Emma E. Choi ’22 has had a whirlwind trajectory from an intern on the NPR podcast “Wait Wait...Don’t Tell Me!” to the host of their new, youth-oriented offshoot “Everyone & Their Mom.” She credits this success partly to her diligence and social media savvy, but most of all to the PowerPoints she meticulously constructed during the internship.
“I was doing a ton of unhinged guest PowerPoints which were like 25 percent about the guest, 75 percent about any other thing,” Choi laughs. In an attempt to liven up the podcast teams’ long Wednesday meetings, during her presentations Choi would make fun of her bosses, rank “all the guests we’ve had on by how much I wanted to kiss them on the mouth,” offer updates on her boyfriend, and share harrowing experiences such as her recent prolonged eye contact with a rat. “Apparently, no one’s done that before,” she adds between sips of chai. Choi’s team found her enthusiasm infectious — so when they began planning to expand to younger generations, they looked to their resident energetic young person for advice.
Even after reading the credits for the first discarded pilot and co-hosting a handful more unused pilots, Choi had no expectation that she’d become the host. In fact, she recounts that her supervising producer took her aside and told her candidly, “Emma, I don’t think we can hire you. You’re a college student. We’ve never done that before. We just want to see what it’s like.” But to her surprise, she landed the gig.
“It took a while to sink in. It still hasn’t really sunk in,” she says. “I bill 20 hours, but I think about it all the time, so I’m kind of always on the clock.” Each week for the past few months, Choi has written jokes about a story of her choice, interviewed a guest, attended daily meetings scheduled around her classes, and shot retakes. The final product is weekly 15-minute-long episodes airing each Wednesday that, as Choi describes, bounce “between sketch comedy and variety and stand up and interview format.” The first episode aired on February 23rd.
Before becoming host, Choi spent her early years at Harvard developing her comedic style and found a home in the improv group Immediate Gratification Players. She describes comedy at Harvard as if describing a family member — fondly, but critically.
Harvard’s comedy scene is “one of the most amazing creative communities on campus right now,” but also a “double-edged sword,” she says.
“It’s kind of cutthroat. People are always driving really hard because they’re so focused on doing the damn thing,” she says. “But at the same time, it means that people are really bought in and are really dedicated to making things.”
Beyond her comedy pursuits, Choi is equally dedicated to fiction writing. “It's interesting, because I do really stupid comedy, but I write like, very serious fiction,” she says. She wrote her first play in third grade and continued throughout her academic career, the subject matter ranging from a “school shooting nightmare play” to “one about two Jewish boys trying to be rappers.” She also founded a comedy magazine in her sophomore year of high school.
During the pandemic, she wrote a 400-page book spanning three generations of Korean women, “exploring how we carry folklore and trauma in our bloodlines.” She describes her working style as obsessive. “There was a month where I was writing for 14 hours a day, and just like, barfing it out. Yeah, it wasn’t good, but it happened,” Choi says. Her writing helped her process a difficult breakup as well as the intensity of early pandemic life.
Regardless of the type of writing, Choi finds inspiration in playing around with words. In the first episode of her show, she cracks a “banana-smashing” joke about the Marvin Gaye impersonator hired by a British zoo to serenade endangered Barbary macaque monkeys. “I like experimenting with language, using stuff you would never expect, just like jumbling shit up, which I think makes good comedy. Because word-based humor is never going to hurt anybody, you know?”
In the second episode, Choi discusses her grandmother’s inability to make kimchi, interviewing acclaimed chef Roy Choi to give her grandma some tips. She’s grateful that she can bring her family and her culture into the show — an aspect of her identity that she’s delved into as she’s taken more classes on Korean history and art at Harvard. “College is the first time where I became proud of being Korean, which is a lot of what the podcast is now,” she says. “It’s not necessarily trying to be Korean. It's just not backing away when that comes, you know, not trying to hide that in any way.”
Choi’s bold approach to comedy seeps into every aspect of the podcast. Her upbeat tidbits in each segment make her seem like the kind of friend you’d text immediately after embarrassing yourself in front of strangers, or when you’re deep into a long night of psetting and need a laugh. As for what she wants to make sure listeners take away from the podcast, she’s not quite sure. “I’ve spent a lot of hours hearing people talk about my brand, or my image, which is very strange,” she says. “I’m not going to be like, I hope people really understand me from the podcast, because of course they won’t, but I just want people to have a good time and laugh and be like, Oh, that was weird.” She adds: “I just want people to walk to class, have 15 minutes of pure fun and be like, I can’t wait for next week.”