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In January, Queen Elizabeth debuted her own sauce brand, selling ketchup and English brown sauce. In February, a zoo in Stafford, England, hired a Marvin Gaye impersonator to serenade endangered monkeys in hopes that it would encourage them to “get it on.” And last month, Mountain Dew joined the ever growing hard soda game.
These are the sorts of low-stakes, head-scratching, and chuckle-inducing news tidbits that provide fodder for Everyone & Their Mom, a new comedy podcast from NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!, which tackles the things everyone and their mom are—or should be—talking about. (The podcast lives online and in podcast apps; it does not play on the radio.) The host walking listeners through it all is Emma Eun-joo Choi, a 22-year-old from Vienna. She works on the show in between seminars, dining hall meals, and everything else that comes with being a junior in college.
“I got a call like, ‘Hey, do you want to be a host?’ Which was crazy,” Choi tells City Paper. “Sometimes it feels like it kind of happened at me, because it was super unreal.”
That call didn’t come out of the blue, though. Choi has been working on her comedy acts since she was a little girl. “I remember when I was 5, I was at a family reunion sitting in a circle with a bunch of my adult relatives. And I was just making them laugh by rubbing chocolate on my face or something. And it was the best feeling. I think my whole life has been chasing that feeling.”
In high school, Choi would visit D.C. often, driven by her burgeoning interest in arts and literature. She and her best friend would visit the Library of Congress and comb through J. D. Salinger manuscripts, or watch National Shakespeare Company shows (“Me and Katie were, like, the only two people under the age of 35 at any given performance”). They passed on their senior homecoming, opting to eat pizza on 14th Street NW and catch a show at the Black Cat instead.
Choi swapped Vienna for Cambridge in 2018, when she started at Harvard University. She’s majoring in English. The pandemic interrupted her sophomore spring, and inspired her to take a year off from school. “Over the pandemic, I really, really missed doing comedy,” Choi says. “I wanted to find any way that I could keep doing comedy.” Yearning for laughs, she applied for an internship with the team behind Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!, NPR’s flagship weekly comedy show, in which panelists join host Peter Sagal in a news quiz and other games.
She got the job, and subsequently won the team over with weekly PowerPoint presentations. Choi was tasked with creating and giving the team a presentation on Wait Wait’s guests each week, but began filling her slides with cheeky news and jokes—a starting point for what has since become Everyone & Their Mom. “I just showed up with a PowerPoint on the first day, and everyone liked it so much that each week, it became bigger and bigger and bigger. Until one day I looked up at 45 slides of nonsense.”
Choi was only supposed to intern with the team for spring 2021, but they asked her to stay on through the summer, and then part-time through the fall, when she returned to Harvard for her junior year. That’s when she began working on the then untitled Wait Wait project. Choi was driving home for winter break when she got the call asking whether she would be the project’s host.
She’s the youngest person to ever host an NPR podcast. In the handful of episodes that have been released since launching in late February, she has brought on comedians including Emmy Blotnick and Vinny Thomas, celebrity chef Roy Choi, and her own mother—with whom Choi discussed her grandmother’s failed attempts to make kimchi.
A Korean American herself, Choi says she loves having Korean guests on the show. “I only recently embraced my Korean identity in college,” she says. “And I just love having other visible Korean people in media, because there’s not a lot of us.” That dearth, she says, is particularly evident in the comedy scene at school. “I have developed a real sense of righteous rage over the past two years about the state of comedy today, partially because I go to Harvard, and Harvard is extremely White-male-comedy centric.”
Working on Everyone & Their Mom has been a much-needed reprise from that environment, Choi says. “This podcast really made me realize that making comedy is supposed to be fun, which is really easy to forget when you’re actually making it, because it can be so tough … I just hope if other people see a woman of color, a Korean woman, doing comedy, it’ll help somehow.”
Choi says the 15- to 20-minute podcast episodes she’s currently releasing are just the beginning. She’s got ambitions for longer episodes and higher profile guests (Michelle Zauner, who performs as Japanese Breakfast, is her dream guest).
“I’m really excited for Wait Wait to become a space like NPR Music,” she says. “Tiny Desk has become such a cool place for young artists to get their first start in the world—Mitski performed a Tiny Desk when she had just released her first album. And I would love for our show to be a place where young comics, and comics who [may not] necessarily get a voice on NPR otherwise, have a space to reach audiences.”