Welcome to Night Vale 

Popular cult podcast, live in Cincinnati

By Tim Walker 

Photo: Cecil Baldwin will narrate as Cecil Palmer in a live performance of Welcome to Night Vale, May 13 at the Taft Theatre in Cincinnati; photo: Whitney Browne

Actor Cecil Baldwin has found his dream job, and thousands of regular listeners around the world are infinitely grateful for it. As the sedate voice behind the popular podcast Welcome to Night Vale, Baldwin plays a character named Cecil Gershwin Palmer, a radio show host broadcasting the news from the mysterious fictional desert town of Night Vale, a town in which strange occurrences, inexplicable portents and bizarre characters are an accepted part of the daily routine.

“It’s a small town community radio station,” Cecil says in a recent interview, “from a town in America where every conspiracy theory you’ve ever heard is not only true, but is treated as being completely normal. And that allows the weird and unusual to become everyday, while everyday things become weird and unusual.

“Our friend, the comic book artist Kate Leth, describes it as ‘It’s what would happen if Stephen King and Neil Gaiman started a game of The Sims, and then just left it running forever.’”

The twice-monthly podcast, which is nearing 70 episodes, is produced by Commonplace Books and written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. It has proven wildly successful since its June 2012 premiere – just over a year later, in July of 2013, it became the most downloaded podcast on iTunes, surpassing NPR’s perennial favorite This American Life. There is an upcoming “Welcome to Night Vale” novel, also written by Fink and Cranor, planned for release in October of this year, and the show’s runaway success has also spawned a live theatrical show, which began touring in October 2013.

The live performances have proven popular with the show’s fan base, and the shows sell out more often than not. Following a format similar to the podcasts, audience members can expect to see Cecil onstage reading news updates from the town, along with guest appearances, and live music from Disparition, who also provides the moody, atmospheric music used on the show. The live performances last 90 minutes, as opposed to the podcasts, which usually last about 20 minutes.

When asked about the touring show, Cecil says, “It’s my dream job. I went to school for theater at a small school in Illinois, and I’ve been a professional actor for about 15 years now. And one of the things that I love, in addition to working in the theater, is traveling. So this is a natural marriage of the two.

“The nice thing about the live shows is that they’re so intimate. Most of the time people listen to it on their own, in the car or at home, although many of my friends say they love putting the broadcasts on when they take their kids to school, because it calms them down a little bit. For the most part though, people listen to it on their own, and what’s great about the live shows is that you get to hear the stories that you’re so used to and you have this intimate relationship with the characters but now you get to experience it with other people. I think that’s kind of the magic of the live shows.”

Cecil continues, “So many podcasts exist, and they either exist as a functional nonfiction – Planet Money, Radio Lab or This American Life, which are all amazing – or else podcasts kind of exist as a lot of comedy, stand up comedians talking to other stand up comedians in an interview format, and usually for an hour sometimes, or an hour and a half. And some of those shows are really great, too. But we don’t really exist in either of those two worlds. We’re just trying to do our own thing with this material that we love to make.”

“We’re kind of out here on our own,” he concludes with a laugh. “At least until David Lynch starts doing his own podcast.”

Welcome to Night Vale’s 2015 U.S. Tour, featuring Cecil Baldwin, with live music by Disparition, will be presented Wednesday, May 13 at 8 p.m. at the Taft Theatre, 317 East 5th St. in Cincinnati. For more information, please visit commonplacebooks.com/live-events.

Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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