It starts with a dog park. Not the one you're picturing in your brain as you read this, all green grass and frolicking puppies and smiling pet owners, but a dog park that no one is allowed to enter, other than the hooded figures that are already inside. There's an electric fence to prevent people from getting too close. In fact, maybe just go ahead and forget about the dog park.
This is the first bit of weirdness you encounter listening to Welcome to Night Vale. If you can accept this, you'll eventually meet a five-headed dragon that really wants to be mayor, a glowing cloud that rains down dead animals that is the head of the Night Vale school board, and a miniature city located underneath the pin retrieval area of lane five of the local bowling alley.
You'll picture all of these things in your mind and you'll laugh, because this doesn't happen in a TV show or a movie but in a podcast. Until, that is, you're picturing all of this in your mind and laughing in a room full of strangers.
Things are about to get weird. Night Vale is coming to Houston.
"It is the most ambitious live script we've ever tried," says Joseph Fink, who, along with Jeffery Cranor, writes Welcome to Night Vale. "I think it's going to be a really fun show."
The Night Vale crew is touring behind a different script than their last visit to town. After taking "The Librarian" on four different tours in 11 different countries, the group is crossing the country presenting a new script titled "The Investigators." Not bad for a free podcast about a strange desert community told through the local radio station's news updates.
"We kind of blew up in popularity in July 2013," Fink says. "Very soon afterward, we decided to do a live show. We sold out in five seconds. Then we sold out a second show. We had hoped to sell okay. That's when we realized there was a hungry audience."
While it may not rival them in size, Night Vale's fandom is just as passionate as those of any number of other media properties, be it Game of Thrones or Hannibal, and they do it without the benefit of TV coverage or Entertainment Weekly cover stories. If you wear a Night Vale shirt, it's only a matter of time before someone yells out "Beware the dog park" or "All hail the Glow Cloud!" Like all fandoms, the people have their favorite recurring characters and stories.
"We don't write to it. We write the stories that seem entertaining to us," says Fink. "Sometimes they incorporate the relationship between (the voice of Night Vale) Cecil and (his scientist boyfriend) Carlos or the dog park or the Glow Cloud, and often they introduce new things. We just keep writing things that interest us, and some of that really clicks with people."
This summer Welcome to Night Vale will turn three. Anniversary episodes are something of a season finale for the world of Night Vale, so fan interest is high about where the story is going as the calendar moves closer to June. This is a big year for the series, because in addition to the new tour and third anniversary, Welcome to Night Vale the book comes out in October.
Even with their success -- in addition to everything else, the podcast is currently #12 on the iTunes podcast charts -- there are those who wonder/worry about how long the show will continue. Fear not.
"We definitely don't have any plans to end it for the foreseeable future," says Fink. "We started because we thought Night Vale would be fun to do, and I think we'll continue to do it as long as it seems fun to do. I think even if all of our listeners went away tomorrow, we'd keep making it as long as it seemed fun to make because it's just a thing we enjoy doing.
"At a certain point it's going to end because everything ends, but I don't know when that will be."
Welcome to Night Vale runs April 10. 8 p.m. Cullen Performance Hall, 4800 Calhoun Road. For more information, visit entertainhouston.com.