Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling: If They Are, Mindy, Who Really Cares?

Snap 2014-06-24 at 21.13.39Mindy Kaling is like a Jack-ess (not ass) of All Trades, a Renaissance Woman. She’s a writer, producer, playwright, comedian, and director. In TV, she’s best known as playing Kelly Kapoor in The Office, though she also was one of the original writers of the show, and she wrote and produced many episodes. Additionally, she is responsible for the creation of the sitcom The Mindy Project, which is ongoing. After graduation from college and while doing the single-woman-with-barely-a-job-in-Brooklyn thing, she entered the obscure theater world with her own co-creation, Ben & Matt, in which she played a man—an attractive man, a famous man: Ben Affleck, actually—even though she was an Indian woman. They were, however, both raised in Massachusetts. This led to her “discovery,” if you will. She landed in The Office, and eventually wrote Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?—a question asked only by youngish women, Jennifer is compelled to point out, because older women don’t care. That said, it’s unfair to suggest she’s just another celebrity trying to write a book. Plus, she’s willing to put a totally fantastic picture from her childhood on her book, when today she looks so freakin’ glamorous. 

Lara: So it looks like I have racked up another WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER for picking an amazing book that you would never have read were it not for me. There was The Goldfinch, The Hunger Games, last month’s could-not-put-it-down-for-even-a-second, The Husband’s Secret. Am I right? AM I RIGHT?

Jennifer: “Winner Winner Chicken Dinner”? Seriously? I made you read George Saunders, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and The Swan Gondola, thank you very much. Perhaps we might say that you’re more in touch with “the people.” I’m pretty sure I could say something about “the people” right now that would make me look like a total a-hole, but I’ll resist. For the sake of my kids. Who are quite nice.

Lara: I will give you A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Swan Gondola but you do not get points for Saunders. In fact, you lose points. But you are right; your kids are quite nice. Delightful, even.

Jennifer: I thank you. Mindy Kaling is, indeed, a very funny woman. I loved the book for many reasons, but especially for The Office inside info, because I’m a massive, slightly crazed fan. I’ll say a couple things about Mindy to incite you, and then you can take it from there. First, I think everyone should know—if they don’t already—that one shouldn’t ever fully trust a good comic. A good comic is playing a role, which is artfully constructed. I’m sure that Mindy is more than what we’re seeing here. That said (and, second), there was a little too much girly shit: make-up, clothes, stupid stuff. Third, we’re inevitably going to make this comparison, so I’ll do it now. I liked Tina Fey’s Bossypants better. Fourth, Lara, please know I was totally into this book—so much, in fact, I’ll probably insist that my daughters read it when they’re old enough. Which is in years. But I think it’s a good book for girls to read, because Mindy is smart, funny, and not a slut.

Mindy then and now. Thanks Google for the images!

Mindy then and now. Thanks Google for the images!

Lara: You said way more than a couple, which is probably why you are a writer and not a mathematician. I agree with you on all points, except the girly stuff, I like that. And the Tina Fey stuff. You are wrong there—simple as that. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Tina. In fact, Tina Fey is the SHIT. But Mindy Kaling is the SHITTIEST! Wait… that came out entirely wrong. Mindy, I love you. Can we be BFFs or just even Fs?

Jennifer: Ugh. You’re forcing me to say this. You can’t be her “BFF.” You’re too old. I’m so sorry, my friend. I related to Tina more.

Lara: Um… Mindy would say it, so I can say it. And, for the record… I could totally be her BFF. You don’t have to put it in quotes, Jennifer. Everyone knows what BFF means. You know, that’s a little why I probably like her better. I think she’s a little more accessible. And she’s unapologetic about her goody-goody, chubby upbringing, which I can totally relate to. I mean, I could have written her chapter titled, “Chubby for Life.”

Jennifer: I loved hearing about her childhood. That’s the stuff I want my kids to read:

“There are basically two ways to get where I am: (1) learn a provocative dance and put it on YouTube; (2) convince your parents to move to Orlando and homeschool you until you get cast on a kids’ show, OR do what I did, which is (3) stay in school and be a respectful and hardworking wallflower, and go to an accredited non-online university.”

Amen, sister.

Lara: And she paid her dues. She didn’t come from a family with showbiz connections, but she made a point to get out there and do things and fail at them. Like when she tried to be a page at the prestigious TBN network (not the real name, but I am certain she was referring to NBC), or when she worked for a TV psychic. She failed to make it anywhere until her breakout hit in the early 2000s during the height of Bennifer (Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez): the off-off-off-off-Broadway show Matt & Ben, which was a two-woman deal she and her best friend wrote and starred in, parodying the lives of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. This chapter may have had my favorite lines in the whole book:

“I hate to resuscitate that term [Bennifer], which the media has thankfully put to bed, but it’s important to remember what a phenomenon it was. It was like Pippa Middleton plus Beyonce’s legs times the latest Apple product. Bennifer was so big it was as though two people had never been in love before, and they discovered it. I think it’s also easy to forget that Bennifer created the trend of the blended celebrity couple name. Without Bennifer we wouldn’t have Brangelina or Tomkat, or even the less used Jabrobra (James Brolin and Barbra Streisand). That is the gift that Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez gave us that has withstood the test of time.”

