Mindy Kaling: Force for Funny
Let everyone else complain about not getting their fair share in Hollywood: The success of Mindy Kaling proves you wrong. She acted in, produced, directed and wrote for The Office for eight years before creating her own series, The Mindy Project (at which she was able to add “co-showrunner” and “editor” to the mix), and has established herself as one of the funniest, smartest, take-charge minds in sitcoms today. As The Mindy Project heads into its second season, Kaling, who talked with Randee Dawn for Variety, will take more of a behind-the-scenes breather, preferring to focus on her acting. She’s clearly a multi-talented force to be reckoned with — but will Emmy voters take notice?
Was it particularly taxing to create, showrun and star in your own series? Is that a pace you can keep up?
I started showrunning with Matt Warburton last year, then Jack Burditt came over from 30 Rock about halfway through the year. Next season I’ll still be an executive producer and creator, and have final say — but hopefully it’ll help me be more present on set. I don’t see myself as a showrunner next year. It’ll be great to step back on certain things with Jack taking the reins. Then I can be on set more and get home a little earlier so I can learn lines and get sleep for the next day.
Over at The Office you also had multiple jobs, which makes you a rare woman in this business who’s had access to nearly all rungs of the ladder very early on. Has your gender ever come up as an issue when you wanted to write or produce or direct — or create?
I was very lucky, because there is a sense that it is a male-dominated area, and there are a lot of female writers on The Office. But it’s reductive to say that any male writer has the same demeanor across the board. The writers from The Office were hyper-sensitive sweetheart feminists. So I wasn’t surrounded by a quintessential boys macho club ignoring me. You can generalize about male writers, but I didn’t sense an iota of misogyny on that show.
Mindy Kaling: ‘My biggest challenge is being frequently underestimated’
“Amanda Knox for partying; Jesus Christ for dinner…” Mindy Kaling is drawing up the imaginary guestlists for her almost-as-imaginary social life, explaining that the most important rule comes down to inviting “no one funny. Except for me. So I would seem funnier in light of that.”
Kaling is pro-league funny, though. Not “ha ha, that’s cute” funny, but “ha ha, I’m writing, producing, directing and starring as the lead in my own sitcom because I’m that bloody funny” funny. And she is. Most viewers who first saw her in the US Office, playing the spectacularly vapid Kelly Kapoor, probably wouldn’t have known that she started on the series as a staff writer at just 24. Kaling was the only woman in the writers’ room, holding her own against four New Yorkers who had all, at one point, worked on The Harvard Lampoon (think Cambridge Footlights, in print). It was her first real job and Kaling was steadily promoted until she became the show’s exec producer, frequent director, and the writer with the single most credits to her name.
Kelly Kapoor, meanwhile, evolved into a breakout character: selfish, manipulative, and superficial to the point of absurdity. She’s the Mean Girls canteen scene embodied in a single character. Real-life Mindy is only a slightly less ridiculous proposition. The Ivy League graduate with a valley girl voice, she grew up in Boston as an “asexual-looking kid … dressed like Bert of Bert & Ernie”, a child of Indian immigrants (an architect dad and gynaecologist mother), obsessed with boys, fashion, celebrity and comedy.
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