Emma Choi, the unlikely new host of NPR’s Everyone & Their Mom

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Ken Richardson of NPR.

By Rachael Tao, AsAmNews Intern

Emma Eun-joo Choi is the energetic host of NPR’s new podcast Everyone & Their Mom, and as a young Korean American with a huge platform, she is attracting a lot of attention.

Choi describes Everyone & Their Mom to AsAmNews as “a comedy club for your ears with everyone from comedians to the most random people. It’s definitely super chaotic and super high-energy and super fun.”

The new, short-form podcast comes from NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!, the company’s 24-year-old flagship comedy show. Wait Wait is a weekly hour-long quiz program about the news. Everyone & Their Mom began releasing episodes on February 23 and will have its third episode out this Wednesday.

As Choi explains, each episode begins with an interview of a Wait Wait panelist and a discussion of an odd or entertaining news story of the week—one that everyone and their mom is talking about—“and then explodes out from there.”

Choi’s show is meant to carve out a dedicated space for NPR’s younger listeners. Choi is only 22 years old, but she has been interested in comedy for many years.

She tells AsAmNews, “I remember the first time I realized comedy could be a job was when I read Mindy Kaling’s book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns).” In high school, she created and ran a comedy magazine, consumed improv comedy videos on YouTube, and developed a love for stand-up comedy.

In college at Harvard University, she became even more involved in comedy by directing a sketch show and running an improv team. Then, she applied for an internship with Wait Wait, and to her surprise, she was granted her wish.

She only rose further from there, quickly winning over Wait Wait’s team. One of her intern responsibilities was guest research, so she started doing “incredibly wacky, insane” PowerPoints every Wednesday to present a guest. However, the presentations would mostly consist of “memes, saying crazy things, and threatening to quit all the time.”

On Wait Wait’s Instagram page, she became known amongst fans for her zany graphics and hilarious TikToks. She describes her Instagram duties as enjoyable because “it wasn’t about making the cleanest graphic but just making something stupid and putting it out there.”

A recent Instagram post described reactions from fans.

She has been called Wait Wait’s “social media superstar” and “vibe curator.”

Ken Richardson of NPR.

Everyone & Their Mom was conceptualized as an attempt to expand the Wait Wait umbrella and create new content. Choi says, “We set out to make something we’ve never heard before. We wanted to make something highly produced, very dense with jokes and content, and effortful in how it’s put together.”

For Choi, the podcast has been a “really cool opportunity to use the podcast form to produce something not visual but very stimulating the whole time.”

As compared to Wait Wait, Everyone & Their Mom “showcases a different sense of humor than we usually showcase and appeals to more diverse and younger audiences than the main show does.”

Originally, she was not in the running to host and was just assisting with the process of creating the podcast. For her, becoming the host was an unexpected “whirlwind.”

She didn’t realize it at the time, but her internship “ended up being a kind of audition.” Even though NPR did a nationwide search for a podcast host, they kept coming back to her guest research presentations because “they really liked that energy.”

Choi acknowledges there were many reasons not to choose her as a host—mainly her age and her relative lack of experience with podcasting and radio. She confides, “I am an experiment in a lot of ways.”

Nevertheless, as she says, “My voice is new enough that I was the right person to start experimenting with this new voice of the show.”

She was clearly a wonderful pick because of the delightful, joyful humor and effervescent vitality she brings to the podcast. She adds, “If you’re going to try to make something for a young audience and a diverse audience, why not pick someone who fits into your audience to make it?”

While the world at NPR is “incredibly diverse,” Choi characterizes comedy overall as “very White-male-centric right now.” And because of comedy’s overall exclusivity, “comedy podcasting is also going to have a dearth of White guys riffing about nothing.”

Even so, podcasting presents unique opportunity for accessibility in the comedy industry. Choi evaluates podcasting as the “democratization of content-making.” Unlike other media, like television entertainment, “anyone can record a podcast on their phone and put it out, which is a good thing and a bad thing.”

For her, “the best way to make comedy is just to make things until someone starts paying attention. Podcasting is a great way to do that because you don’t need a theater, you don’t need a camera, you just have a mic and then you start making stuff.”

As a second-generation Korean American from northern Virginia, her ethnic identity deeply affects how she goes about podcasting.

As they developed the podcast, she was surprised by how much the marketing and conceptualization of the podcast was based on her personality. Eventually, she realized, “I am this podcast.”

