NoSleep podcast's David Cummings: "Recording in the dark is always a good environment for horror"


If you enjoy getting scared shitless, the NoSleep podcast is for you. Inspired by a subreddit of the same name that began in 2010 where people posted terrifying stories told from a first-person POV, NoSleep has become an award-winning platform for adult horror fiction. In the show's eighth season with a full cast, sound effects, and score, host and producer David Cummings guides listeners through the creepiest campfire stories you’ve ever heard.

NoSleep Podcast

The Cedar Cultural Center

We spoke to Cummings about the podcast’s popularity in anticipation of NoSleep’s live show at the Cedar on Thursday night.

City Pages: Why, in a world that is already so terrifying, do we need a podcast like NoSleep?

David Cummings: A lot of people are talking about that these days, about how real life seems to be pretty horrifying. I guess it’s just that people like the safe outlet. We sort of harken back to the early days of radio when there were scary radio dramas. It gives you a good thrill, like going on a roller coaster. I think people want an outlet for experiencing horror, but in a safe setting, and to have a little bit of fun with it as well.

CP: What makes a podcast the ideal medium for scary stories?

DC: I think the audio format in general is very powerful because for a number of years when TV and movies came to the fore, we began to experience horror in the visual medium, and that means that we’re seeing the monsters that the director wants us to see, which can certainly be scary. But when you limit it to just audio, you then put into people’s minds scenarios or monsters or what have you that they have to imagine themselves... By allowing the audience to engage in the story and use their imagination, as opposed to just seeing what the director wants them to see, I think it’s a very effective way to convey horror. 

CP: What elements make a good scary story? What would the recipe for a scary story be?

DC: I don’t know if there’s one specific recipe. I think what our stories have going for them is that most of them are written from the first-person perspective, which I think draws the listeners in and creates a real connection. They can empathize with that person and the horror that they’re experiencing. Whether it’s more of a supernatural or paranormal story, whether it’s ghosts or demons, or if it’s more of a plausible story – maybe it’s someone having a strange person stalking them down the street late one night – I think the fact that it’s being told by the person who’s going through the ordeal, that’s the great connecting factor.

CP: What do you do to get into character before recording an episode?

DC: Not to sound like a pretentious actor, but you do try to connect with who the character is and what they’re experiencing in the story... It’s really just trying to find what it is about that character that makes them creepy. And then I go into my little recording closet and turn out the light. Recording in the dark is always a good environment for horror.

CP: Which story on the podcast has terrified you the most so far?

DC: There’s a number of them. I would say one that certainly has had a lasting impact on me, and I would probably say for our audience in general, was the story called “The Whistlers.” It was our Season Five finale. It’s over two hours long, and it’s about a small group of people who go into the forest looking to find this mysterious urban legend of this group of people called “the whistlers.” They kind of get trapped out there. It’s very engaging, it’s very compelling. You’re rooting for them to get out. It’s that creepy paradox of almost a claustrophobic feel even though they’re out in the wide-open forest. That’s had a great impact on people, that sense of being alone in the wilderness and that mysterious group of eyes that are watching you constantly.

CP: There seems to be a preconceived notion that the horror genre appeals mostly to men, but I read that 50 percent of NoSleep’s audience is women. Why do you think that this?

DC: It is remarkable. I would agree; my initial thought is that horror is more of a male genre. For our show, there’s no question. We have a large following of female listeners. I know that we try to find stories which have female protagonists. We have a really good selection of authors who we collaborate and partner with who are female authors. I guess that’s the easiest answer: There are so many more female authors these days. They’re going to be writing things that they know, so we’re going to have female protagonists, and that’s going to be appealing.

Beyond that gender issue, I think it’s the fact that we try to have stories where there is a little bit of an emotional connection. They’re not the cut-and-dried factual reporting. These are stories where you can empathize more with the characters. The fact that you’re dealing with characters that are relatable, and because a lot of them are female, there is that sense of connection that the audience has and that’s going to naturally draw in a lot of female listeners.

CP: How have you translated the podcast to the live setting for the tour?

DC: It’s going to be a chance for people to get a sense of the way old-time radio dramas were presented: people standing around their microphones, reading their parts, performing their parts, seeing it in that live venue, having some interaction. Maybe there’ll be some laughs, maybe there’ll be some places where the sound effects will creep them out. We’re really just taking an audio-style presentation but bringing it to the stage and letting people see the process.

CP: If someone is reading this or listening to the podcast and thinking, “I have a great scary story to share,” can they submit their story?

DC: Yes, we do have a process where people can submit. We have a story editor who looks them over. They can email them to [email protected] We’re getting a lot more direct submissions these days.


NoSleep Podcast
The Cedar
7:30 p.m. Thursday, February 23
All ages