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 Interactive Narrator, who tries to reason with Julian that his ill-considered plans to win the staff's attention will go awry, to no avail.
The Orbiting Human Circus (of the Air) initially aired biweekly on Wednesdays from October 12th, 2016 to February 1st 2017 and can be found on iTunes, Libsyn, SoundCloud, YouTube and the Orbiting Human Circus website. The show went on an almost three-year hiatus until the second season, "Naughty Til' New Years," premiered on November 6, 2019.
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. "Secondly, the Past" reveals he feared to old watchman's footsteps because they sounded like his stepdad's.
- 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.
- Animal Motifs: Polar bears are rather pervasive throughout the show.
- Anachronism Stew: The show at least the parts that are Julian's dreams give off the impression that it is supposed to take place in the 1930s/1940s, although the technology and references mentioned throughout the podcast suggest otherwise.
- Artistic License — Biology: The Orbiting Human Circus often features animals that are capable of all types of things and is a pretty well accepted aspect of the show.
- Brainwashing for the Greater Good: In one episode, Julian told a story about his grandfather who planned to brainwash all of Paris to be happy. It worked, including on Julian himself.
- Broadcast Live: The Circus broadcasts live in front of a Studio Audience from a ballroom at the top of the Eiffel Tower.
- Butt-Monkey: Stagehand Jacques and Host John Cameron, to varying degrees.
- Jacques in not as kicked around as most characters who belong in this trope, but it is uncommon for him to come out of any interaction unscathed, literally or figuratively.
- John Cameron can not seem to catch a break, even when Julian is not ruining the show. His misfortune and emotional distress is mostly not played for laughs, however.
- 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.
- Duck Season, Rabbit Season: Between the narrator and Julian in "Secondly, the Past", arguing over whether or not Julian should make a heroic entrance. The narrator wins the argument in this way, but Julian only makes a timid entrance.
- 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 . . .
- Fictional Holiday: The country of France, where the show takes place, celebrates the fictional holidays Platypus Eve and Wind's Daughter.
- 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.
- Hypno Pendulum: Julian unintentionally hypnotizes John Cameron by waving his arms while singing. He later ends up hypnotizing all of Paris when showing an actual hypnotist how he did it.
- 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.
- Well, it was a boy in a polar bear costume. Who did not actually like him. But the real polar bears in the act did!
- 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.
- Mass Hypnosis: Twice. Julian hypnotizes the Orbiting Human Circus audience into a trance accidentally, and his grandfather (in a flashback) hypnotizes all of Paris intentionally to make everyone happy.
- Mean Boss: Subverted with Mr. Chounarde, Julian and Coco's boss. It is eventually shown to the audience that he is a very frustrated person who is trying his best.
- 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.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: For a show that takes place in France with characters that have been established to have lived there for a long time, Leticia and Mr. Chounarde are the only reoccurring characters that speak with a French accent. Anyone else with a French accent are occasional, one-off characters.
- Our Cryptids Are More Mysterious:
- A "Parisian Bigfoot," the Orkestral is a rare African bird that can mimic all 46 instruments of an orchestra (they choose not to play the viola).
- The Great Recitating Platypus of the North is a giant platypus that comes to sick and infirm children in their sleep and cures them by reciting poetry. If a child wakes up and sees the Platypus still there, they can make a wish that the Platypus will have come true.
- 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, it's obvious to his personal Interactive 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.
- The Show Must Go Wrong: Basically the majority of what goes on in season one, Julian always being the reason why in some way or another.
- Token Girl: Averted, in a way. Stagehand Leticia Saltier was the only reoccurring female character until the addition of the stagehands Lily and Margot in season two.
- 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."
- Waxing Lyrical: In "Thirdly... How to Disappear (Lessons I and II of III)"Narrator: A great philosopher once said... who am I? How did I get here? This is not my beautiful house! This is not my beautiful wife! The last two don't apply to the janitor, but the first part certainly does.
- 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.