ECCC Happenings: Thrilling Adv. Hour & Night Vale
By: Terra Clarke Olsen
This is a great week for Seattle geeks (and visitors). ECCC shenanigans have the city in a blissful nerd frenzy, and I love it. Yes, there are a lot of events happening…so many that you might be overwhelmed. But whatever you do, clear your Saturday night and buy tickets to the The Thrilling Adventure Hour and Welcome to the Night Vale nerdtastic cross-over show! Presented by STG, this show is sure to be a geek pleaser.
If you’re not familiar with these podcasts, I highly suggest you check out their work. Though different in tone (TAH is more humours by nature, while Night Vale carries a more serious feel), they’re both reminiscent of old-timey radio shows. And most importantly, the storytelling is fabulous.
It’s no secret that I’m a huge old-timey sci-fi fan, so, like many others, these shows speak to my inner nerd. But I was curious to learn more about their creation and influences. Luckily, I had the pleasure of asking Ben Blacker, co-creator of The Thrilling Adventure Hour, a few questions about the show.
What inspired you to start The Thrilling Adventure Hour?
Blacker: My writing partner, Ben Acker, and I wrote a feature script about Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars, and had a bunch of actors we knew–among them Paul F. Tompkins and Mark Gagliardi–over to my place to read it out loud. Their performances brought unexpected levels and humor to the already pretty good script, and Acker and I walked away saying, “There has to be a way to do this on a regular basis, and for more people to enjoy.” We were just starting out as TV writers, and we thought writing a regular live show would help us learn to write for a schedule, write for an audience, write for actors, and otherwise hone our craft. We were interested in writing genre stories, and comedy and character pieces within genres, so the “old-time radio” conceit–besides being practical for the actors, all of whom are busy and find it easier to hold scripts than memorize ALL of the words we throw at them–lent itself well to playing in genre.
That was over nine years ago. We started the show in March of 2005 in a small supper club in Hollywood. We were there for five really fun years with most of this same cast you know and love today. In 2010 we moved to Largo at the Coronet, which is bigger and has excellent sound and a great reputation. Largo is definitely our home.
What did you grow up reading/watching that influences your work today?
Blacker: Oh man, everything we’ve watched goes into our work, especially TAH. To name a few: The Muppet Show, Ghostbusters, the Thin Man, The Princess Bride, Gremlins, Universal horror of the 40s and 50s, His Girl Friday, Kids in the Hall, Newsradio, Marvel comics, (a few DC comics too), Mad magazine, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Alien, The Exorcist, early Woody Allen movies, Bob Hope… the list goes on.
What challenges do you face performing TAH in front of a live audience?
Blacker: TAH was always performed live. It was a live show before it was a podcast. We spent those first five years honing the live show so we could eventually start recording it and releasing it to the public–which we started doing on the Nerdist network about four years ago.
But the live show is definitely a different, more immersive experience to the podcast. There is obviously an immediacy to the performance that can be lost on the podcast (though I think we do well capturing the looseness of the live experience on the recordings). Of course, there are always little things–physical bits discovered by the actors or our director–that enhance the live experience. But that’s why we’ve made a concert film! We want everyone everywhere to experience what the monthly audience in LA–and occasional other cities (such as NY on May 10!)–gets.
Why do you think audio theater has gained popularity the past few years?
Blacker: A number of things. Mainly, I think so-called “nerd culture” has led to a more open atmosphere whereby people are both more willing and able to embrace the sometimes odd, sometimes niche things that they find and love. Plus, technology has reached the point whereby these things are easy to record and easy to find.
Additionally, I think both comedy and “genre” entertainment are more widespread (again, thanks mostly to the internet). Audio theater plays well into both of these–our show in particular–and so it’s through comedy icons such as Paul F. Tompkins, Scott Aukerman, and Chris Hardwick (for example), and “nerd” icons like Nathan Fillion, Weird Al Yankovic, and Zac Levi (for example) that people have discovered our show.
For people new to this genre of entertainment, what TAH episode would you recommend to get them started?
Blacker: “Beyond Belief” episodes of TAH are by far the easiest to jump into. They are not serialized (though there is a continuity), so anyone can pretty much pick and episode and jump in. We recommend “Touch of Keeble” (guest starring Ira Glass!) or “Vampire Weekend” (featuring a mini Kids in the Hall reunion!) as good starting points.
“Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars” rewards the investment of starting close to the beginning and listening in order. We recommend “The Agony of the Feet” as a good early episode or “The Return of Croach the Tracker and the Introduction of Two New Important Characters!” (featuring Nathan Fillion as a space cowboy) as a good jumping on point.
After that– what do you like? Superheroes? Try “The Adventures of Captain Laserbeam.” Nazi-smashing WWII two-fisted action? Try “Jefferson Reid, Ace American” (starring Fillion). Time travel? Give the very weird, fun “Colonel Tick-Tock” a try. Nazi-smashing AND time travel? Autumn Reeser is brilliant in “Amelia Earhart, Fearless Flier,” as a time-displaced Amelia Earhart flying through time fighting Nazis.
We have fun.
The Thrilling Adventure Hour & Welcome to Night Vale. The Moore Theatre. 8pm. Sat., March 29th. Tickets online.