The NPR tone is unmistakeable: a smart-but-relatable, we’re-just-some-regular-folks-with-radio-equipment vibe that attempts to explain complex ideas or tell in-depth stories in an informal way. It’s an energy that wants to feel like you’re just having your smartest friend (who happens to be named Ira or Jad) explain something to you, and it’s the hallmark of programs from This American Life to Serial to RadioLab and more. It’s so unmistakeable, in fact, that it’s a ripe target for parody.
That’s something that New York-based comedians and podcasters Anna Rubanova and Siobhan Thompson figured out with their new podcast, What If?–which posits a series of RadioLab-like questions in its intro (“What if trees could talk?” “What if armadillos tasted good?” “What if everything were the opposite of what it is?”) before going into an in-depth exploration of an inane question like “What If Humans Laid Eggs?”
The format of the podcast–which runs an NPR-worthy 25 minutes–perfectly mimics the format of shows like RadioLab, opening with an anecdotal field recording and leading into a discussion with experts about the topic at hand. “You have to be into parody and have a good ear to nail tone effectively,” Rubanova says, adding that–while she loves NPR–an affection for the source material isn’t necessarily a factor. “You can theoretically hate something and still nail the tone.”
Rubanova and Thompson, who also co-host an Orphan Black fancast for WNYC called “Duplicast,” recorded three episodes of What If? in total, and may add more if the demand exists. At the very least, NPR enthusiasts on road trips with people who are less into public radio can drop a What If? episode into the rotation, just to see if anybody notices the difference.