Mindy Kaling is my pretend best friend. I’ve read her book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). I follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and I keep up with her TV shows. You may know her as Kelly of The Office, where she was also a writer and producer, or as Dr. Lahiri in her show The Mindy Project. And if you don’t know her, you should because she is absolutely one the funniest women out there. So yes, stalking seeing her at SXSW was absolutely mandatory.
Part One: Running the Show: TV’s New Queen of Comedy
As I write this I am still giddy with excitement. First, I went to the ballroom where her interview was to take place. Luckily I showed up over an hour before her interview, and the ballroom was open for seating. I scored a pretty close spot where I could look directly to the stage instead of one of those big screens on the side. The hour passed by pretty quickly as I chatted it up with other Mindy fans sitting around me.
Anne Fulenwider, Editor-in-Chief of Marie Claire, and Mindy Kaling walked on stage to a roaring crowd. Mindy looked absolutely adorable in her coral top and pants, cobalt blue pumps, and a spectacular necklace to tie it all together. I’m no fashionista, but I think anyone with eyes could see that Mindy was stylin’.
For the first 15 minutes or so, it was just Mindy and Anne talking on stage. It began with a Twitter challenge: Mindy has stated in the past that if you can’t tweet in 45 seconds, then it’s not your medium, so Anne handed Mindy her phone and asked her to tweet. And in 17 seconds, it was done! Here’s the tweet:
After Mindy wowed the crowd with her 17-second tweet, Anne congratulated her on having her own TV show, The Mindy Project. They discussed the decision to have Mindy be an OB/GYN on the show. Mindy explained that Tina Fey had already done the female comedy writer thing on 30 Rock, and she also wanted to have a female lead who is both good at her job yet flawed in other parts of her life. Her mother was an OB/GYN so she had some experience to base her character’s work-life on.
Anne moved on, “So skipping to getting your own show, to have a successful pilot on network television right now is so rare, you must have been over the moon. How did it happen? What was the secret to your success?”
Mindy partly attributed her success to being a writer on Season 2 of The Office. “Greg Daniels had a writer’s room in season 2 of The Office, it was like Gene Stupinsky and Lee Eisenberg who then went on to start Trophy Wife and write Bad Teacher, BJ Novak who’s done a ton of amazing stuff… Mike Schur who did Parks and Rec… so of that group, it’s not that weird to have your own show. We’re very competitive and sort of high-achieving people – the season 2 writer’s room – so it felt like, you better get your own show because that’s what everyone else is doing.”
Then her castmates Ike Barinholtz (aka Morgan) and Adam Pally (aka Peter) joined her on stage. The three of them together were so hilarious and honest, it’s hard not to imagine them working together. Their chemistry works!
Mindy said her writer’s room is full of women. The audience applauded, and she responded, “Everyone should hire women. I’m glad I’m being applauded for that, but everyone should do it.”
But she also gave credit to her male staff:
“The guys on staff identify as feminists. Smart, nice guys who love women.”
Ike Barinholtz on Mindy as a boss, “She rules with an iron fist, but sometimes in that fist is a rose.”
And Mindy admitted she misses being just one of the writers. “The only complaint I have is that I wanna be like ‘Fuck our boss!’ but it’s like, ‘Oh wait. That’s me.’”
Mindy also talked about her character’s will-they/won’t-they relationship with Danny, played by Chris Messina. She debated whether their relationship should remain platonic, like Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy in 30 Rock, but the relationship just took a form of its own. “One look from Chris Messina can make you say ‘Let’s make love’,” joked Ike Barinholtz.
But of course, I think everybody’s favorite moment in the interview was Mindy’s response to an audience member’s question about the show’s diversity. The question went something like Was it a conscious decision to be the only female doctor and woman of color? (I’m pretty sure I botched it, but you get the idea.)
Now, if you’ve been following any SXSW news, you may have already read what happened next, but I will say that her response has been taken out of context in some articles. Here’s what happened: at first she tried to get some clarification on the topic and began her response with, “I have four series regulars that are women on my show, and no one asks any of the shows I adore — and I won’t name them because they’re my friends — why no leads on their shows are women of color, and I’m the one that gets lobbied about these things.”
But the topic sparked some passion within Mindy, and she continued on a small rant, not directed to the person who asked the question, but to everyone in general stating, “I’m a fucking Indian woman with my own show. Why is everyone asking me about diversity and no one else?” The audience applauded.
However, it’s clear that the person who asked the question took this personally, and when it was time for the next question, the same audience member was still at the microphone, noticeably shaken and apologetic. Her voice quivered on the microphone as she apologized, and immediately the audience and the panel of celebrities were sorry (faint awww’s could be heard in the audience). Mindy clarified that the comments weren’t directed to the audience member, and Ike and Adam tried to make amends too. “I think it’s important to remember that I loved your question,” Adam Pally reassured her.
Oh, and Mindy did confirm that she’s planning on finishing her second book by the end of the year. So yay, I can’t wait!
Part Two: The Roku Lounge
Somehow I learned that Mindy Kaling would be interviewed at the Roku Lounge immediately after the panel. I’m not sure if I read it in a tweet or newsletter (I’m a very happy Roku customer!) or on some flyer, but I had saved the information on my phone and made my way as fast I could to the floor below. I wasn’t sure how many people actually knew about this second event.
To my surprise, there were already people waiting, but it wasn’t as packed as I had anticipated. I think, for the most part, people didn’t really know about it. I was fortunate to find a seat about 10 feet away from where Mindy was to sit. It really was an intimate setting. (No way there were 500 people there as suggested in this article.)
