Speak Easy: Cecil Baldwin

<I>Welcome to Night Vale</i> unveiled.
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Cecil Thomas
Cecil Thomas

Illustration by Pablo

Three years ago, a friend approached New York–based actor Cecil Baldwin with an offer to narrate a podcast about a mysterious desert town called Night Vale, where glow clouds hover and dinosaurs occasionally attack. Millions of downloads later, the twice-monthly community radio program Welcome to Night Vale is a cult phenomenon. Their live show performance—coming to Taft Theatre this month—features music, new scripts, and a few mysterious hooded figures.

The podcast seems to defy genre. How would you describe it?
I would probably label it as comedy first, horror second, and for lack of a better term, existential fiction third. The humor is dark enough where there are moments that it can honestly be scary, but then there are also moments where the writing is so dense and beautiful that it can stand on its own as a piece of modern fiction.

Did you have anyone in mind when creating your character, Cecil Palmer, as the voice of Night Vale?
The first couple episodes, I really just had the idea of local community radio in a town very much like Twin Peaks. I knew that a lot of stuff this character would be talking about would be scary or weird, and yet there was a dry sense of humor.

What would you have defined as success for the podcast early on?
I’m an actor who lives in New York City. So for me, success is being able to pay my rent every month and making work that I’m proud of. Anything else on top of that is kind of gravy.

The podcast blew up seemingly overnight. What was the sudden fame like?
The gods of the Internet kind of went, You all. We’re going to pick you. It was very shocking and very surprising. My expectation of what it was like to have a career in the arts was a very long, slow burn. Then this giant eagle comes and snatches you out of the sky and takes you off track. It was kind of like that—weird, delightful, unexpected.

Will non-regular listeners be able to follow the live show?
You might think it’s profoundly weird, but you’ll understand what’s going on.

Welcome to Night Vale, Taft Theater, 8 pm, May 13, tafttheatre.org

Originally published in the May 2015 issue.

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