Author: Kanara Ty
Title: Where My (AA) Girls At?
Don’t like what HBO’s Girls is saying about this generation? Then tell your own story.
Before HBO’s Girls was set to premiere this past spring, the comedy about 20something struggling post-grads in New York City sparked a debate about race and representation in Hollywood. My initial thoughts after I finished the first episode of Girls? Sure, it was hard for me to relate to anything that was going on on the show (I’m not white, I don’t come from a privileged, wealthy background, nor do I live in New York City), but I was immensely surprised at how
entertaining I found the show to be — namely the awkwardness/quirkiness of the female lead characters. Lena Dunham, who impressively writes, directs and stars in the show, has already been hailed as the next Tina Fey.
Dunham has yet to be dubbed the “voice of her generation” (as her character in Girls states) — and rightfully so. Having such a title bears the social responsibility of, well, speaking for a diverse generation of people who come from different backgrounds and experiences. Fact of the matter is, Dunham is talented — her writing is witty, intelligent
and full of charisma. Girls speaks of her own personal experiences; as that saying goes, write what you know. And she does a damn good job of it. Instead of pointing fingers at Dunham, we should be asking the programming departments of major television networks about the diversity in their programming — I mean, they are responsible for
what gets on the air.
Shortly after Girls aired, the extended trailer for FOX’s The Mindy Project premiered and, of course, was met with much applause. It’s been a while since an Asian American woman has taken the reigns of a comedy on a major televisionnetwork and, well, it looks like Mindy Kaling has hit it on the head. However, Kaling still sits alone, as we have yet to really see excellent programming starring Asian American talent that’s also relatable. (Sorry Maggie Q — I wish I could relate to your kick-ass assassin character, but it’s just not happening.) One could argue that Asian American programming now has a place on YouTube. You have your WongFu boys, KevJumbas and Ryan Higas. In a significant move, there’s now the YouTube Original Channels, which features programming in entertainment, beauty, sports and technology. This includes Michelle Phan’s FAWN (For All Women Network) and the Asian American pop culture blog’s YOMYOMF (You Offend Me, You Offend My Family). Speaking of the YOMYOMF Channel, I should make note of BFFs. BFFs is a comedy webseries that features Asian American actresses in the leading roles. While the series was met with lukewarm reactions, I have to say it’s a start, which is better than nothing at all.
If there’s anything I can truly criticize, it’s that there’s not enough self-expression among this generation. When the reality show K-Town (on YouTube’s Loud Channel) surfaced, it was met with so much negativity from Asian Americans whwere afraid of how they were going to be represented. But in all honesty, have our purported “positive” stereotypes (read: the model minority) played in our favor in American society? Going along with this idea of social responsibility, the key thing to note is that there are multiple voices of this generation, but many of them go unspoken. Dunham, Kaling or YouTube celebrities should not be the only ones speaking for us. Whether their work makes us happy, angry, sad or stir any sort of emotion, rather than sit back and mouth off on our soap boxes about what we think others are doing, think about what we can do right. We’re all quick to hate on each other; instead, let’s let theseconversations inspire one another.
Executive producer and star of the hit NBC series The Office, Mindy Kaling is taking over pop culture with a new blog, a new screenplay, a new TV deal, and her new book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?.
ISSUE: Winter 2011-12
DEPT: Cover Feature
Photos Diana King
Hair Alex Polillo
Makeup Mylah Morales
Wardrobe stylist Karla Welch
Photo assistant Kevin Kozicki
Location WaterMarke Tower, Los Angeles Calif.
Editor Janice Jann
It’s hard not to be charmed by Mindy Kaling. For starters, the woman is hilarious. Ninety-nine percent of the things she writes, says, directs, and tweets makes you laugh. (Sample tweet: “I will never cheat on you but I may gain 100 pounds which is a different kind of betrayal. #unusual- weddingvows.”)
She’s also whip-smart. In her debut book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), the Ivy League graduate, in her own words, “kind of killed it in college. You know that saying ‘big fish in a small pond?’ At Dartmouth College, I was freakin’ Jaws in a community swimming pool.” (Did we already mention she was hilarious?)
She’s thoughtful. She apologized profusely for constantly rescheduling our interview and called five minutes early so we would be able to chat longer. B.J. Novak, Mindy’s The Office co-exec producer, writer, star and friend, has said this about her: “Mindy has long been considered the best writer on The Office, and every actor on the show thinks she writes for them best. There is the extra little ‘smile’ that infuses her scripts, which is hard to quantify. As a person, she’s incredibly sentimental, more than anyone I’ve ever met, but she’s also incredibly sharp. She’s unabashedly both.”
