What do the inventors of the Squatty Potty, regional director for the Fish & Wildlife Service Matt Hogan, and comedian Ashley Ray have in common? They’ve all appeared on Everyone & Their Mom, NPR’s new companion show to Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!.
The comedy podcast is pithy, only ever lasting for about 15 or 20 minutes, and focuses on some topical (and usually very silly) subject, whether it be a discovery about the dinosaurs’ demise or Hard Mountain Dew. Emma Eun-joo Choi, the broadcaster’s first Gen Z podcast host, riffs with a comedian on the topic at hand before going off on entertaining tangents with a wide array of guests. For example, the “Everyone & Roy Choi” episode starts off with Emma Choi and Josh Gondelman discussing Queen Elizabeth’s new line of sauces, but soon veers into an examination of why Choi’s grandmother has struggled to perfect her kimchi recipe. It’s the sort of podcast that keeps it light, but still manages to have a whole lot of heart, thanks to Choi’s bubbly demeanor and comic sensibilities.
Choi herself describes the podcast as having “little sister vibes” when she Zooms me from a dorm room in Harvard, where she’s studying English.
“Everyone’s like, You’re Wait Wait’s cool little sister. But I’m like, I’ve never thought of myself as cool. So I’m like the little sister who just wants to talk to all the adults at the dinner party, you know. Just kind of always been my thing,” Choi explains.
Choi’s been a lifelong fan of comedy, in part because it expanded her horizons beyond her native northern Virginia.
“I was always a very quirky, precocious kid who just loved making people laugh. I’m also the middle child, and the stereotype is like, we’re always looking for attention or looking to be noticed,” she muses.
Growing up, she wanted to be everything from an inventor to a Broadway actor to Mindy Kaling. Radio was not a particular dream of hers, but joining NPR as an intern for Wait Wait made sense for the burgeoning comic and writer.
“There’s no such thing as a comedy internship, because you have to know someone in the writers room and then become a writer’s assistant. So like, this was the first comedy internship that really seemed feasible, and I love NPR,” she says.
After being renewed as a temp, Choi and her colleagues worked to develop a new podcast, which eventually became Everyone & Their Mom. She did the credits for the pilot and co-hosted the second pilot, and the Wait Wait team pushed for her to be the host proper.
“It was really awesome the way that Wait Wait really rallied behind me and supported me and vouched for me to the uppers and being like, We want to try this. So it ended up being like a big experiment. I feel super grateful for that,” Choi gushes.
Choi jokes that she must have a Mary-Kate and Ashley twin thing going on in order to get everything done, but thankfully she and her co-workers have worked to ensure she can host the podcast while still attending college. They schedule around her classes, keep her work virtual, and plan to record an evergreen episode in advance of her finals week. Beyond accommodating her college work, Choi praises her mentors at NPR for trusting her.
“I think you realize as a creator that the people who have let me do me have been the most powerful influences in my life,” she says. She considers all of the Wait Wait team her mentors, but especially appreciates the support and advice from the women working on the show (“The women on our team have been the first people to be really straight up with me about what it’s like to be a female comic and like working in the industry,” Choi says.)
Choi constantly hypes up her colleagues; at the end of each episode of Everyone & Their Mom, she declares the credits her “favorite part of the podcast,” which she tells me is partly because “I get to say all my coworkers’ names.”
“Every person on the team told me that so much of being a person with a voice is using that voice to bring joy and bring kudos to your team, because it’s not my show, you know,” Choi says. “I’m the host of the show, but it’s definitely not my show. I’m the only person doing press too, and so much of being a leader is constantly telling people how much you appreciate them, their work, and like what they’re doing. That has really guided the way that I see this show. And I feel super grateful for that advice, too.”
That sense of empowering teamwork is palpable not just throughout our interview, but in the show itself. Choi and her co-workers narrow down their ideas for Everyone & Their Mom by seeing which concepts garner the most enthusiastic reactions, so there’s a real sense of building one another up. That excitement radiates through my headphones when I listen to an episode, whether learning about the surprisingly heartwarming origin story of the Squatty Potty or hearing Wait Wait producer Lillian King rave about a job posting for a grizzly bear conflict manager.
“Our goal is always to make a space where people feel like they have permission to be funny and permission to be vulnerable at the same time. That can be really hard, because sometimes being funny means putting up a wall. But those moments are moments I’m really proud of on the show, when people are their true selves, but also have fun,” Choi tells me.
Even just listening to Everyone & Their Mom feels like a tonic for the soul. The podcast isn’t escapist, but something much more elusive and rewarding; there’s hope in Choi’s humor.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.