Recently, I have been a very busy individual. In the short span of three weeks I travelled a grand total of 2,512 miles; that was only to the intended destinations and doesn’t include walking. Needless to say, I am fairly worn out.
I was a man on a mission though. Apart from the conferences I attended for school, I had one question that I felt needed an answer: who exactly is listening to Welcome to Night Vale? Previously I wrote about the podcast itself, spoke with narrator Cecil, and also spoke with Dylan when it was announced he would play Carlos. But these articles did little to answer who listens to the podcast. Luckily, I had the opportunity to attend three shows in three different cities to settle this question.
When I read that Night Vale would have live shows, I was more than a bit confused. How could a podcast, which depends so heavily on the lack of accompanying visuals, do anything on stage? Would the episodes just be acted out? Are there new actors for the live shows? How would this even work?
Tumblr answered some of the questions for me: no, it would not just be re-enactments of episodes by new actors. Cecil Baldwin would still be the narrator Cecil Palmer, Meg Bashwiner would give the day’s Proverb, and the live show content would remain just as bizarre as the podcasts. So if hardly anything changed between the podcast and the live show, why even bother attending?
I quickly realized that the fans make attending a live show special. Each venue was vastly different from the next: Atlanta took place in a huge auditorium, Louisville was smaller and more intimate, and we basically sat on top of one another in an old theater in Indianapolis. But that feeling of unity followed each show, the same feeling you get when attending rock concerts or fan-fests—everyone was there for the single fact that they love a strange podcast. A free podcast that relies solely on word-of-mouth for advertising and contains such characters as a male cat that floats exactly four feet in the air. In the men’s bathroom of a radio station. That somehow has a litter of kittens.
So I started asking fans what drew them to a podcast that usually makes very little sense, and there was a recurring theme. It’s weird. It’s random. It’s funny. It’s different. The more I considered the answers I received, the more I realized that these synonyms, in a good way, also describe the fans. The live shows were a chance to talk about something strange in a non-judgmental environment, where every type of person is represented in some fashion. The podcast contains gay and straight couples, teenagers, Arab football coaches, older characters, a band of militant revolutionary children, families of all sorts, characters with disabilities, a glowing cloud that somehow becomes head of the PTA.
And at each live show, there was an equally varied crowd. There were kids still in grade school as well as ladies in their sixties. There were gay and straight attendants, couples, groups of friends, hard-of-hearing attendees, blind and visually-impaired goers, parents, teenagers, various ethnicities and races. Charlie Krone brought his entire family to the Indianapolis show, including his wife and three children (ages 10, 12, and 16). And yes, even a glow cloud.
In speaking with Mr. Krone regarding his children listening to a podcast that occasionally is meant for older listeners, he stated that Night Vale is “socially liberal” and “opens avenues for interesting conversations.” He particularly enjoys the writing, which he described as well-written, brilliant, and colorful. “It’s fun to listen to something where I don’t know what a word means,” he laughed.
Ryan Dasher, who is visually impaired, prefers listening to podcast because it lacks visual images but enjoyed being around such a creative community at a live show.
Opinions about characters and events in the stories varied. Alli’s favorite character is Khoshekh (the floating cat), Ashleigh and Ryan never get tired of Cecil. Charlie has a soft spot for the Community Calendar and the Weather (which is never an actual weather report, only music from independent artists). Mostafa likes the alternative story telling that comments on real life issues, while Lexie likes the positive things said in the show. Each person I met was drawn to something completely different than the last.
The show itself is about twice as long as a regular podcast, and includes multiple characters. Just like in the podcast, there are sponsors and a break for the Weather. And for my .1% spoiler, don’t think you will get away with being a passive audience member.
There were common threads, however. Most learned about Night Vale through Tumblr, or were introduced through friends. Because of this, I turned to Tumblr and questioned fans as well, who had equally varied responses.
Stephen of Maryland overheard an episode while working out at a gym. Leslie from New York listed Tamika Flynn as her favorite character because Tamika goes against the stereotypical clueless teenage girl trope. Jenna from North Carolina identifies most with Carlos due to feeling like an outsider who finds a home in a strange environment. Hanna from Finland enjoys stories involving Megan Wallaby (a character that was, until recently, only the severed hand of an adult male) since they’ve shared similar feelings of loneliness and isolation. A group of Londoners are attempting to generate enough steam to bring a live show across the Atlantic. There are fans from Russia, the UK, Mexico, and beyond.
Welcome to Night Vale is more than just a podcast full of supernatural oddities, it’s a community. With few descriptions of characters’ appearances fans are free to create their own interpretations, so one drawing of Carlos rarely looks similar to another. Khoshekh the cat has appeared as everything from a regular cat to a lizard-like entity with spikes growing out of its back. Fans are free to create. Everyone has a different mental image of what the town of Night Vale looks like or the characters’ races and appearances. And yet, no one is told they are wrong. Everyone’s interpretation is correct.
For many of us, we are bombarded with negativity. Our art is criticized, our ideas are shot down, we are overlooked, forgotten, and ignored. But in this rapidly growing community we are encouraged to go wild with our imaginations, something that many of us have not heard in years. No single person’s interpretation of Night Vale is better or worse than another’s, and that unites hundreds of thousands of individuals from all over the world. There are no politics outside those within the plot, and everyone is allowed to be unique. And that uniqueness is what makes Night Vale fans awesome.
Oh yeah, almost forgot. This group kept popping up at the shows, no idea what that’s about:
For tickets to Welcome to Night Vale, visit the live show listings here. Also be sure to follow @NightValeRadio on Twitter for show updates and daily words of absurdity. To hear a completed tour episode, visit this site to give some pocket change (or more) to help keep the show going.