Radio shows were once a dying art form rarely heard outside of scratchy compilation CDs and community theater one-offs. The rise of podcasting, however, introduced a new format for narrative radio and got a new generation hooked on audio tales. In the case of Welcome To Night Vale, it was an old art form that clawed its way out of a grave and went back to working the night shift at the local library. The show’s eclectic mix of dark humor and surreal horror stops by the Pabst Theater on Monday, July 14 to perform a live show set in the strange town of Night Vale. Milwaukee Record spoke with creators Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink about their influences, success, and fitting in a live Milwaukee show between two big conventions.
Milwaukee Record: What’s the elevator pitch for the show?
Jeffrey Cranor: We’ve heard a lot of “where X meets Y” ones we’ve liked. My two favorites are “David Lynch’s Prairie Home Companion” and “Stephen King’s NPR.” It’s a show featuring a small-town radio station in a small, southwestern desert town where things like angels and conspiracies are real.
MR: What are the biggest influences on the show?
JC: Lynch and King were definitely strong influences. I like stories with a single person telling the story. It has a lot more to do with slam poetry or Spalding Grey and artists like that.
Joseph Fink: For me, Thomas Pynchon is a huge influence with his bizarre conspiracies that lead nowhere. It’s a meditation on the difficulty of life by creating meaningless bureaucracies to end.
MR: Do you split up writing duties in a specific way?
JF: Jeffrey does all the nouns and I do all the verbs, then we split adjectives. [Laughs]
JC: We usually take turns writing the scripts, though they don’t always air in that order.
MR: When did you realize Welcome To Night Vale connected with a fan base?
JC: We realized we had fans two months in. More people listening than we knew combined. Then we got on Twitter and Facebook and started tweeting jokes. Those got passed around, and more people started listening.
JF: Our server suddenly started crashing because of our following on Tumblr. I didn’t even know Tumblr existed before that two weeks last July when everything just blew up. We were still working day jobs at the time.
MR: Have any of the “sponsors” commented on your commercials?
JC: We received a very nice letter from CostCo with a picture of a PR guy holding up a sign that said “Future Site of the Night Vale CostCo.”
JF: We’re still so far under the radar of [big companies like] Coca-Cola that nobody’s noticed us. Besides, we don’t say anything bad about the products. Just a lot of surreal imagery during the commercials.
MR: When did the idea of a tour come together?
JF: We come from a live theater background, so it made sense to do it as a live show. We did a few before the blowup and we started doing more once we found an audience. Our first big one was at the New York Comic-Con. We did enough one-offs to realize that we could tour.
JC: We are also a lot better now at it than our first shows. [Laughs]
MR: What made you decide to come to Milwaukee?
JC: We have two big shows coming up: DashCon in Schaumburg [July 11-13] and San Diego Comic-Con [July 26, featuring a crossover with The Thrilling Adventure Hour]. We had an opportunity to do Canada between those shows, so we wanted to come back here and do shows in cities we’ve never been before. Our agent said the Pabst Theater was one of his favorite venues so we said “Sure!”
MR: What can the fans get at the live show that they can’t get from the podcast?
JF: We built the live show to be a live show. It’s entirely new. We come from theater, so it’s a script that works with the energy of a live show. It’s related, but separate from the podcast.
MR: What’s the last media you consumed? What are you reading, what are you watching, what are you listening to?
JC: Joseph and I both are currently listening to our hotel speakerphone. [Laughs]