. They make you feel something. Which is very hard these days, and is a true testament to the writing.
The second part is how average they make the extraordinary, and vice versa for the average. 5-headed dragons can grumble about how crappy the government is, while in contrast, a bowling alley can have access to a subterranean city. This obviously appealed to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan in me. The hilarious mix of the mundane with the surreal.
And the narrator! The character of “Cecil Palmer” is the only voice you hear. The only grasp you have of this strange world you’re listening to, and what a tenuous grasp the character has himself. Cecil loves Night Vale. But he fears it, too. And might even secretly be more sane then he lets on, and sanity is a rare commodity in that town. (And to be perfectly honest, sanity is a hindrance there). I at times liked him, feared him, feared FOR him, and shook my head at him from time to time.
Kudos goes to Cecil Baldwin, the actual voice of Cecil of Night Vale. Baldwin does a sneakily great job. At first, I thought he was over-reading everything, and not showing enough range. But as you listen, the character he conveys with his almost word for word perfect pronunciation lets the listener draw Night Vale Cecil the way they want. This is how he works. He’s precise, methodical, cheerful, and professional. Even the description of Cecil leaves it entirely up to the listener to decide what he looks like.
The most description we got is that Cecil is a man, not fat and not thin, not tall and not short, has eyes like a human, a nose like a human, hair like a human. He also wears a tie, and has a hard to describe “smile.” If one was to boil that down even more, you could say he had medium weight, height, and features. Which is your run-of-the-mill human being.
So imagine my absolute shock and bewilderment that when some friends of mine cosplayed as Cecil (and another character named Carlos) at a recent Comic Convention in LA, that not only did random people figure out who they were cosplaying as, but literally pointed at my friend and exclaimed “Cecil?!”
What in the WHAT?!
Again, I remind you, the description of Cecil is a (maybe) white FACTORY SETTINGS HUMAN MALE.
I was dumbfounded every time someone shouted “CECIL?! CARLOS?!” And. It. Happened. A HELL OF A LOT.
The best reason I could come up with is that the fan community, as a hive mind, designed Cecil. His look. His little personal touches. The fact that the colors he wears are purple, white, and black. And that he wears glasses. And has tattoos on his arms. NONE of this was described in the show. But the fan base willed it so.
In my mind’s eye, Cecil went from a strange bizarro version of Ira Glass:
Which, come to think of it, is still kinda bizarro Ira Glass, but hey, its a compliment.
And because of this magic, my friend has designed Cecil in my mind… to a point. The show is still going, so who knows how Cecil might change in my mind’s eye. Welcome to Night Vale is an excellent show. With only 35 episodes as of this article, they have garnered a massive following, that, if they can keep up the excellent work, will only grow and grow. They already got interviewed by both Nerdist and Geek & Sundry. And they already have an East and West Coast tour of Live performance dates, of which I will be buying a ticket for a Los Angeles show as soon as they become available. Just listen to this show already!
They’re only a little around 30 minutes each! Well worth investing time into at least two or three episodes.
Well, I hope I swayed you with some of my sweet words of praise. But even if I didn’t, I know that I appreciate you taking the time to look at this article.
Good night, Agents of GUARD, GOOD NIGHT.