These admirable traits have propelled Mindy into a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. At only 32, Mindy has been nominated for an Emmy, published her first book, and sold a screenplay. She is developing a TV show, boasts more than 1.5 million Twitter followers, and relaunched her popular blog, TheConcernsofMindyKaling.com. About her packed schedule, Mindy simply says, “You make time for what you love.”
We chatted with the Indian American entertainer about everything from the audacity of having had a happy childhood to not getting stuck in a box.
Audrey Magazine: So Mindy, since I just finished your book last night and I pretty much know all about you, I guess we’re done with the interview.
Mindy Kaling: [Laughs] I’m glad you walked away feeling that way.
AM: Was it hard for you to crank this book out?
MK: At the beginning, it was very hard. I’m used to [writing scripts]. The book is very dialogue-heavy cause that’s my forte, but it was very daunting ‘cause I was thinking about all the great essayists. But no one has this expectation that I’m going to write this Joan Didion work of art — they want a book with fresh observations that’s funny and personal. That made it easier.
AM: Was it difficult for you to share so much about your personal life in the book?
MK: I’m a pretty open person in general, so I have the privilege of being open because my life isn’t full of tawdry details and wild stories. I can be very opinionated because I don’t have anything to hide. When I talk about my childhood, I had a very fun one. You get this weird problem where it’s like, nobody wants to read about someone with an idyllic childhood with great, responsible, fun parents. But that’s actually not true — people love to hear about that.
AM: That does seem to be going against the trend of what the current hot memoirs are about nowadays.
MK: There are a lot of female writers coming out [where] what’s intrinsic to them is a level of raunchy details, which I’m not all that interested in reading or writing. Hopefully, this book will appeal to people who don’t need that.
AM: You talked about a great childhood with your parents. What’s your relationship with them like now?
MK: When I first moved back to L.A., I was so homesick I would visit my parents once a month. Then I became not so homesick and I would still visit them once a month. My parents are all-stars. I get so much out of our relationship, I’m just taking it for granted.
AM: Would you say you had a fairly untraditional Indian upbringing?
MK: One of the things that made it an untraditional Indian upbringing was that my parents didn’t meet in India — they didn’t have an arranged marriage. Another thing is they don’t speak any common Indian language so the only language they speak with us is English.
What was so great was when my parents were both younger, they had parents who kind of already decided what they were going to be and steered them that way. With my brother and myself, there was none of that. They saw that, at a very young age, I loved acting and writing and they kind of let me do that — not only let me do that but encouraged it a lot. Especially my dad. He was very encouraging of me following that path.
AM: In your book, you talked about a period in your life where you pretty much lived like a starving artist in New York City. How did your parents feel about that?
MK: They were slightly anxious. But in college I had done so much theater that they had seen and loved, and I would show confidence. I don’t know where that came from. I was so confident and I expressed that to my parents. They were like, “Great, she’s so confident about it, why wouldn’t we be?”
AM: Did you always feel like you were destined to become a writer-performer?
MK: As confident as I feel, it takes an almost comically confident person to be able to say that they were destined to be in movies and television. I don’t think I was destined, but I think I am of the personality type where the rejection or odds of something doesn’t scare me. Maybe it was because my mom moved to Africa at 20 by herself, but there’s a certain fearlessness that runs in my family for things where there’s absolutely no reason to believe that it should work out. I get that from my parents.
AM: You got your big break when you wrote the critically acclaimed play, Matt & Ben, spoofing Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Have you ever met either actor?
MK: I’ve never met Matt nor Ben. They seem like pretty smart, cool guys. We did no research on them when we wrote that play so I have no idea what their personalities are like at all. Our portrayals of them were not based on anything real. It was definitely an absurdist play.
I bet they don’t even really know or remembered that this play existed. They’re both movie directors and famous actors. [Laughs] They just seem like nice guys.
AM: From that play, you got a job at age 24 writing for The Office with creator Greg Daniels. In your book, you write about your quarrels with Greg. Does he know you wrote about that?
MK: I was really scared to show that part to him. I don’t think any grown man wants to be seen fighting with his younger female employee, but I think the fact of the matter is that he doesn’t have a fighting personality, so that he would fight with me is kind of my fault. But it’s fine; we’ve come to an understanding about our volatile relationship. I noticed the people that I fight with the most, I have the longest relationships with.
