Welcome to Night Vale: Jeffrey Cranor

Barack Obama comes to Night Vale. OK, that's not true. But don't you wish it was?

click to enlarge Just an ordinary city hall. What? - YouTube
Just an ordinary city hall. What?

Welcome to Night Vale: Ghost Stories
July 7, 8 p.m.
$31-$40. Tampa Theatre, 711 N. Franklin St., Tampa. tampatheatre.org.

When I discovered Welcome to Night Vale, it felt like the mother ship calling me home. Some of us fly a quiet freak flag, and this one, apparently, was mine. I didn't realize all the awesomeness my life had lacked B.N.V., and I never wanted to be without it again.

How to describe the twice-monthly podcast? Once upon a time, I worked for a small weekly paper in a small, somewhat eccentric, town. OK, it was Gulfport, home of the "Live every day like it's a full moon mentality" and I still live there because it's as close as I'm likely to get to Night Vale unassisted by psychotropic drugs. Listening to Welcome to Night Vale was like reading every weird press release we ever received — and trust me, we saw some doozies — with a twist of the supernatural everyone's pretending is normal when it isn't. The publicity for Welcome to Night Vale describes it as a radio broadcast under the control of Stephen King. That doesn't do it justice; it's so much more and so much more fun.

OK, enough from me, because if you listen to Welcome to Night Vale you already know this and if you don't, well, go download a podcast or two and then come back to read this interview with co-creator Jeffrey Cranor.

I start with gushing about the podcast, then ask about his parents. People who grew up without podcasts often struggle to grasp the concept. I wonder if his do.

Are you like Chandler Bing to them — are they proud of you but they don't really get it?

NIght Vale is now a full time job. I don't have a day job anymore. Now I have to explain it less, now they know I make a living as a writer. Before I was making a living as a writer but I was using my day job to support that. Now I get, "Are you doing a show in Fort Lauderdale" instead of "When are you going back to grad school?"

Cranor has a journalism degree from Texas A&M. I ask if he looked into grad school.

I looked into grad school for playwriting; i is not a field in which you're going to pay your degree off. 

Did you ever work at a community paper, or intern? The press releases you read on the podcast... They sound hokey enough to be real.

I was a journalism major. I was a freelance theater writer for a weekly in Dallas. I was never a paid intern anywhere; my internships were just in college. Some of the Night Vale part comes from experience of doing that. Not the dying part. There's something way more exciting about the mundane life of an intern if their day ended with a glorious way to go out of the earth. That's a weird preposition. To leave this earth is probably what I meant to say. 

Who are your top influences?

This is not going to be very original. As I child I really obsessed over Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I liked how bizarre they were, how clearly written they are — they're really easy to read as a 9 or 10 year old they're adventurous without having a lot of action; they're scary without requiring later therapy; they revel in the absurd. It paved the way for ... things like David Lynch later in life. I've always loved things that aren't explainable. I've always appreciated David Lynch for this, I've always appreciated the first two seasons of Lost for that. Not even mysteries, just setting out images that just don't quite make sense. As a writer I've loved exploring that.

Who are your dream guest hosts?

We have the unrealistic ones — Barack Obama, Beyonce, these are people I would fall over backwards to have somebody like that on the show. We can always try...

There's always people we just sort of know, that we don't know personally but we run in the same circles. Paget Brewster, I think she's tremendous. She does a lot of work with the Thrilling Adventure Hour. The comedian John Hodgman. John Oliver, I've met the writers from his show. It's not a thing where we have so many guest parts; there's just a handful each year. We don't really go after a lot of guest actors, except when somebody happens to know somebody... which is how we met Will, he emailed us to tell us how much he liked our show. We said why don't we write a part for you.

What's your favorite conspiracy theory?

It kind of varies. I think because I'm from Dallas I think Kennedy is my favorite. In a lot of ways, it's the perfect conspiracy theory. It's such a scalable theory; it's one you can pull back to Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald all the way back to the Cubans and the FBI. It's not a single theory; it can grow or collapse depending on the storyteller's point of view.

Any theories you think might be true?

Any that involves extremely wealthy people hiding away somewhere. We can vary it depending whether they have a lizard face or live below the Denver airport. Do you know the Denver airport conspiracy? It's so wonderful if you have a couple hours of your life to give away, I recommend Googling it. In the Denver airport there was a really wonderful Reddit-stye conspiracy theory — there was one weekend when President Obama — there was supposedly [a comet] coming close to the earth. According to this thread that started online, President Obama [....] suddenly scheduled a speaking engagement near Denver, and then he was off the radar for a few days until the comet passed.

What's your favorite episode?

#67 It's called "Best of" and it was and we structured it like a classic clip show, while Cecil was on vacation, so he had a fill in host. We had an actor James Urbaniak play a fill-in host. The clips are not anything that's been heard in Night Vale — teenage Cecil, when he was an intern. We could play with how real life history did or did not effect Night Vale. We wrote it together, which is a lot of fun. It's a really beautiful-sounding episode. 

Random thing:

We joke about having Night Vale on Ice.

What to expect at the live show on July 7 at the Tampa Theatre:

We do it in the way a band might tour an album; there's some variation on it from night to night depending on which guest actors are available.

About The Author

Cathy Salustri

Cathy's portfolio includes pieces for Visit Florida, USA Today and regional and local press. In 2016, UPF published Backroads of Paradise, her travel narrative about retracing the WPA-era Florida driving tours that was featured in The New York Times. Cathy speaks about Florida history for the Osher Lifelong Learning...
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