Q&A with Mindy Kaling: 'It would be fun to have me as a gynecologist!'
In her book "Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?," writer and actress Mindy Kaling of "The Office" mocks stock roles for women in romantic comedies -- among them "The Ethereal Weirdo" and "The Sassy Best Friend," a role Kaling might have been destined to play, had she not created her own script and opened up wider possibilities.
Having kick-started her own Hollywood career playing Ben Affleck in an off-off-Broadway show co-written with her best friend, Kaling says she is hoping to develop a sitcom in which she would star as ... a gynecologist.
"Being a woman who loves other women and talks to my girlfriends every day, I think — without sounding too into myself — I would be a dream OB-GYN." She pauses for a moment, then adds seriously, "In another world I think that would've been a nice career for me. It would be fun to have me as a gynecologist!"
I spoke to Kaling for a Times profile; here's a longer Q&A cut from our conversation.
You just did a huge book signing at the Grove. Was it fun?
I don’t perform live anymore so going to a book signing has a little bit of that. I got the rush of performing live. The median age was like 17. It’s fun because the girls waiting to meet me are so nervous. And being able to calm them.... I’m not the Beatles or whatever but it was a mix between being a stand-up comedian and Santa Claus.
There were no guys?
It was 80/20 [female to male]. I did pay attention to the guys who were there. I wanted to scope what the kind of guy was. It seemed like there were screenwriters and aspiring screenwriters and gay teens and a few hipsters.
How did you end up writing a memoir?
I write a lot on “The Office” -- I wrote four episodes last year-- but it’s not constant writing. I didn’t have an outlet but I am always having observations. I felt I had more to say than writing dialogue, a different part of my brain isn’t being used. Twitter is fun but it’s so short. Twitter is a permanent record of your thoughts, good or bad. It has replaced jotting things down in a notebook for me.
Were there other memoirs you used as a model for “Is Everyone Hanging Out...?”
I’d read [Sarah Silverman’s] “Bedwetter,” I read [Tina Fey’s] “Bossypants,” but that was just because I admired those comedians. I didn’t want the book to be a memoir -- in fact, if it had seemed like it was going to be memoir at the beginning I wouldn’t have written it. I’m 32 years old, I would’ve waited longer! I wanted it to be comic essays. I knew I was going to write stories about my childhood but those stories -- the friends who read it really responded to those more than the straight comedy..
I’m super-chatty and I know that about myself, but I also really respect my private life. My parents have family stories and family secrets, it’s very private and sacred. People think I’m completely open but there’s this whole other side to my life. I’ve noticed women in the past five years in L.A. have ratcheted up the information about their lives.
Maybe that's because there are so many reality TV people dying to volunteer everything about themselves?
It’s true. If you don’t have anything to say, you can make yourself watchable by discussing about your inability to have a child, for instance, or your overability to have child, like "Teen Mom." That becomes your story so you don’t have to do any real storytelling. If you live in a salacious enough way or open up about intimate details, people forgive you for not crafting stories or crafting jokes.
Is your family getting a lot of attention these days?
My mom is a doctor in Boston, and I think she got the most attention when she was on “The Office.” But John Krasinki’s father also works at that same hospital, so if you are related to somebody on "The Office" it’s not that big a deal there. If I was on the Red Sox it would be a much bigger deal.
She’s an OB-GYN, right? I hear you want to do a TV series about a gynecologist?
My mom is an OB-GYN and I have so many years of detail I can access for that job. Being a woman who loves other women, and talks to my girlfriends every day, I think -- without sounding too into myself -- I would be a dream OB-GYN.... In another world I think that would’ve been a nice career for me. It would be fun to have me as a gynecologist!
Is prime time ready for stirrups and yeast infections?
I think we’d talk about that stuff as much as we talk about paper on “The Office.” Having been on a show where they show more birthday parties than anything to do with computer paper -- it’s a setting and it also allows a constant flow of women in the office. I can’t list on two hands the number of women I’d like to work with.... And selfishly, I think if I had my own practice my outfits would be slightly better than Kelly’s outfits on “The Office.”
The hours being an OB-GYN are weirdly similar to my hours as a comedy writer. They are completely different paths but strangely similar enough. Well compensated, very long hours where if you don’t love what you’re doing it’s not worth it, disruptive to family and social life.
I’m working on an outline right now to write a pilot for NBC. But I’m sure there are dozens of other people writing pilots for NBC right now. I have this tendency to get overconfident about things. I’d rather be the kind of person who’ll get overexcited and be devastated....
Confidence seems to be a good thing in Hollywood.
