Britta Greene: It's about 9:00 AM, light drizzle. We're on the banks of the Hudson River on a little park and the stripe bass are running. We're going to try to hook some fish. Speaker 2: Britta Greene is one of our producers, and on a Monday morning recently, she was in the town of Beacon, New York. I happen to do what little fishing I do on vacation, but not on company time. In fairness, Britta wasn't just having fun. She was there to meet Karen Chee. She is a comedy writer and she works for Late Night with Seth Meyers. She's a contributor to The New Yorker's humor column too. She's also a recent, but enthusiastic convert to the great sport of fishing. Karen Chee: Before maybe even a couple years ago, if somebody had been like, "Do you want to go fish for two hours?" I'd be like, "What a waste of time? I have stuff to do." Now it just makes the rest of my day so much better. I'm always in a much better mood after I've spaced out and zoned out for a while. We could climb down on the rocks over there, but it's a little shallow. I will say of all the times I've gone fishing, I think I've only caught a fish once. Britta Greene: Really? Karen Chee: Yes. I'm afraid of catching a fish, but I love the anticipation of, it could happen. [laughs] Yum. I got this worm, I cut it in half and I'm hooking it on to the hook. I'm putting it on a few times so that it won't fall off immediately in the water, and then I'm going to walk to bail, and we'll see how it goes. Speaker 2: She grew up in California in the Bay Area and she took up fishing during the pandemic on an extended visit to South Korea Karen Chee: Before the pandemic hit, I was writing for Late Night and doing stand-up pretty much every night. That was the routine I had settled into. Then when the pandemic hit, it was remote work and no live shows. Zoom made me really anxious so I just stopped doing stand-up altogether for a while. Britta Greene: Wow. You were in New York? Karen Chee: I was in New York. I was in a little apartment with two other people and a cat. We were indoors for two full months. Britta Greene: Oh my God. Karen Chee: It was wild. Britta Greene: What happens that made you decide to move to Korea? Karen Chee: I went because my grandma got really sick quite suddenly. I went thinking I would be there for a month or two. I brought five t-shirts and that was all I had brought. I brought a small suitcase of summer clothes. Britta Greene: Can I ask what your grandma-- what happened? Karen Chee: Yes. She's actually doing much better now, but she had heart failure and also she's 92. It was just so many other things weren't going well. Britta Greene: That's scary. What made you stay? Karen Chee: She didn't get better for a really long time, and because it was remote work I was like, I'll stay there, it's no problem. Maybe it's also because of the pandemic and how much life threatening and scary that was for people, even if it was just in the abstract. When my grandma got sick, it felt like the equivalent of people, when they have babies and they're like, "Suddenly, all my priorities lined up." That's how I felt. [laughs] Britta Greene: You would work nights because you were working US hours? Karen Chee: Yes. It was crazy. I would be writing jokes at 2:00 in the morning about the Trump administration. At nighttime, the silver lining of that schedule was that the first few months we needed to have somebody awake throughout the night to check on my grandma periodically to make sure she was breathing okay, and also to help her go to the bathroom. I was like, "Oh, I'll do night duty because I'm up working anyway." That coincided really nicely. Oh wait, hold on. I'm getting a pull. I wonder if it got stuck though. Let's see. I'm holding it at a 45-degree angle. Britta Greene: Do you think it's just hooked under there? Karen Chee: I would love if we pulled this out and there's just a whale. [chuckles] We're like, "Oh, yes [unintelligible 00:04:23] Britta Greene: I was like, "It definitely [unintelligible 00:04:23] like a trash bin." [laughter] Karen Chee: Actually the pull is gone. Let's just reel it back. Interesting. Oops. There's the worm. We can try it again. It's going to become very clear that I just fish to go through the motions of fishing rather than survival. I started fishing because a mix of all of the stress things I mentioned, this is going to sound nerdy but I read How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell, and I was like, "I got to find a hobby where I'm not thinking about anything and I'm not thinking about work." In Korean, there's like a word called-- I'm just going to say in Korean, it's (Korean language) which is "spacing out". You can (Korean language) in any place. People really like doing this thing called (Korean language) or (Korean language) which is, you space out while looking at a fire, that sort of a thing. I was like, "I'm going to do this while I'm fishing." There's an overpass by the Han River which is the river that cleaves through Seoul, so it splits the city in two. I saw, it's like a lot of old men fishing silently next to each other and I just joined them. That was very nice. We didn't talk at all, but one of them was actually very helpful with helping me figure out how to get the line right and how to cast and everything, but was very gruff the entire time which I thought was so charming. Britta Greene: Wow. You just cast in and then you just stand there and you just try to clear your mind? Karen Chee: Yes. I truly just zone out. Britta Greene: Like a meditation? Karen Chee: I guess so. I've tried meditating before and I always fall asleep, so this is a nice way to be a little bit alert. There's a little bit of anticipation with the fish and then I can completely chill out, which is nice. Oh no, it's tangled. [laughs] Here we go. I definitely thought the pandemic would be more temporary than it is. I thought there would be a clear end date and that my life would resume. I actually think the way I think about my life has completely changed since then. I just want to make sure I always have enough time to spend with my family and friends, and that is more important to me than work. I think fishing is probably going to stick around for a bit. [music] Karen Chee: My dream is to have a fishing buddy who also, we can just sit in silence [laughs] for a couple hours and be like, "Let's go home," and we go home. Speaker 2: That's Karen Chee out on the Hudson River with Britta Greene of the Radio Hour. Britta Greene: We didn't catch anything. Karen Chee: That's okay. Britta Greene: Do you feel relieved? Karen Chee: I do. It's very much a journey not the destination-type of activity. Speaker 2: She is a contributor to The New Yorker's Shouts and Murmurs column. She writes for Late Night with Seth Meyers. She's working on season two of Pachinko for Apple TV.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of programming is the audio record.