Sunday, September 29, 2013

Welcome to Welcome to Night Vale

Is this blog post real? Are blog posts even a thing?

I'm going to make you all listen to "Welcome to Night Vale."

"Night Vale", if you've never heard of it, is a comedy podcast. Not ONLY is it a comedy podcast, it is currently the MOST popular podcast in the United States. It's more popular than "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me." It's more popular than "Radiolab." And I assume you never heard of it. I hadn't.

So first, let's talk about why I like "Welcome to Night Vale" so much. The premise of the show (Created by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor and voiced by Cecil Baldwin) is that there is a town in the Southwestern United States called "Night Vale." In Night Vale, every conspiracy theory, monster story, and science fiction you have ever heard of is true. The show itself is essentially Night Vale's local radio news broadcast. Cecil's task is to report on things like school board elections and sporting events with crosstown rivals Desert Bluffs (we all hate Desert Bluffs so much....). Except if Cecil is reporting on the school board elections, he's probably explaining to you that the only person elected to the school board is the mysterious glow cloud that's been floating around on the perimeter of the town. If Cecil tells you that it's street cleaning day, he's offering you a grim warning to get off the streets's street cleaning day. 

And that's Night Vale in a nutshell. The show is really funny. Cecil's delivery is deadpan and recalls both NPR's milquetoast broadcast style, and old horror films. However, like good improv, the show is at it's best when it's grounded in something real, and deals with the relationships between the characters who live in the town. For instance, we know that Cecil is in love with Carlos- the scientist who moves to Night Vale on the first episode. The relationship between Cecil and Carlos is, in many ways, the bed rock of the show. The somewhat grounded relationship between the two characters gives the show the emotional heft it needs to make some of it's more ridiculous elements, like Hiram McDaniels, the seven-headed dragon who is running for mayor, not only plausible, but utterly enjoyable.

Also like a good long form improv show, Night Vale revels in taking a looong time with a good bit- allowing it to build piece-by-piece, episode-by-episode, before letting it explode into a crescendo of hilarity. For instance, early on, we learn that there is a subterranean city under the bowling alley. 20 something episodes later, we learn what the deal with that is.

Besides the fact that it's so great, the other thing that is fascinating to me about "Welcome to Night Vale" is the method by which it has become so popular. I heard about it through Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher) and Hank Green's (of vlogbrothers fame) tumblr accounts. The creators of the show aren't particularly famous. They don't have a ton of connections. The show wasn't featured on any popular TV shows, though there is now a PBS special about it. "Welcome to Night Vale" has taken America almost exclusively via good word of mouth. Basically, the creators made a really good, high quality product, nerds on the reddit, and tumblr shared it with their friends, who shared it with their friends, who shared it with their friends, communities were built, fan-art was drawn, fan-fiction was written, and now Night Vale is a thing.

If you like nerdy things, funny things, or nerdy funny things, you should listen to Night Vale. If you're a marketer, and you're trying to figure out how the hell things become popular on the internet (because I know for all of your bluster you digital marketers are still kind of flying blind) then you should study Night Vale's success. Regardless, I love it, and I hope you love it too.

Here is the internet place Night Vale calls home:

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