The Orbiting Human Circus (of the Air) is a serial Surreal Humor podcast from the Night Vale Presents network, created by Julian Koster. It follows Julian, a lonely janitor whose fondest wish is to be promoted to on-air talent in the eponymous Orbiting Human Circus, a mysterious, glamorous radio variety show transmitted from a ballroom at the very top of the Eiffel Tower. Julian is accompanied in his adventures by his own personal Narrator, who tries to reason with Julian that his ill-considered plans to win the staff's attention will go awry, to no avail.
Contains examples of:
- Abusive Parents: Julian's stepfather used to hit him, and one time hit him so hard on the side of the head it's possible he gave Julian brain damage.
- Air-Vent Passageway: Episode 1 opens with Julian's Narrator describing Julian having managed to get backstage by holing up in a heating duct, preparing to sneak into the Circus's ballroom studio for the third time in a week.
- Broadcast Live: The Circus broadcasts live in front of a Studio Audience from a ballroom at the top of the Eiffel Tower.
- Cool Old Guy: Julian's grandfather, a magician and hypnotist, who looked after Julian as a kid when Julian ran away from home.
- Closet Sublet: Julian the Janitor lives in his janitorial closet in the Eiffel Tower.
- Downer Ending: The end of season one reveals that Julian has imagined the radio show and the ballroom at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Though it seems he may have successfully wished his imaginary audience (us) into existence.
- The Eiffel Tower Effect: The promo art makes a point of highlighting the Eiffel Tower in its skyline to establish the podcast's setting.
- Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Julian's Wicked Stepfather boxed Julian's ear so hard it bled on catching him hiding in the basement, pretending to put on a radio show with a tape machine instead of cleaning house.
- Fetal Position Rebirth: In Episode 1, Julian's Narrator draws attention to the posture Julian's taken in a "womb-like" Air-Vent Passageway, blatantly pointing out that Julian is going to be born into the role of protagonist from this moment on.Narrator: ... a small figure lies curled, appropriately, in a fetal position waiting to emerge, as if he were the main character of a show, about to be born! Metaphorically, that is . . .
- Gay Paree: The setting is not only Paris, but the very inside of the Eiffel Tower, where Julian lives and works and where the Circus is produced and broadcast.
- The Host: John Cameron presides over the Orbiting Human Circus and resents Julian's repeated attempts to get on-air.
- I'm a Humanitarian: In Episode 1, the Circus airs a story segment, "Goolsby and Rue" where an Englishwoman recounts discovering as a girl that prominent barristers indulged in secret cannibalism during celebratory dinners.
- Interactive Narrator: Julian the Janitor has a personal narrator of his actions who, paradoxically, is entirely aware of his nature as a construct of Julian's mind, but often questions Julian about his reasoning and comments, helplessly, on Julian's poor decisions.Narrator: Who is this personality, who has gone so far as to imagine a narrator, to keep him company announcing the events of his life, as if he were the star of screen, stage or story?
Julian: God, you make me sound like such a freak! Everyone should have a narrator.
Narrator: Thank you. But...don't go in there!
- Interspecies Romance: Apparently, Julian's first boyfriend was a polar bear.
- It Was All A Dream: The final episode of the first season reveals Julian imagined the entire Circus.
- In an earlier episode, Julian finally gets to perform in the Circus. Actually, he's just hypnotised and everybody is laughing at him.
- Large Ham Radio: While Julian's delivery is halting, meek, and muted even in the presence of a microphone, his personal Interactive Narrator, a manifestation of his desire to perform on the radio, is as smooth, polished and floridly emotive as Julian wishes he could be.
- John Cameron, the Circus's host, too.
- Lighter and Softer: Compared to the other podcasts in the Night Vale network, this show doesn't dwell on dystopian governments or eldritch horror.
- Literary Allusion Title: The title The Orbiting Human Circus (of the Air) appears to be modelled after Golden Age Radio Drama The Mercury Theatre on the Air.
- Narrating the Present: Julian's personal Interactive Narrator always uses the present tense when relating the action that happens to and around Julian in real-time.Narrator: ... curled deep inside this heating duct, claustrophobic and alone, hides Julian, janitor here at the Eiffel Tower, who secretly dreams of being on the radio.
- No OSHA Compliance
- To stop Julian from getting onstage, the management chain a polar bear to John Cameron's microphone.
- Julian cleans the outside of the tower with no safety ropes.
- Plucky Comic Relief: Julian desperately wants to take on the role of a wacky, drop-in character. His engineered attempts to be Pushed in Front of the Audience don't help, as his Interactive Narrator points out:Julian: All those old radio shows like Jack Benny, they all had these crazy characters who'd come crashing in, and everybody would laugh, and...and applaud.
Narrator: Yes, but those things were planned, those people were actors, they were—
Julian: I know...funny.
- Product Placement: "Guest vocalist" Romica the Singing Saw appears to be the Circus's in-show promotion of its sponsor, Samuel Saws, which is reaping the benefits of the Circus's popularity.
- Pushed in Front of the Audience: Zigzagged. While Julian may repeatedly find himself falling from catwalks and otherwise bumbling onstage when the show is on-air, its obvious to his personal Narrator that Julian is really hoping to Invoke an opportunity to ingratiate himself with the staff and audience as Plucky Comic Relief. It hasn't worked yet.
- Radio Voice: In Episode 1, as a radio listener searches through stations and the Circus opens its show, the "on-air" audio acquires a mildly tinny, distant quality, including Julian's interruption and the ad break The Host cuts to as a result. Throughout, Julian's Interactive Narrator recounts the proceedings in clearer tones, including Julian's forcible removal from the stage and its concealment from listeners by the ad break.
- Reality Warper: The ending to Season 1 has Julian will his imaginary audience (the podcast listeners) into existence . . . somehow.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: John Cameron can get very angry—especially with Julian—but only because he cares so much about the Circus.
- Show Within a Show
- Julian the Janitor works at the Orbiting Human Circus (of the Air) a radio variety show broadcast from a ballroom atop the Eiffel Tower.
- As a closing act, The Circus airs prerecorded spoken story segments as "featured presentations" within its own format. Episode 1 has "Goolsby and Rue" where an older Englishwoman tells of discovering that her mother's employers are cannibals.
- Special Guest: Episode 1 has "Guest vocalist Romica, the extraordinary singing saw!"
- Straight Gay: Like Cecil, Alice, and Hester before him, Julian's a gay person with few to no stereotypically gay mannerisms.
- Studio Audience: The Circus has a live audience in the broadcast ballroom, who can be heard laughing and applauding at key moments.
- Troubled Fetal Position: In Episode 1, Julian adopts a miserable fetal posture in the aftermath of his latest failed interruption of the Circus, mirroring his Fetal Position Rebirth at the episode's beginning.Narrator: Curled in a ball in the janitor's closet in which he lives, lies Julian, janitor at the Eiffel Tower, crying.
Julian: I'm not crying!
- Variety Show: The Circus's format includes musical numbers by bizarre animals and inanimate objects, novelty acts, and prerecorded spoken "true story" segments as closing "feature presentations."
- Wicked Stepfather: Julian tells his Narrator of times when his stepfather would discover him hiding in the basement and pretending to record a radio show on a tape machine rather than cleaning, and lift him by the hair, or box his ear until it bled and rang. It's strongly implied that Julian was otherwise expected to spend all his time cleaning house.