The Bret Ratner approach! I envy Bret Ratner’s bravado, for sure.
Networks seem to be interested in comedies about women at the moment.
NBC seems unafraid , between Whitney [Cummings] and Amy [Poehler] and Tina, they’ve been wanting to launch these female shows. And I’ve seen the first episodes of [HBO’s] “Girls” and it’s just awesome. When I was in my 20s, "Sex in the City" was on and it was about women in their 30s and 40s. I’m jealous of girls in their 20s who are going to get to watch and be the same age as Lena [Dunham].
How involved were you in developing the Kelly Kapoor character on “The Office”?
The show is a documentary, but not that many people on the show are interested in what’s going on in the zeitgeist. So characters like Ryan and Kelly get to be our windows on the outside world. I feel like Kelly is, what’s that little thing under the screen on CNN? The crawl? She acts as the impassioned crawl that people are ignoring but it’s still happening, they can pick up information from it. How Sheryl Crow and Lance Armstrong broke up, what the Kardashians are doing.... When everything on earth is destroyed except seasons 1 to 8 of "The Office" on DVD, aliens will be able to figure out what was going on through my character.
Was it hard writing a season of the show without Steve Carrell?
The biggest thing is that Steve had about 40% of the lines, in my unscientific analysis, so you’re like, what are we going to fill that with? So probably Erin Hannon and Dwight are two characters we've seen a lot more of in the last five episodes. Kevin and Stanley had more screen time, I’ve had more screen time....
Did you feel the need to steer Kelly’s character over the years?
Our show has serious storylines but also comedy characters. And the comedy actors’ inclination is to ask, what is the inner life of my character? And as a producer you have to diplomatically tell them that we’re not necessarily as interested in that, otherwise your show becomes like “Thirtysomething.” Nobody wants to tune into a half-hour comedy where everybody is "going through something." What I think is nice about Kelly is she presents herself like an animated character, like on "The Simpsons." You get a pop of her.
So her growth wasn’t an issue?
To be honest, if my character was going to do that I wouldn’t have time to do the writing. It would take a lot more time, I’d be on set all day long. Of course I want to be the star of my own show and I’ve dreamed about that since I was a kid, but it wouldn’t be for my character. I’d love it to be my only job to write and act my own character. I wouldn’t have to plan arc for other characters -- if it were my own show, I’d have other people to do that!
In the book you list all the ways you are unlike Kelly. Is it easier for you to play someone very different?
When I played Ben Affleck [in the stage play “Matt and Ben”] I LOVED it. That character was different than me, and because he was a man, everyone was like, "Oh its not like Mindy at all." But there were some elements of that character that were very me. The Ben character in that was very plainspoken and that’s something we have in common. Whereas Kelly is more coy.... Those are the two big roles I played, Ben Affleck and Kelly!
When you were doing “Matt and Ben,” did you think you would have a bohemian New York career, or were you gunning for Hollywood even then?
I loved New York and when I was doing that, it would’ve been a dream to write for "SNL" and continue to write an occasional off-Broadway play. I was thinking a lot smaller. It wasn’t our idea to bring the show to L.A., it was the producer’s. They paid me like $500 a week income, but it was enough money in L.A., and it was something to do. And that’s where Greg [Daniels of “The Office”] saw me.
But every year what I want to do completely changes. Now that the book has come out, I’m like, I love writing a book. A year ago it wasn’t something I thought maybe I could do. Now I’m thinking it would be fun to write a young adult novel, a funny one. But every actress in Hollywood has a children’s book out, right? Some actress will come out with, "Little Benny Has Celiac Disease" because it’s something they’re dealing with so they have to have a giraffe character with celiac’s. Let me be the one actress who isn’t doing "The Indian Girl Dealing With Being an Indian Girl." If I did a young adult book, I’d want to do more like "Harriet the Spy."
How will you have time to do all these things?
I love working. I work with all my friends. People say, you’re addicted to work, but nobody has a job as fun as mine. Down time makes me antsy and nervous. You know those Sandals commercials where somebody is lying alone on a white beach with just miles of ocean? It’s supposed to be relaxing but it has the opposite effect on me. That looks horrific! If I am someone who judges happy moments based on people laughing or appreciating a joke I write, it makes sense why I would want to distance myself from that.
What if someone else was in the commercial laughing at your jokes?
It would have to be like a thousand people on the beach with me, and I’d have to be wearing the sexiest, most-sequined bikini Roberto Cavalli ever made. Also, I don’t like the beach.
-- Joy Press
Photo: Mindy Kaling. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times