AM: You two obviously have a great working relationship as you’ve just been promoted to executive producer of The Of- fice this season. Congrats! Do you have more responsibilities now?
MK: Now that the cast has gotten so big, I do feel more responsibility. There’s a thing called “running a room” where you’re in charge of everyone in the writer’s room. I used to be one of those people checking my Blackberry and now I’m one of those people annoyed at the people checking their Blackberry. I became management, which was interesting ‘cause that’s not really my personality.
AM: Speaking of management, you’ve also directed a couple episodes of The Office.
MK: The first time I directed, I couldn’t sleep the night before because I was so terrified. When you’re directing, you’re making more decisions. I had to make more decisions in a day than I had in the previous two months. To the point where you’re like, “Stop asking me questions, people.” You have to be very patient as a director and I’m a very impatient person. But I love directing. You have the final say. No one else can get in the way of that. Especially on a show like The Office where the network largely lets us do what we want to do, directing is fantastic. Especially if I’ve written and directed an episode. I don’t even have to run an idea by the writer — I am the writer. That’s a fully realized medium.
I would love to keep directing. I think it’s really fun and I think I’m good. It’ll be great to do other projects. I’m really inspired by my friends who direct their own stuff, like Lena Dunham (Tiny Furniture). She’s so talented and inspirational. She was the one who encouraged me to direct my own movie.
AM: You’re outspoken about your love of romantic comedies. Are you OK with the fact that they’re not really reflective of real life?
MK: I’m pretty aware that like any movie, there are people who you see that you’re like, “That’s just like me!” I think Judd Apatow did that with his films. People actually said, “Oh, I’m seeing people like me and my life on film.” But I feel like people don’t care. Who would want to go to the movies to see a perfect reflection of themselves? There are parts of the romantic comedies you do want to see, like, what’s the fashion going to be like?
AM: So what would be the ideal role for you?
MK: That’s a good question. There’s an ideal role, and [there’s] the role I’ll most likely get cast as. Everyone’s dream role is to be a part of an ensemble in a movie by the Coen brothers. A small part in something like that. That would be ideal.
AM: In a drama or a comedy?
MK: Right now, I want to continue in comedy ‘cause that’s in my comfort zone.
AM: There’s a lot of flack women in comedy have to take. If they’re funny, they can’t be too girly. If they’re too girly, they’re not funny. Or if they’re too into pop culture, they’re not smart, and vice versa. You’ve managed to get away with professing your love for Beyoncé and shopping, and still come across as smart, funny and someone people can take seriously. What’s your secret?
MK: I think we’re only putting ourselves in boxes if we think we can only be a certain way. I play a character that’s kind of silly and I’m Mindy Kaling who likes to go shopping, and I resent anyone who makes me feel like I can’t do that. We don’t all have to be Supreme Court justices. We don’t have to all play someone that has their sh—t together ‘cause that somehow makes women look better. I’d rather play someone that looks very real to me and have my fans think for themselves. I do get criticized by women who think that because of who I am, I shouldn’t talk about shopping or be an emotional person, and I think, “Why?” Now you’re just putting women in another box where they can only be a certain way. I think that’s too bad.
AM: With all the pop culture space you’re currently taking up right now, would you say you’re having a moment?
MK: [Laughs] I have been more busy — I don’t know if that’s having a moment. I’d like to be busy and stay relevant for the rest of my life. I feel like I have something to say and this is the first time people are listening, but I hope I always have something to say. Like Tom Hanks. He’s been having a moment for, what, 30 years? That’s pretty great.
Check out our behind the scenes video of Mindy Kaling’s Audrey Magazine cover shoot!
What did you think of the photos from the shoot?
We know the whole universe has a crush on The Office‘s super-talented executive-producer/star, Mindy Kaling but we’re going to make a list of reasons we love her anyway!
Mindy likes shopping at Target, eating junk food, and sleeping in until 2pm. She has everyday girl struggles and despite being a super-famous TV star and Emmy-award winning writer, homegirl keeps it real. Continue Reading »
Rawr, we’re totally going wild for Mindy Kaling‘s print-happy Winter 2011 cover. It’s no secret we love this fearless, famously intelligent, freakin’ funny female and we’re so happy she’s our cover girl!
Below, some fly pics and choice interview quotes for your viewing pleasure! Continue Reading »