Jada Yuan's New York cover story on Mindy Kaling contains the most perfect summary of what the writer-comedian-actress means to pop culture, as stated by Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly:
Look, she has a very contemporary voice. She's really smart about how open she is to being a mixture of both vulnerable and strong; she's a woman that I think other women relate to.
Kaling is not the voice of her generation (or a voice of a generation), but she embodies the attitude of one. She uses that vulnerability to her advantage, rendering it a strength. She's self-effacing to inflate her ego via ensuing audience laughter when she isn't being flat-out arrogant. The New York profile is littered with Kaling's boasts, and sometimes they are exponential. She laughs at her own cockiness after she says that "you would be psyched" if she were your OB/GYN (she plays that kind of doctor on her upcoming Fox show, The Mindy Project). This reminded me of her memoir-ish collection of essays from last year, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), wherein she writes, "My BlackBerry photos...make me laugh. They are all horribly, horribly narcissistic." Many people are in love with themselves and little in today's culture would have them ashamed to express as much; however it takes a certain kind to be in love with her own narcissism. Mindy Kaling truly is exceptional.
She backs it up, though. "I feel like I can go head-to-head with the best white, male comedy writers that are out there," she told Yuan. Kaling wrote two dozen episodes of The Office, and supposedly kept herself confined to a small role so that she could craft from behind the scenes. She is not a terrific actress, but her blasé/confessional style of line delivery plays well on the pilot of The Mindy Project. The show is funny — there's a particularly terrific joke about her being so afraid to say no that she once left a flea market with a samurai sword. My favorite line that she utters is, "Maybe I won't get married, you know? Maybe I'll do one of those Eat, Pray, Love things. Ugh, no, I don't wanna pray. Forget it, I'll just die alone."
Her character is propositioned by one doctor she works alongside, Jeremy (played by Ed Weeks, who is gorgeous and acknowledged as such on the show) and negged by another, Danny (Chris Messina). The latter tells her to lose 15 lbs., only to tell her that she looks nice when she tries on a different outfit. By the end of the episode, it seems that he's interested in her romantically, as well. Kaling's character has so many options, courtesy of Kaling. It's very much like the way Lena Dunhman and Miranda July will write flattery of their own characters into their scripts and eat the profits.
Self-aggrandizing and insecurity tend to come in tandem, and it's impossible to say just how much of which Kaling is exhibiting when she brags, "People feel that they could be my best friend," or when she seemed fraudulently (but not really) miffed about people caring more about Steve Carrell's Office contract being up than they did hers. (If you can't get that video to load, the full interview is here.) Kaling also frequently engages in the obnoxious practice of retweeing compliments. Here are some recents:
“@jackiejcollins: Anyway, love Mindy Kalings book IS EVERYONE HANGING OUT WITHOUT ME?” I'm dying. THANK YOU, Ms. Collins.— Mindy Kaling (@mindykaling) September 4, 2012
It may seem weird that someone so accomplished and talented would need to remind people of it, but culture permits this now more than ever. Who has time to complain about other people's arrogance when they're harvesting their own? And besides, projecting confidence is so often a direct route to being taken seriously. It worked for Kaling. Says New York:
She was [The Office]'s least experienced - and only female - writer, although [B.J.] Novak and Michael Schur, who went on to co-create Parks and Recreation with [Greg] Daniels, were both pretty green, too. "What was sort of remarkable about Mindy," Schur recalls, "was that she was the first one who started acting confidently, like she knew what was going on." Then he realized she didn't actually know what was going on any more than he did. "I think that she just decides she can do something and then does it."
Kaling is a lot less adorable than she thinks or she wants you to think she thinks she is...
Man I am being so annoying on set today.— Mindy Kaling (@mindykaling) October 19, 2011
...but at least she's aware of it?
[Image credit: Autumn De Wilde/FOX]