Parallel dimensions, check. Multi-headed dragons, check.
But sentient and malevolent stone spires that tempt humans with devastating solutions to their most desperate problems?
To us, it’s fantasy, science fiction, or the half-forgotten remains of a crazy dream. To the citizens of the fictional Southwest town of Night Vale, it’s everyday life.
It’s also the subject of the podcast “Welcome to Night Vale,” where the mundane meets the insane and anything can happen. Listeners wanting to dive deeper in the show’s world of UFOs, spirits and levitating cats can do so at a live performance at the Civic Theatre in New Orleans on April 9.
“Welcome to Night Vale” emerged from the minds of Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor in 2012. Only a year later it became the most-downloaded podcast on iTunes, thanks in part to ravenous fans on social media sites like Tumblr.
2013 also saw the podcast evolve into a touring stage show in the vein of NPR favorites like “A Prairie Home Companion” and “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!”
After quitting his job to focus on “Night Vale” full-time, Joseph Fink’s fears that he wouldn’t be able to make rent were erased by sold-out shows in over 40 cities, including a two-year anniversary show that booked solid a 2,000 seat Broadway theater.
There’s also a novel on the way, which got so many pre-orders that it became one of the most bought books on amazon.com months before its actual release in October.
“Night Vale” features local radio host Cecil Gershwin Palmer (played by Cecil Baldwin) reading local news stories, weather, and traffic reports in a hypnotizing staccato baritone. It’s the kind of stuff that would normally lull one to sleep.
In “Night Vale,” however, even a slow news day is full of middle schoolers piloting helicopters to battle shady corporations, potentially illusory mountains, and the discovery of mysterious oak doors that lead to grumpy angels and to the empty insides of the House That Doesn’t Exist, where time moves at its own mysterious pace.
Episodes of “Night Vale” often verge off the beaten path when it comes to structure as well as content. A recent episode consists entirely of voicemails left on the answering machine of show host Cecil Baldwin by many of the show’s recurring characters: the handsome scientist Carlos, who only makes scientifically accurate jokes, Dana the intern, whose dopplegänger may or may not have killed and replaced her many episodes ago, and the Faceless Old Woman who secretly lives in your home, who calls Cecil to tell him that she’s in his closet listening to moths eat his clothes, and to remind him to stay out of her way.
The creepy deadpan comedy and unorthodox style of “Night Vale” have transformed what was a zero-budget labor of love between a few friends into an overnight success. (Repeated efforts to contact the cast for this story were rebuffed by publicist Bettina Katie Warshaw, who said they were “on the road” so availability was limited.)
This weird little podcast has turned series creators Fink and Cranor into businessmen, turned their actor friends into coworkers, and turned unsuspecting listeners into tinfoil hat conspiracists and accomplices in the communal imagining of a world like our own but where the unknowable is commonplace, deadly, dull and frightening all at once.
Then again, perhaps the world of “Night Vale” is not so different from our own after all.
“Night Vale” comes to the Civic Theatre on Thursday, April 9, at 7 p.m. More information can be found at http://commonplacebooks.com.