Jennifer: She paid some dues, okay? She made it pretty young, but not without real work. How’s that? I found that she offered some great insight into the making of a writer. How do writers come about? What transforms someone into a writer? First—and this is something I’ve often thought about—writers require an inordinate amount of confidence. That confidence seems to look like arrogance to many people. Writers may seem cocky. But, really, how is one supposed to have the guts to put him- or herself out there without confidence? I think Mindy plays with the perception that she is this self-absorbed egomaniac, but really all writers need this belief in their own abilities. Kaling jokes about her “inflated sense of self.” I think she’s just doing what truly funny people do: they’re honest about their gifts. She writes,

“So I left college feeling like a successful, awesome, tall person.”

Why not? Her “Karaoke Etiquette” section is honest about writerly confidence: “When I pick songs for karaoke, I have three concerns: (1) What will this song say about me? (2) How will I sound singing it? and (3) How will it make people feel?” It’s kinda like that. Writers, of course, write about themselves, write as reflection; they do so, because they think they’re worth listening to. Crazy. But the good writing won’t come about otherwise. Second, writers write because of hurt. I know it’s a big cliché, but I don’t care. We write from our wounds. She makes a joke out of it when she says,

“How I continually found myself in situations where I felt I had to say thank you to mean guys, I’m not sure.”

Let me tell you something: many fine writers have had to kiss mean ass, and we won’t forget our pain. We will bring you to tears. You will hurt with us.

Lara: She’s super confident about her writing; and I think she has to be. Comedy writing is very much a male profession. When she got the job writing for The Office, it was her, B.J Novak (Ryan on the show), Paul Lieberstein (Toby on the show), and Mike Schur (Dwight’s cousin, Mose, on the show). See, all guys. Fortunately, she has serious comedy-writing chops.

Jennifer: Just hearing about Ryan, Toby, and that weirdo Mose brings back a flood of happy, happy memories of sitting on my couch with “My Old Man” (which is a song off of Joni Mitchell’s Blue, an album Mindy and I both love). No, she’s a goodtime. With some wisdom.

About youth:

“The chorus to ‘Jack & Diane’ is: Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone. Are you kidding me? The thrill of living was high school? Come on, Mr. Cougar Mellencamp. Get a life.”

About N.Y. and L.A.:

“One good thing about New York is that most people function daily while in a low-grade depression. It’s not like if you’re in Los Angeles, where everyone’s so actively working on cheerfulness and mental and physical health that if they sense you’re down, they shun you.”

About Why You Need To Let Us Read Our Book:

“If I had thought learning Frisbee was a valuable thing to do, I would’ve done it. I don’t want to learn! I don’t want to learn! Let me read Shopaholic Runs for Congress in peace!”

About those wild nights of unadulterated singleness without a man in sight:

“That’s the nice thing about being a dork about men: you can sometimes play it off as restrained and classy.”

Lara: That must be what I am doing! Being all restrained and classy!

Jennifer: You are! By the way, I love how she romanticizes marriage and talks about the unhappily married and those who are like her friend:

“He is convinced that his daily work on his marriage, and his acknowledgement that it is basically a living hell, is modern.”

I know, I know. Those of us who are married are always working on our horrible, horrible marriages. I speak the truth when I say to you that my marriage is killing me slowly and I couldn’t live without that mofo, who is my soulmate. I weep when he’s not present.

Jennifer (top) and Lara (bottom) posting pics Mindy style.

Jennifer (top) and Lara (bottom) posting pics Mindy style.

Lara: And you aren’t at all dramatic. Which you know, Mindy is, too. I think you are more like her than you think. Not BFF material, like I am, but definitely F material.

Jennifer (ignoring that last comment from Lara): And I love her chapter on Jewish guys. I adore when anyone can discuss race and ethnicity in candid ways that reek of humor and love, and offer no hint of racism whatsoever. It’s a brave chapter that I admire. I’m done, I think. Though let me repeat this: Tina is better. She holds a special place in my heart, and that place is bigger.

Lara: Tina can hold a bigger place in your heart, that’s fine. It’s just you are wrong about her being better. I get it. I have picked better books for us. You can have Tina.

Jennifer (still ignoring Lara): We also just read B.J. Novak’s short story collection, One More Thing, and I loved it. It’s one of the best books of the year. Mindy Kaling is great, though. We didn’t address her weight—because it’s stupid to do so, frankly—nor did we address her on-and-off-again relationship with Novak. Do you need to talk about that?

Lara: Hells no, we don’t need to talk about her weight. She’s totally talented and I don’t want to stoop to what others always seem to talk about when they talk about women. I do, however, want her to be with B.J., but only if she wants to be with him. Or Danny from her show, The Mindy Project, which you need to start watching already.

Jennifer: I’ll try to watch it. You know how it goes. We’re binge-TV people and we’re in the middle of 30 Rock with Tina. But Mindy will always have my respect because I think The Office was some of the best writing to have ever appeared on TV. Do not call me dramatic.

Next Month!

So Mindy was kind of a last minute add-on column for June. Bonus! So July will still be The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vasquez. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s the breakout best seller of last summer. Hailed by Edmund White as “a brilliant new novel” on the cover of the New York Times Book Review. It was one of NPR’s Best Books of the [Last] Summer. It received starred early reviews from Publishers WeeklyBooklistLibrary Journal, and Kirkus. Plus, we think our male readers, all three of them, will like it. _______________________________________________________________________

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