Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink's sci-fi podcast, "Welcome to Night Vale," features a town where all conspiracy theories are true. Their podcast will be performed live at the at Varsity Theatre tonight. Staff Writer Elizabeth Beckman spoke to Cranor about the podcast's conception, the writing process and fan reactions.
The Daily Tar Heel: How did you become interested in conspiracy theories?
Jeffrey Cranor: We wanted to make something different. I think the conspiracy theory came out of this idea that there’s a lot of strangeness in conspiracy theories, but there’s a lot of structure and wonder in a conspiracy theory because it helps explain things that we can’t fully understand — we can’t fully wrap our heads around. So, we develop these elaborate conspiracy theories. And setting the show in the American Southwest, down in the desert, sounded like the perfect home of all conspiracy theories. So when he wrote that pilot episode, Joseph went with the idea, like, 'What if you had a town where every single conspiracy theory were true?'
DTH: Where can you find pieces of a real-life "Night Vale"? Do you have a particular location you use as backdrop?
JC: Not really. Just mostly the American Southwest desert — if you think about areas like Roswell. The desert is also just a place completely off the grid. There’s just not a lot of life out there. It seemed like the natural place for it. And Joseph also grew up on the western edge of the desert in California, so he had a familiarity with the terrain as well.
DTH: What has been the most interesting fan response that you’ve gotten?
JC: We get people telling us that "Night Vale," for all its scary dystopian vision, is very comforting for them, and it seems to help a lot of people with anxiety. We had somebody actually about a year ago — I had a woman come up to me who was around my age, around 40 or so. She pointed out her son at the show and said my son is 16. He’s autistic, and he doesn't talk to us much. He doesn't converse with us much. He hardly ever laughs at all, but when he heard your show, it makes him laugh. He actually makes us listen to it, so he can talk to us about it. So, it made a kid laugh who doesn’t normally laugh, and it made a kid talk who doesn’t normally talk, and that was one of the most touching things I think anyone has ever said to me.
DTH: You said this dystopia, where all of these conspiracy theories are true, is ironically settling for some people. Do you have any idea how that works for them?
JC: My only theory on this is that, you know, in the same way that "Night Vale" is kind of a terrible place to live, it’s kind of a scary place. So is real life. There are so many things that we are aware of that can kill us in real life. And in "Night Vale," it just seems surreal to us — that there are five-headed dragons, lizard people, whatever. And I think what’s calming for people is that you have this mostly single voice of Cecil (the narrator), who takes all of this awfulness and terror and kind of presents it in this way that is so matter-of-fact. The people of "Night Vale" are just comfortable with that, and I think the idea of people comfortable with your own anxiety, or hearing somebody else being comfortable with their own anxiety, has a really calming effect. That’s what I think is at work there.
DTH: How does the co-writing process work for you and Joseph Fink?
JC: We have a pretty set system that we use. There’re some exceptions from time to time. But 99 percent of the time in the podcast, we alternate episodes. I’ll write one, and Joseph will write the next one. And when we each finish writing the script and get it to the first draft, we pass it onto the next person and go back and forth until it’s in a place where we both like it. And then we send it to Cecil to record, and Joseph does the editing together — the sound files, the music and post it up online.
DTH: How has the voice in Night Vale changed? Or how has Cecil changed?
JC: I think in the same way we have changed — which is just becoming more familiar with myself. You know the pilot episode of the podcast exists as it was first made. We didn’t make the pilot and say, 'Let’s make a few more until we know what we’re doing.' We just said, ‘This pilot seems good. Let’s just put it out there.”
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