Podcasts are to radio what modern streaming sites are to TV: the next step forward in the medium’s evolution. And just like with Netflix and Amazon Prime, the ability to string together stories for binge cycles or in bite-sized pieces is a key selling point for anyone looking to jump into a podcast. They’re perfect for when you’re on-the-go or when you’re looking for something to fill the background while you work.
And few podcasts have grabbed the Internet’s attention quite like Welcome to Night Vale. Set in a fictional desert town in the American Southwest, Night Vale is a comedic radio show about the bizarre events that transpire in that region, where every myth, monster, and conspiracy theory is not only true but competing with one another for total dominance (if not something worse than that). It is a terrifying yet familiar blend that resembles, as blogger Eileen Maksym puts it, “Lake Wobegon meets H.P. Lovecraft.”
With that said, what is it about Night Vale that speaks so profoundly to its audience?
A collection of our greatest fears and dreads.
Night Vale is home to a vast and unyielding cornucopia of terrors, from the visceral to the existential. It’s the perfect breeding ground for your classic Cosmic Horror Story, where humanity is nothing more than a witless mutation gibbering in the dark of an uncaring and alien universe. The best parts are where everything is more unsettling than gory in its description, like a face that isn’t quite right or anything said by Cecil to make you question your memories and your significance in the world.
Black comedy at its finest.
Cecil Palmer has the perfect voice for casually dropping hints about mass casualties at the latest PTA meeting or packs of rabid dogs attacking schoolchildren (who defend themselves with shadow government-issued assault weapons and nerve gas). Something about Night Vale taps into that part of our brains where we’re not always sure whether to laugh or shudder in terror. So we usually do both (or at least, dear reader, I do).
A magnificent sense of continuity.
If there’s one thing I enjoy as a writer, it’s seeing other writers follow up on their previously established jokes or characters. Hearing Cecil come up with something new and vicious to say about Steve Carlsberg, or filling us in on the fate of the barber who once dared to cut Carlos the Scientist’s “perfect hair,” never gets old. It’s not just mining for jokes, but the way that they give the audience a sense of the passage of time. And in a story where eldritch abominations and ancient conspiracies lurk in plain sight, Time weighs heavily on the small town.
A real sense of community.
The writers and producers of the show have done their job when it comes to creating a fully fleshed-out, All-American small town. Cecil’s descriptions of the various residents, both human and horrific, are oddly charming. Not to mention the fact that he has several in-depth relationships himself, including with Carlos the Scientist, Dana the Intern, Khoshekh the Cat, and the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your House.
Is Night Vale for everyone? Not necessarily. Some people enjoy a more suspenseful or grittier kind of horror, with lots of gory details, so this wouldn’t be their cup of tea. However, I find this kind of colorful lore engaging and I recommend it for anyone who wants some good listening material. It’ll make you laugh, cry, cringe, shiver, and think deeply about things you probably never wanted to consider.