What if, tucked away somewhere, there was a small desert town with supernatural occurrences? What if you could witness the wonderfully peculiar events and the endless twists and turns, through the town’s own radio station? Well, you are in luck: “Welcome To Night Vale” takes you on a journey into the strange world of countless creatures, bizarre interactions and heartwarming friendships.
Written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor since 2012, the podcast has grown into a series with over 200 episodes and three books. The independent production company “Night Vale Presents” has also added many more inventive fiction podcasts to the genre, including “Alice Isn’t Dead,” “The Orbiting Human Circus,” “Within the Wires” and the limited series “Dreamboy.” Fink and Cranor are on tour now with a live production of “Welcome to Night Vale,” and performed at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco on Monday.
Cranor sat down with The Daily to reflect on his almost 10-year journey with the podcast.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): For those who have not heard of “Welcome to Night Vale,” how would you explain what it is?
Jeffrey Cranor (JC): “Welcome to Night Vale” is a fiction podcast set in a strange desert town, told through the guise of community radio broadcasts. It’s a town where ghosts and conspiracies and secret police and things like that are all real. And everybody in town sort of accepts that as normal and moves on with their daily lives. So it’s a show about community set in a very bizarre place.
TSD: We heard that you are on tour for The Haunting of Night Vale live shows. Could you tell us a little bit about what the live show is about?
JC: About once a year we write a new live show and take it out on the road. This is the seventh we’ve done, and it supposes this: what if you had a homebuilding television show, like a Property Brothers sort of thing, but what if the house was already haunted before you’ve even built it? Ultimately, the show is about family, about what it means to live with people and how you get along.
TSD: What has it been like, coming back after the pandemic into the theater world?
JC: Getting back on the road has been amazing because most of us in this crew are theater kids. So we really have missed being able to put a show on stage, to step out on the stage, to have an audience greet you, to not just be only talking into the void. I wasn’t sure going back into it if we were going to even sell 50 tickets to a show. But people have been really coming back out. For a couple of hours each night, we all get to leave everything at the door and be in this almost delightful, but very scary, town together.
TSD: As “Night Vale” nears its 10-year anniversary, how do you feel podcasting has changed since the show first started?
JC: I really think when we launched the show in 2012, we were like, ‘Oh, podcasting is so packed full of things, it’ll be hard to even be noticed.’ Now it’s super, super, super packed. A lot of companies have funneled a whole bunch of money into podcasts: promotions or podcasts as vehicles for celebrities or interview shows.
It’s sort of a bummer that it didn’t have a long enough window as an independent world where more shows like “Night Vale” could get a foothold. A lot of the bigger media attention tends to be on like, what kind of bullshit Joe Rogan has to say, you know, as opposed to some of the best new independent fiction podcasts, about people who have something really interesting to say that doesn’t belong to a major media outlet.
TSD: I’ve always admired how natural and organic the storytelling in “Night Vale” is, and I’m sure you’ve inspired a lot of other podcasts to venture into the audio drama. Do you have any general advice for aspiring podcasters or storytellers out there?
JC: I think it’s just being willing to fail, and being willing to not give up but to move on to the next thing. I think some of the success of “Night Vale” is random, just because we’re just at the right place, right time and it really struck a chord. Obviously, I do believe that we’re good at what we do. But lots of people are good at what they do.
The way we made it came from years of doing other shows, plays, weird poetry, short stories and live readings at bars in New York City. You try a lot of stuff, and some of it works in an amazing way, and some of it kind of fails. Ultimately, it’s okay if you want to end the thing and then start a new thing. I cannot tell you how many projects I’ve left in the dust. I finally hit on something in my mid-30s in “Welcome to Night Vale” after 15 years of trying to do theater and other things. None of that has failed. So keep trying new stuff. Keep adventuring out there into new worlds of weird poetry or whatever it is you’re into.
TSD: On a separate note, something about “Night Vale” that also charmed me is that it is wonderfully diverse with POC and LGBT representation. How important to you is representation in creating “Night Vale”?
JC: We didn’t really think that hard about it. I think for a lot of people, if you grew up in a pretty homogenous town or homogenous world, you think it is an extra step to think through, “Am I making sure to represent all people? Am I making sure to think about how I represent people?” And these are questions we do ask each other all the time. If you do write a character of a certain group, you definitely want to make sure that you’re not hitting harmful tropes, or, you know, being shitty or boring. We got asked so much when “Night Vale” took off, “How did you decide to have a gay character at the center of your show?” And I’m like, we just never decided that. If you’re writing, it just seems sort of natural to us that you would just make sure that not all of your characters in an audio-only program — where you pretty much only have one speaker, our narrator Cecil — that you don’t fill your show up with people named Sue and Dave. So we just kind of mix it up.
TSD: What would you say is up next for “Night Vale”?
JC: Up next is hopefully at least 10 or more years of telling our stories. We do the podcast, and we do the live shows, and those are the things we have the most control over. So when we try to do a TV adaptation, it’s still an option. But, podcasting and live shows are the things we’ve loved getting to do more than anything else. Unlike a sitcom or something where the show resets every week, it’s really fun to know that Tamika Flynn is turning 22 years old this year. You have new challenges, new conflicts and new adventures for longtime characters. I don’t have to retell old stories. I can always make them age, make them change, make them grow up; they maybe get married, maybe they do something else, who even knows. That’s still really, really fun to do.
This transcript has been lightly edited for content and brevity.