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A Chat With the Star of Hudson Valley-Based Podcast Welcome to Night Vale

Photos by Veronica Rose unless otherwise noted

Host Cecil Palmer talks fans, local food, and why this tour, which stops at Colony in Woodstock, will be his last.

UPDATE: Cranor’s show is postponed due to coronavirus concerns. Until it returns, binge-listen Welcome to Night Vale on your favorite podcasting platform.

Since its debut in 2012, podcast Welcome to Night Vale has developed a cult following, if you’ll pardon the subtle pun. With spooky and humorous writing reminiscent of Twin Peaks and The X-Files’ most whimsical stories, it’s no wonder then that the series about a quiet little town where hooded figures and Lovecraftian nightmares are just part of daily mundanity quickly became one of the most popular and most downloaded podcasts ever.

Now encompassing three novels, including the recent The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home, along with four script books, and its own production company — spotlighting thirteen fiction and non-fiction podcasts including Night Vale’s own recap show — the series can only be described as an unmitigated success. The live show itself tours as many and as prestigious international venues as top-tier rock bands.

We were lucky enough to interview Night Vale co-creator Jeffrey Cranor in 2018 ahead of the workshop-debut of the cast’s recently ended tour, A Spy in the Desert. Now, with both Cranor and his co-creator Joseph Fink living in the Hudson Valley, we are lucky once again to be able to enjoy one of the very first dates for the show’s newest tour, The Haunting of Night Vale at Woodstock’s Colony on March 14, a tour that continues through more than 50 shows across the U.S. and Europe running clear through October.

Coincidentally, this show will be the last tour for the “Voice of Night Vale” star and host, Cecil Baldwin, promising an even grander performance and even larger audiences than usual. (The 8 p.m. Colony showing has in fact already sold out, necessitating a later 10:30 p.m. show.)

We caught up with Cecil to see if maybe we could convince him to move up to the Valley from Brooklyn, too.

HVM: With both Jeffrey and Joseph now living in the Hudson Valley, do you get up here often? Please say we’re becoming the unofficial home base of Night Vale outside of Brooklyn.

Cecil Baldwin: You know what’s funny? We [were] all New York City-based when we started the podcast, because for the most part we met by working with the New York Neo-Futurists, a theatre company in the East Village. Myself, Meg Bashwiner (who is the voice of the credits and she is also married to Joseph, which is crazy because I remember when they went on their first date), Jeffery was in the company, and Joseph was a writer who just enjoyed the Neo-Futurist’s aesthetic. Disparition (Jon Bernstein, who has done all the music for Night Vale), he literally used to live five blocks away from me here in Brooklyn. Now it’s like five or six years later and I’m the only New Yorker left standing down in the city.

Photo by Whitney Browne

HVM: Thinking of putting down roots here in the Valley? We’ve got great food. That’s usually how we get you.

CB: love upstate New York but it’s vast; it’s really vast. The more I go up there and the more I explore and visit Meg and Joseph and Jeffrey, I’m like, “Oh, wow.” There’s so much up here. Also, I have not owned a car in like 25 years. I think it would be a bit of a lifestyle change for me. I still try to make it upstate just for fun, to just look around and be a tourist as well; it’s beautiful up there.

HVM: The Night Vale cast and crew are notorious for their local food excursions. Have you found any must-hit spots in the Hudson Valley?

CB: My go-to spot closed: New World [Home Cooking]. Back when I worked in the restaurant industry, a dear friend of mine moved from Saugerties to New York and we would go up. I was actually featured in the 2014 front-page issue of the Saugerties Times for a zombie crawl with my Revenge of the Nerds zombie and my friend was a Something About Mary zombie, so that kind of dates us a little bit. But she used to work there and that was kind of my go-to spot for fresh, good, local produce that’s super spicy and the menu was always different. Especially in the summer, they had a beautiful garden, but I think they are no more.

Love Bites is my breakfast/morning hangover go-to and I think they are still kicking.

HVM: Spy amped up some really fun, interactive moments with the audience — something we know is important to you and the show’s creators any time you get to perform live. What can you tell us in terms of bringing that forward into this new show?

CB: I know about as much as you do, in all honesty. I know the boys are working on that script right now and I know we’ve kind of committed that every tour we take on the road we do not take the same show to the same place twice. Again, a lot of the roots of Night Vale kind of grow out of this Neo-Futurists theatre aesthetic, that theatre is an ephemeral thing. With you being the audience and me being the performer, we will never be in the same place, at the same time, having the same moment, ever. So why not take advantage of that?

