This is part 3 of my interview with Joseph Fink, where he describes the live show, as well as discusses the fandom amongst other things associated with the show. Here’s a link to Part 1 and a link to Part 2, in case you missed them!
In each episode of the podcast, one segment that’s always a surprise is the weather forecast – that is to say, a piece of music selected by the writers in each episode that provides a nice interlude between Cecil’s monologues. Wondering if there was a thematic reason for each song in each episode, it turns out the reasoning for each one is much simpler. “Generally its just songs I really, really like. I have to just really like them. For a while it was just songs I’d liked for a long time that I reached out to those artists and was like ‘here’s what I’m doing, can I use your song this way?’ And then eventually we started getting fan submissions in and then we got so many submissions we actually had to close fan submissions and we had enough. I’ll have a list of like 25 songs that I have permission to use and that I want to use, I don’t necessarily know which episode they’re going to go to. Usually its not until I’m audio editing an episode that I tend to look at ‘what are the last few songs we used and how can I find something that’s different from that?’ and also, what song is going to fit the feel of this episode, and also length is a consideration. We try to not go far over 30 minutes an episode and so if an episode is running long a shorter song is definitely something I’ll for. So there’s a lot of considerations, we actually just re-opened submission for weather, which will probably only be open for a few weeks because we’ve already gotten hundreds and hundreds of submissions.”
This begs the question of whether or not there’s weather included in the live shows. Fink confirms that no show is complete without one, as well as giving us a brief running order of their live performance. “Our live shows always have a weather. Our live shows are 90 minutes with about a 25 minute opening set by a musician and then the live episode with a live weather during it. For our UK and Europe tour it is Mary Epworth who is a singer-songwriter that also featured on our show before. She’ll be touring with us for the whole tour.”
Going back to the writing of Night Vale, there’s a growing contingent of fans of the show who are going deep into the mythos and concepts held therein, perhaps best typified in this episode of Idea Channel. As it turns out, Joseph and Jeffrey are not only fans, but know the presenter. “The PBS channel, that’s Mike Rugnetta, Jeffrey sort of knows him, he’s involved in the same theater scene in New York that we are. So he’s actually someone I’ve met a couple of times. But yeah, it’s weird, definitely, that there’s literally thousands and thousands of pieces of fan fiction and thousands and thousands of pieces of fan art. People that have decided what characters that we’ve never described look like and dress up as those characters. We’ve done shows where there’s this sold out theater of people that are there to see this weird story we’re telling and that’s definitely a strange feeling.”
Keeping on with the relationship fans are developing with Night Vale, if you walk around any convention these days its hard not to run into someone cosplaying as a character from the desert town. Even at our own Arcade Con and Dublin Comic Con, it was easy to spot people donning Cecil’s signature purple ensemble and third eye. I, like many fans, wanted to know if any of these incarnations are close to how the writers intended them to look. The answer, like much in Night Vale, is that it only matters how you think it looks. “I don’t really see the characters is the thing,” Joseph states frankly. “People often ask us as if we have the answers and we’re just keeping them secret, what characters look like. The truth is I’ve no idea what they look like, to me, as a story-teller, what a character looks like is completely uninteresting. When I’m reading a book and they start to describe a character I tend to just skim over it because a character has nothing to do with what they look like, a character is how they react to things, what they say and what they do. And so, yeah I’ve no idea what any of the major characters look like, I don’t think about it at all. I have some visuals in my head of the world, to me that’s a little more interesting, like what the town looks like, what the landscape looks like. I have some stuff in my head about that, but that characters, to me, what they look like is completely irrelevant to what I’m interested in.”
With all the episodes available for free, and the live shows only becoming regular this past year, Welcome To Night Vale has begun branching out into more territories in terms of merchandising. There’s been a book and some t shirts thus far, and there are more Night Vale related goodies in the pipeline. “We have quite a few stuff on our topeteco store, we’ve got t-shirts and stickers and posters and a Night Vale flask now. Yeah if you go to our website and click on store there’s about 30 items or so. A lot of it, we’ve really enjoyed building this live show, that’s been a lot of fun, it’s become it’s own thing. This particular script that we’re bringing on this next tour we’ve done somewhere in the realm of 50/60 times and its a script that we’ve just honed into something that is a lot of fun for audiences and we really like performing it.” Perhaps most exciting of all their currrent plans, is that a Night Vale novel is in the works. “We’re writing a novel, it’s going to be released in the UK through Orbit and that’s kind of the main focus. We’ve gotten a lot of offers and people approaching us about other things and certainly a lot of them are interesting but since Night Vale was something that was always just us, we’ve always tried to keep it to something that we personally can do and do well enough to stand behind. Just intentionally taking on things very slow and only taking on things when we’re sure we can do them right.”
Talking about specifically the Dublin shows, Welcome To Night Vale have a unique duality coming up with their two-night stand in our fair city. With the Sugar Club, they’ll have less than 200 of us in an intimate setting to entertain, with the Olympia theater, they’ll be dealing with around 6 times that amount. When I asked if the difference in venue would effect the show, Joseph told me that’s a better question for Cecil, as he’s the man on-stage, but he did say that the audience’s energy, rather than its size, is what counts. “I think, way more than size, a lot of the dynamic of a show is audience energy. Are they super quiet, are they loud, are they excited, are they sleepy because its late. Stuff like that can really affect how a show feels way more than size.” I was quick to assure him that, given the demand for tickets, they’ll surely be dealing with an excitable crowd, though he did have one slight reservation. “Excited audiences are fun, though not when they’re drunk and loud. We’ve had that a couple of times.”
No promises, but hopefully not (seriously though, behave yourselves!)
As we were coming towards the end of our time, I decided to end on a conversational note and ask Joseph what podcasts he himself listened to on a regular basis. We nerded out a little over a common love of The Bugle, but Joseph’s tastes are broad. “Oh yeah, I listen to a ton of podcasts. I love The Bugle, I listen to 99% Invisible, which is a San Francisco show about deign that’s really, really interesting. I listen a lot to Comedy Bang Bang, which is always very funny. The Read is kind of a staple on Night Vale tours. I could list for a while, I kind of go through phases where I’ll pick one podcast and just listen to 10 or so episodes in a row and then go to a different one and then do that.”
And just to end the interview, I asked Joseph what fans could expect from the shows. “Its a show we’ve done enough times to know that its fun, its gonna be about a 25 minute opening music set, followed by about an hour long, sometimes a little over an hour depending, live episode, Cecil basically standing there telling you a story, but Cecil is a trained stage actor and he can really control an audience. We’ve done it all over North America, and people have enjoyed it there so hopefully it translates. I hope they have a good time for their money. That’s kind of why we enjoy the live shows. Its a way of making money from a free podcast and supporting ourselves in a way that feels like we’re giving something beyond the podcast for their money and so we really try and make it a show that’s worth your time and worth your money and worth going to and one that you’ll have good memories of.”
Judging from the description of the shows, I think there’s no doubt it’ll be a good memory for all in attendance. Welcome To Night Vale comes to The Sugar Club on 17th October and the Olympia Theater on 16th October.