As we stumble, bleary-eyed into the third decade of the 21st century, we bring with us a world of political divisions, a climate emergency, and growing paranoia about our relationship with technology. On the plus side though, we’re at peak podcast. Very much the punk rock of the late 2010s, podcasting grew from a countercultural movement of content creators contacting directly with their fans, to a medium capable of launching phenomenons beyond any TV executive’s wildest dreams. Surely Manchester’s first podcast festival was our mainstream moment. Our Woodstock. Our Nirvana at Reading ‘92.
Early on in the recording of ‘Do The Right Thing’, hosted at Manchester’s Dancehouse Theatre, it was pointed out that this venue played host to Take That’s early rehearsals. Perhaps this movement of music better suits the podcasting craze – as we sat and chuckled at the quick wit of 5 very funny people, there was hardly a mohawk or a broken bass guitar in sight. Yet, of all of the heavyweight podcasts on Manchester Podcast Festival line-up, which included ‘The Guilty Feminist’ and ‘RHLSTP’, ‘Do The Right Thing’ is perhaps the most punk rock.
There’s a certain anarchy to the way that host Danielle Ward and team captains Margarette Cabourn-Smith and Michael Legge conduct proceedings. Ward provides a series of scenarios, from the pedestrian to the bizarre, and the two captains embark, with their guest teammates, on surreal flights of fantasy in order to decide how to do the right thing. While Legge’s persona is the most obviously volatile, all 3 are cynical, crass and razor sharp. There is excellent chemistry too, between the night’s guest panellists: BBC Radio 6 Music veteran Stuart Maconie and Toby Hadoke, host of Manchester’s legendary comedy night ‘XS Malarkey’.
Like any good comedy panel show, the podcast has a winning formula. The first round sees the teams try to guess what the right thing to do is in a situation according to a particular source. This always begins with a hilariously longwinded explanation by Ward – on this occasion, what started as a situation with a couple on the Titanic, ended with ‘so what is the best way to survive choking according to men’s health magazines?’ The second round is situations from the audience, which is a particular treat in a live setting, where you can see the sweat on the poor soul’s face whose submission is picked at random. In the final round, the teams must guest what a guest expert would do in situations related to their profession. For this show, we heard from a professional band manager (who had managing Bez in his long list of credits) – an appropriate pick for a city steeped in rich musical history. After all, we sat mere feet away from the spot where Gary Barlow forged his early arguments with Robbie Williams.
You may wonder whether it’s worth paying the price of admission for something that’s beamed directly to your phone for free on a regular basis. Indeed, even live TV recordings usually dish out their tickets for free, so why bother with a podcast festival when you could take a trip down to Media City to see a ‘proper panel show’? The Podcast Festival works because there’s a cultish sense of community to podcast followings. There’s a reason that Do The Right Thing didn’t work on TV and that the similar, far more streamlined TV show Hypothetical is far less endearing. Podcasts are long-running, uncut and often so full of in-jokes that episode 365 sounds like it’s in a different language (see ‘Athletico Mints’).
Live podcast recordings are thrilling for fans because it’s an opportunity to see the people that they spend hours with, in their headphones every week. The ‘Do The Right Thing’ live experience treads an impressive line, being able to satisfy their devoted fanbase, whilst also providing an enjoyable evening of comedy for the uninitiated.