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Mandatory Redistribution Party

As it enters its second season, Sean Morley and Jack Evans tell us about their unusual but sensational political comedy podcast, a unique blend of comedy, frightening dystopian visions and 'radical left lore'.

Mandatory Redistribution Party Logo Season 2

As a regular listener of Mandatory Redistribution Party, what I enjoy most about it is its refusal to be kept in one box. It’s not really a political podcast. It’s not a ‘which guest have we got on this week to talk to us within a very narrowly-defined and artificially-constructed format’ podcast. And it’s certainly not a gag-after-gag-after-gag ‘straight-up’ comedy podcast, despite being headed by two stand-ups.

Sean Morley, based in Sheffield and a regular Now Then contributor, and his compadre, Jack Evans, from the other side of the Pennines, released their first ep (short for episode) in July 2019. Now entering season 2, the pod (short for podcast) has tackled everything from Marxist theory, sex work activism and antinatalism to tulpas (entities which are imagined into being, mostly by bored people on the internet) and the effect that ghosts could have on inflation.

Morley and Evans spoke to us about what makes the pod tick, how political comedy is so often trapped in the news cycle – and how Thanos from the Marvel universe is perhaps not the best tourism advocate for North Korea.

How did you two start working together and how did you land on a format that you feel works?

[Sean:] Comedy partnerships are rare and often short-lived since being hyper-individualistic and mentally ill comes with the job description. The idea for Mandos lived in our brain for years in hibernation long before it ever became an honest-to-goodness digital commodity. We both had the idea, “what if comedy, but actually left-wing?”, and felt the heat of that idea burning up our brains for at least three years.

[Jack:] We’ve been comedy pals for years, initially because we enjoy each other’s stuff and we both splash around in the weird end of the comedy pool/swamp/sewer.

There were a few prototype eps we junked as we figured out the production workflow and how to make something we thought was ‘good’. We wrote and performed a fairly involved two-hour live show under the Mandatory Redistribution Party banner, ostensibly for the podcast, but we hadn’t even put the pilot out by the time it came round.

You regularly feature 'explainer' segments in the podcast. Do you see MRP as part of a wider effort to make people aware of new ideas and raise understanding that there is an alternative?

[Jack:] I made the first few ‘explainers’ and that format seemed to stick. They’re fun to make. Both of us have attention span issues. In comedy you write what you find funny, so we applied that to the pod: make something that keeps your attention but still dumps a chunk of info in your brain.

A few people asked me where we get our ‘beds’ from...

[Sean:] To clarify, Jack means musical beds. Our actual beds were bought by our landlords in 1985.

[Jack:] ...when I point out we compose them from scratch and even alter the rhythms of words to fit, I suspected we were going a bit OTT. It's good though. One of the things we dislike about political comedy output is it’s trapped in the news cycle. I don’t think you can learn much from that. We mostly try to make eps that will hold up longer and go into bigger ideas.

[Sean:] Not reacting to the news cycle is one of the core ideas of the podcast. If all you do is respond to the sewage that’s coming out of the news then you don’t get enough time to develop your own ideas, but that’s where left-wing comedy and satire has been parked all my life. There’s centuries of intellectual history on the left but it all gets buried under, “Who’s the real scrounger?”, and, “Who really went to Barnard Castle?”, drowned out by the intermittent white noise applause of a Question Time audience.

Sean Morley BBC

Sean Morley.

That was pretty funny when Paul Mason talked about trying to form an anarchist commune inside the multiplayer video game Elder Scrolls Online. Do you have any other favourite and unexpected bits from season 1?

[Sean:] For me, it’s got to be tracking down the operator of the North Korea travel agency and having a Zoom call with him in the middle of the night. Nothing will beat the surreal experience of me being half asleep, trying to explain to him that Thanos from the Marvel universe is an unusual choice of spokesperson for someone trying to sell the Democratic People's Republic of Korea as a safe place to travel.

[Jack:] I clipped all the especially mad things Mason said and put them to a techno beat and he’s still not retweeted it. It was quite unexpected when weeks’ worth of episodes all corrupted and we had to pull a few all nighters. Some of the eps from that ‘chaos era’ are fan favs which is cool. Turns out the best way to make a podcast is at 2am, out of ideas.

The season 1 finale was a live stream. Covid notwithstanding, is that something you're keen to do more of, given the live interaction it allows with audiences?

[Jack:] Yes and no. Audience interaction is obviously cool as hell and I’m deffo looking forward to doing live Mandos again, but I think streaming and podding are different. The format changes how you present your thing, like The Thing (film, 1982) and The Thing (PS2 game, 2002).

If your podcast can easily translate to live streaming or vice versa, you’re not pushing the format – you’re being lazy. I edited the podcast ep of the finale and some of the most fun stuff from the stream had to get dropped as it didn’t work with audio only. It was awesome to get Freddie Hayes on as Sean’s tulpa but you can’t see a puppet with your ears.

Jack Evans stand up

Jack Evans.

[Sean:] I’m way more open to being lazy than Jack and I’m live streaming a lot recently as one of the nation’s burgeoning stockpile of housebound entertainers.

But I also don’t quite know how Mandos specifically would translate to a live stream. We add a lot of features to the podcast so it isn’t just two people talking for a long time – even though it mostly is that (it’s a podcast). We’d need a concept that doesn’t just turn us into two more Online Talking Heads™ and allows some kind of buffer for all the low-quality thoughts that we usually pulverise in the edit.

What have you got planned for season 2? Any big changes or new approaches?

[Sean:] After you’ve made an episode a week for a year straight it’s actually quite an involved process to take a step back and work out what makes it tick.

In approaching season 2, it’s more that we took a screwdriver to tighten up all the joins, rather than any singular overhaul. So terrified are we of making any changes that’ll dispel whatever alchemical formula has allowed what limited success we’ve gained so far, the aim for season 2 is: season 1, but more so.

[Jack:] For the first six weeks we did two episodes a week and I have no idea how, because this is what The Algorithm apparently demanded. Rough.

Near the end of last season, with the combination of scrambling to catch up after we lost a bunch of recordings, then coronavirus and lockdown, we were feeling really burned out. I’m happy with what we put out but we had no space to reflect or experiment. I’m pumped to get back to experimenting.

How can listeners support what you do?

[Jack:] We tried getting sponsorship from BAE Systems (they said no) and we fell out with the Argos North West Podcast Network in the season 1 finale, so if you are able and willing to support us on Patreon that would be very cool.

[Sean:] If you are fresh out of coins, please tell a friend. Tell an enemy even. The Algorithm doesn’t track enjoyment, just listens.

Please answer a question that you wish I had asked.

[Sean:] I’m very well, thank you. How are you?

[Jack:] Tiredness kills.

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