And because being Korean is an essential part of who she is, “inherently, that’s part of the podcast, too.”

She emphasizes, “We never shy away from Korean stuff.”

The most recent episode was about improving her grandmother’s kimchi recipe and included a conversation with celebrity chef Roy Choi. “That’s been really special because I love hearing about Korean things in pop culture, and it makes me really happy to make that on my own show, too.”

She certainly plans to incorporate similar ideas in the future whenever they come up. Many of her conversations with panelists center around talking about their lives, and as she says, “My life is Korean. So if that kind of stuff comes up again, and it’s funny, for sure.”

Choi concludes, “The best comedy is personal, and part of personal is heritage.”

On this recent episode about kimchi, her mother and grandmother made appearances. Choi knew that her family would naturally be included in the podcast and intends to include them many more times as the podcast continues. “I’m just really close with my family, and I find my family super funny, and my producers also find my family super funny.”

She repeatedly thanks her team for encouraging her to be so authentically herself. Her team consists of all women and non-binary people, which she loves. “It’s amazing because comedy spaces are so male and white, and I feel so much more comfortable being funny and pitching ideas in a room like that. We really like each other, and we’re a small team—there’s only five or six of us—so everyone gets to pitch everything, and all the meetings are all of us. So I think everyone’s super involved in the creation in the podcast.”

Choi provides some insight into her team’s creative process. After choosing a zany news story, she records the interview with the panelist that will play at the top of the show. Then, the team will “go crazy based off of that one conversation.” Behind that craziness is a lot of “very organized riffing.”

For example, on the first episode, after discussing a news story about an English zoo that hired a Marvin Gaye impersonator for its monkeys, Choi interviews the Marvin Gaye impersonator.

When asked about tips for young Asian Americans wanting to enter podcasting, Choi has a lot of advice to give. “There’s just so many podcasts in the world, so you have to ask yourself, ‘Why am I making this? Why do I think this is great?’

As long as you think it’s great, then it’s fun.”

Her chief guidance for young Asians like her, or for anyone really, is that “you can’t make something thinking about who’s going to listen to it. And that’s something I’ve learned making this podcast. We’ve been getting a lot of feedback since we aired for the first time, and you have to tune out a lot of the feedback and just make things that you love to hear.”

Dealing with feedback has been a challenge for Choi. Although it has all been positive thus far, it has still been understandably overwhelming. “For me, as an anxious person, it’s hard to feel like I’m being looked at all the time. I’ve had to tune out all the noise around what I’m making and just focus on what I’m making.”

She adds, “As long as I feel good about what I’m making, it doesn’t really matter what everyone else wants me to do.”

Balancing podcasting and being a Harvard student has been another challenge. In fact, right before our interview, Choi attended office hours for one of her professors.

To say the podcast takes a significant amount of time would be an understatement. Fortunately, Choi has found setting boundaries and prioritizing to be positive steps in reducing the pressure. She says, “The podcast is my first priority, and I care about school, but sometimes you have to choose which to tackle first. I would rather go into a taping and then focus on my essay.”

In addition to comedy, writing is a crucial passion she makes time for. “I always knew that I wanted to do some combination of writing fiction and comedy, and they’re both equally important to me and both equally as much who I am. Part of being me right now is figuring out how to stay true to both those parts of my life.”

Everyone & Their Mom allows her to fulfill both passions at once. “Podcasting’s been really cool because it’s a place where I can both write and perform.”

She and her team strive to bring other young comics on. “Comic accessibility is changing really fast, and it’ll be so exciting to create a space in which those new comics can come and be showcased to our audience, too.”

She particularly wants to have more Asian comics because as she observes, “There’s not that many of us.”

She has been inspired by female comics like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and her dream guests include Ali Wong and Mindy Kaling. When expressing her admiration of these women, she says, “I love female comics who are making things because it’s really hard to make things, and even harder to do that when there’s not that many people like you making that stuff.”

For Choi, it can sometimes be disheartening to try to create fresh content. Yet the podcast has been invigorating in that regard. “Comedy is a really brutal world, and this podcast reminded me that making comedy is supposed to be fun.”

Choi is certainly making comedy more fun. By hosting Everyone & Their Mom, Choi is not only diversifying the comedy space, but adding a vibrant new energy to it as well.

Listen to Everyone & Their Mom, which releases a new episode every Wednesday, here. Follow Emma Choi on Instagram here and Twitter here.

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