Being upstate, there’s numerous New York City theatre companies that stage, and they do readings and productions and decide what’s going to be the next thing, the next city, the next year or whatever. But for the most part, their readings are works in progress versus what Night Vale is presenting, which is a complete show. It’s a simple show but, in that simplicity, it actually frees us up to play a lot more.

Yes, I have the script in my hand; yes, it is a staged reading of a radio show, but within that framework there’s moments for these kinds of real truths to happen. And Joseph and Jeffrey, myself and Meg, we live for those moments. And that’s I think why we have made audience participation a hallmark of the Night Vale shows — not audience participation in the stand-up comedy way where they’re going to point you out and make fun of you for a few laughs. Or like the musical Cats, where the dancers come into the audience and you’re like, “Please don’t touch me, please don’t touch me, please don’t touch me.”

We do audience participation in a way that is recognizing that we are all humans and we are all in this place and there is no fourth wall. The lights are on me and they are not on you, that’s the only difference. (And I have a very loud microphone.) But within that we play with the idea of just how much we can get the audience to respond back to me and repeat back to me. We did it like four times over the course of All Hail and every time it got longer and more convoluted. There were hand gestures involved and that was one of my most fun shows.

A Spy in the Desert was the first time we pulled an audience member up onto the stage and was like, “You’re the spy,” and then I told them a secret that, until we released the episode a week or two ago, only about 70 people across the world knew. And we had great fun with that.

It’s now to the point where the secret is referenced in upcoming episodes —I think I can say that. It’s a juicy secret, it’s a pretty juicy secret, I’m not gonna lie.

HVM: Fans are lucky to get to see you once a year, but each tour is enormous — all while you’re still recording two episodes on average each month and on top of any other work you book. With such a packed schedule, what’s one thing you never get tired of while meeting fans on the road?

CB: I think it’s just trying to make the fans understand that yes, I love coming to their town, I love going to Woodstock, Omaha, and Detroit, and all those places, but it’s still work. You can definitely have fun while you work but, for me, this is my job, it’s my profession, and kind of modeling that idea to young people is tough but rewarding. I hope they take a look at their lives and say, “Oh wow, I shouldn’t be living for social media, social media should be living for me.”

HVM: What went into your decision to make this your last live tour with WTNV?

CB: By no means do I anticipate an end to performing Night Vale; the podcast is marching on for sure. I just needed to set some boundaries in my life. Like, I would love to have a plant or a pet or a boyfriend or anything that involves being in one place for longer than two months. After almost six years of living my life on the road, most things people take for granted become luxury.

I love this show. This changed the trajectory of my life, I’ve met thousands and thousands of people all over the world that are crazy and interesting and loving, and crazy cosplay. I just had to pull it back from 55 to five shows a year. So, when people ask me “OMG this is the end of Night Vale??” I’m like, “No, I’m just scaling it back.” I do hope that I’m a part of live shows moving forward. I just need to pull it back a bit. I need to get a pet and spend time wherever I’m living and work on my own projects, in order to kind of enrich my life a little more.

HVM: Do you think we might still be able to hear from you as a regional guest star the way we do characters like Steve Carlsberg or former intern Maureen?

CB: I anticipate something very similar to that. I don’t’ know what the boys have planned for 2020 and beyond, and I don’t know what I have planned, but I do know that I just needed to touch ground a little bit. I’ve been living for Night Vale and it’s time to keep Night Vale but also live for myself a bit more. For the first time in my life since I graduated college, it’s nice not knowing. That idea really frustrates and confounds some people, but I’ve worked very hard for seven years on one project and it puts pressure off.

Maybe I’ll take a summer in Woodstock or go back to Tennessee and back to my roots, or maybe it’s something completely different. But I’m okay with not knowing my next move. I told my family, “If this floating period lasts more than six months, we should have a heart to heart talk,” but I think there is something kind of nice about being an American in this world and when people ask you, “What do you do?” you can say, “I don’t know.” We do define ourselves so much as Americans by how much money we make, it’s kind of nice to step off that treadmill and better understand who I am and what I want to do next.

HVM: What else do you have coming up you’d like our readers to know about? 

CB: I’m going back to my theater roots and doing a run with the Neo-Futurists in the East Village. It’s kind of a little bookend and it’s the summer, so I’ll be doing The Infinite Wrench with the Neo-Futurists in August, going back to my roots, making plays, writing and performing my own material, and being part of an ensemble.

The Haunting of Night Vale is live at Colony on Saturday, March 14 and features musical guest Eliza Rickman. Tickets are $35.
*This show is postponed until further notice.

Related: Welcome to Night Vale, Hudson Valley