I was squeezed into my awesome spot, and my feet were already falling asleep in a very dangerous way…
[Aside 1: At the time of this next interview, I didn’t know that the person interviewing Mindy was an actual journalist. But she is, and a very well-regarded one, and her name is Jennifer Jolly of USA Today. I personally thought that she was not very prepared to discuss Mindy’s accomplishments, but I imagine thought most people thought it was ok. Now that I know who she is, I realize she is a tech expert, so I forgive her for not knowing much about television or comedy. Luckily, Mindy is an engaging person regardless of who is interviewing her.]
[Aside 2: Unfortunately, I’m unable to confirm exact quotes because there weren’t any tweets I could find about this particular event, and I didn’t film too much because my phone was dying. I did reach out to Roku on Twitter to see if the interview would be posted online, and they said yes. However, I have yet to find it.]
…then finally, she appears!
One of the first questions Jennifer Jolly asked Mindy is why she wasn’t wearing cowboy boots. Mindy said she had heard it wasn’t cool for tourists to wear boots when they visiting Austin so she wasn’t sure if she should, and I just yelled out from the audience with a reassuring, “It’s ok!” Mindy looked at me and asked, “It’s ok?” And I nodded and did a little hand-wave gesture to confirm my response. (Ok, I know I don’t speak for all of Austin, but I’m pretty sure the city would be ok with Mindy trying to fit in for a day. Am I right, guys?) I did a little happy dance inside. Yes, I spoke to Mindy (sorta), and she looked at me (kinda).
The interview continued, touching on some of the same issues discussed in the previous panel. There is one moment that is engrained in my head – when Jennifer Jolly accidentally insults Mindy. She said something like, “We all love that you’re not skinny.” My jaw dropped. Yes, we know that Mindy jokes about her weight all of the time, but who says that? That’s still insulting. Mindy responded playfully with something like, “Oh really, I thought I was like a dainty little Calista Flockhart.” Jennifer did apologize and tried to rephrase what she meant, but Mindy said it was ok and moved on. They discussed her Elle cover that sparked controversy. Mindy said that she loved the cover and was even flattered that it was centered around her face because she thought the cover made more of an impact and stood out from others on the shelves. She had no idea it would be a big deal but does understand how people would want to step in and defend her.
Some more highlights (very much paraphrased from memory):
Mindy didn’t even know what the Roku is, which is funny because she was at the Roku Lounge.
She also said that she has exactly two TVs at home, but only uses one because she doesn’t know how to use the other. The unused one is just mounted on her wall as a symbol of her incompetence.
She doesn’t like to watch television shows on devices. How is she supposed to be scared of small zombies on her tiny smartphone screen? (referring to watching Walking Dead. Oh yeah, she also watches Game of Thrones, FYI.)
She feels a little sorry for the generation that grew up with social media and YouTube. She says that we’ve created a generation of kids who just perform instead of taking the time to learn the craft. She talked about how other people her age were going out to network to get into the business, but she spent many nights and evenings studying from the best. She wrote spec scripts, studied SNL and other shows, and learned how to write in order to get to where she is now. We emphasized the need to learn the craft, rather than just doing it without taking the time to learn it.
At the end of the interview, the floor was open for questions, but unfortunately I wasn’t selected. I personally want to tell Mindy that I love how the show embraces femininity yet also sheds light on the details of what our daily “feminizing” routine – like using a butter knife to apply the last bits of deodorant (haven’t done that myself… yet) or the daily struggle failure to maintain self-control when it comes to food. So I guess I don’t really have a question about it, I just want to tell her that I love that about the show. (You can read my previous post about female-centric television right here.)
Part Three: Autographs
To my surprise, Mindy was available for one hour for autographs and photos! I rushed to the end of the line. A cop with a stereotypical Texas-drawl announced that he would be taking Mindy away at exactly 2:30 pm. He convinced us that it was not her fault and that she was not trying to be mean, but he was going to make her leave at exactly that time and that she would try her best to meet everyone. The wait didn’t seem too long, so I decided to stick it out.
The time flew by. I made some new friends in line, and before I knew it, it was 2:21 pm. I was just a few feet away from Mindy’s table. I started to panic a little, thinking I would get cut-off from seeing her just before it was my turn! However at 2:25 pm, it was my turn!
I was so nervous that I’m not even sure I said hi. I handed my almost-dead cell phone to a volunteer, and I immediately sat next to Mindy, wrapped my arm around her back, and posed for the picture. She signed a photo for me with my name, and as she handed it to me, I blurted out very fast and while walking away, “Mindy, I just want to tell you that last year I submitted a spec script for your show to the Austin Film Festival, and I plan to do it again this year…” She looked confused and said something like, “Oh… ok…?” And the moment was over.
Now looking back, a few things happened here. One – I was a weirdo to wrap my arm around her waist. No one wants to be touched by strangers. I think I even felt her “love handle” which made me feel better for having some myself. Two – I didn’t want to be the person who held up the line, so when I finally got up to meet her, I hadn’t even planned what to say to her. Three – I immediately felt embarrassed for blurting that spec script thing to her because she obviously looked confused. Maybe she was surprised that I even knew what a spec script was? Four – why am I not looking into my own camera for the photo? I guess I was distracted by all of the movement behind the scenes.
Seeing how long this post has turned out to be, I realize that I must sound like this psycho crazy fan, but I promise I’m not! Had I seen Mindy on the street, I wouldn’t have even approached her for an autograph because I would want to respect her privacy. However, this was a unique opportunity to meet my TV Comedy Writer Idol, so yes, I had to do it!