I jumped on the Welcome to Night Vale bandwagon last year, after it exploded on Tumblr. And the first few episodes were good and clever and creepy and fun. As someone who uses public transportation, I enjoyed singing “The Bus is Late,” featured on “The Weather” segment from Episode 2. And then Episode 12, “The Candidate,” changed my life.
[Welcome to Night Vale, a podcast about a small desert community that is home to hooded figures and mysterious lights above the Arby’s, is on tour, performing live shows along the West Coast. I was lucky enough to attend the Portland show on January 18th. This review will discuss episodes up through the most recent (Episode 39, “The Woman from Italy”) but not spoilers from the live show itself.]
“The Candidate,” Episode 12, is a fairly “normal” episode. Hiram McDaniels, the five-headed dragon, writes a blog post describing what he would do if he was the mayor of Night Vale. Cecil (voiced by Cecil Baldwin) takes this to mean Hiram has decided to run for office; Cecil endorses Hiram and contacts current mayor Pamela Winchell for her response. Hijinks ensue as the rest of the episode deals with Hiram and Mayor Winchell, as well as the issue of noisy sunsets in Old Town and a problematic Santa at the mall. (All of this is read/performed by Baldwin. Later episodes would use additional actors, but for these first episodes, it’s all Baldwin.)
The episode ends with Cecil calmly telling us:
Sleep heavily and know that I am here with you now. The past is gone, and cannot harm you anymore. And while the future is fast coming for you, it always flinches first, and settles in as the gentle present. This now, this us, we can cope with that. We can do this together, you and I. Drowsily, but comfortably.
This was the first but not last time Night Vale left me in tears.
I am one who can hold on to grudges, hold on to the hurts of the past, who struggles to move on and get over it. And now when I feel those old memories and emotions wash over me, I whisper, “The past is gone and cannot harm you. The past is gone.” And I try to work through my pain, and ask, “If it’s still hurting me, why is it in the present?”
Tumblr user Malacophilous made a beautiful poster of this sentiment, and others, and I have them hanging in my home office.
Since then, I have found other episodes I love more (19 A and 19 B, “The Sandstorm,” 25, “One Year Later”), but that episode, that moment was when I fell in love with the show, became a true fan, started raving about it incessantly.
I was elated to learn of the tour and that Portland would host a live show. I was heartbroken by how quickly it sold out. And then elated again when a second show was added.
I had no idea what to expect (a full script? A new episode? A previous one?) and no idea what to wear (I’m an old lady now, I don’t understand going out anymore).
I decided on a stealth Cecil cosplay. The show has not officially described Cecil’s appearance (other than that he is not fat and not thin, not tall and not short), but the fan art depicts him as a nicely dressed man who wears a lot of purple. I decided on a purple shirt, pin striped pants, dinosaur socks, and wingtips. In my head I’d be Cecil, and in public I’d just look like a person who knows how to dress nicely.
A few people did wear costumes to the show: I saw a Cecil with the third eye (not canon, but common in fan art) and an Eternal Scout. Lots of people in Doctor Who shirts. A woman with half of her hair dyed pink and the other half turquoise, arranged in a Katniss braid. Some Steampunk adventurers. And plenty of jeans and T-shirts, too.
The show was held at the Agnes Flanagan Chapel, on the Lewis & Clark College campus. It was a beautiful round building (great acoustics) and small but not too small. I stopped at the merch table first, thinking it’d be packed afterwards. I was hoping for a hoodie, but no luck: only shirts. I bought a T-shirt with the Night Vale logo and a Summer Reading tote bag.
The house was full but not packed. I took a seat in the last row of pews. The crowd skewed young, not surprisingly, but the age range was still large, from about 18 to 50.
The show started a few minutes late (I was impressed, since it was the second show of the night). A beautiful woman walked onstage: Meg, the woman who does the end credits for the podcast. I was so happy to know her name! She had a few announcements for us (it was okay to take pictures, please don’t spoil the show) and then introduced musician Jason Webley, who played a short set. Webley was “The Weather” on episode 9, “Pyramid.” His music was fun and sad, and several songs were accompanied the accordion. I preferred him live to the recorded song of “Pyramid.” His voice wasn’t quite so low and gravelly.
Webley did a short set, about 10-15 minutes. And then it was time for the show. Cecil Baldwin took the stage as the familiar theme music played.
Baldwin performed a full episode (one that will air later in the year, Meg informed us), with no props other than his script. His voice, too, is just as beautiful in person. There were interactive elements to the script, so I’ll be interested to hear how the final recording uses or doesn’t use those. The audience laughed and screamed by turn. It was fan-friendly, too, including many of the show’s favorite characters and places. The episode was funny and creepy and moving and perfect.
He was hard to photograph, though! Baldwin was constantly moving.
As the show ended, Meg informed us that we had 28 minutes until we had to clear the building, so we could use that time for autographs. We poured out of the hall, and I noticed the merch table was gone; bummer, I had decided to buy a poster.
The signings, however, were not to be held in the atrium but just outside the building. In the freezing (literally, it was 31) cold. I suppose there just wasn’t enough room inside. The ushers looked comfortable as they sat and stared at us through the tall glass windows.
The crowd thinned a bit, but still many remained. I found myself standing next to a group of college students, maybe 19, discussing the Oxford comma, and it took all of the strength I had not to interject. I jumped from foot to foot, each landing an argument: “Well, I am an expert. Well, I am some weirdo stranger. But I could add to their discussion. But they do not care what I have to add.”
The minutes ticked away. I was able to buy a poster in anticipation of my signatures. (I’m not including a picture because the poster’s main image is a spoiler.) The crowd thinned. It was now after midnight. Joseph Fink, I think, informed us they had to head out, so they would do a quick assembly line of signatures; no more photos.
In my head, I’d plotted out a whole scenario of what I would say. There would be tears. It would be meaningful. But my words left me and all I could get out was, “Thank you, thank you.” I heard someone else tell Fink, “I love you” and he replied, “Awww, I love you, too,” so I’ll pretend that’s for me, too. I did tell Meg I was happy to know her name.
Meg’s signature is clear; well the “Meg” is. And Baldwin’s is distinctive. Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor left me squiggly circles. The poster is now on my office wall, too.
So much of the art I consume, whether television shows, video games, movies, or books, is about courage and strength and bravery. Stories that are inspiring, that tell the audience, “You are important! You can save the day!” But Night Vale is not about people with super (or special) powers. It’s about the mundane in a fantastic place. That a regular scientist or a thirteen-year-old girl can be brave. That despite the darkness all around us, there is reason to hope. Because if the universe doesn’t care one way or the other, why not hope?
And with that, good night dear readers, good night.