Why Not Me, Mindy Kaling

A general assumption about confidence is that women, particularly young women, will have very little of it, and girls will have zero of it. Just the attitude alone makes me sad: “We have to help our girls and teach them to be confident.” Well, guess what, young girls. You aren’t damsels in distress. You aren’t hostages to the words of your peers. You aren’t the victims that even your well-meaning teachers and advocates think you are. 

We just assume boys will be confident, like how your parents assume you will brush your teeth every morning without checking in on you in the bathroom. With girls, that assumption flies out the window. Suddenly, your parents are standing in the bathroom with you, watching you brush your teeth with encouraging, worried expressions on their faces. Sweetheart, you can do it! We know it’s hard to brush your teeth! We love you! Which must make girls think, Yikes. Is brushing your teeth a really hard and scary thing to do? I thought it was just putting toothpaste on a toothbrush. 

I get worried that telling girls how difficult it is to be confident implies a tacit expectation that girls won’t be able to do it. The good news is that, as a country, we are all about telling girls to be confident. It’s our new national pastime. Every day I see Twitter posts, Instagram campaigns, and hashtags that say things like “We Will!” or “Girls Can!” or “Me Must, I Too!” on them. I think widespread, online displays of female self-confidence are good for people, especially men, to see. I just sometimes get the sneaking suspicion that corporations are co-opting “girl confidence” language to rally girls into buying body wash. Be careful. (p. 223)

I’m sure not everyone loves Mindy Kaling as much as I do. Her comedy is aimed very much at my generation (the earliest years of the Millennials – those who occasionally try to sneak by on Gen X cred), and it’s especially appealing to women (or so I have gathered from talking to my husband and several of his friends). I’ve come to accept this as the way of comedy. It tends to be polarizing, alienating, or ignored by those outside the target audience. Of course, there are exceptions. (A notable “current” exception is Parks and Rec, a show enjoyed by myself, my parents, and the teenagers I work with – it doesn’t get much more all-encompassing.) 

By and large though, comedy is a personal genre. A comedian or a bit is either hilarious to you, or it’s not based on age, gender, background, and life experiences. For me, Mindy Kaling, both as a writer and an actress, is on point. Her first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me, was happily consumed on audiobook on long runs, and I often found myself laughing out loud as I panted up and down hills during race prep. 

Her second book, on the other hand, is much more serious. She has clearly grown in her understanding of both herself and the industry, and although people often pigeonhole her into the characters she’s played, this book is an in-depth look at how hard she works to be successful. (Spoiler alert: having a television show in which you star AND do a huge amount of writing means every day is eighteen to twenty hours long, and it leaves very little time for a social life. It sounded like Hollywood’s version of bootcamp, and I had no desire to switch places with her whatsoever!) She keeps her sense of humor though, and this time around, when I laughed, it was often out of sympathy and understanding. 

Sure, her job is a far cry from what I do, but there are moments that resonated deeply for me. Her relationship with her family, her joy in doing what she loves professionally, and a wonderful work community buoys her through day to day experiences that might otherwise be untenable. Kaling may be famous, but her celebrity comes with a heavy price, one that many of us non-famous folks understand. Pursuing a passionate life’s work doesn’t come with short cuts or lucky breaks – it’s exhausting in a way that’s rewarding not only for the end result, but for the love of doing it. If out of that struggle comes success, it’s a privilege, not a right. 

This is a difficult lesson to stomach. We all want to feel that our commitment and particular talents are enough to give us a step up on the path, but the truth is, our best work can go unrecognized. Even if we do catch a break, many projects will still fail. All we can hope for is that the experiences motivate us to keep chipping away and to have fun while we’re doing it. Kaling’s experiences were a breath of fresh air for me in this department. Perseverance is crucial – it’s not enough to be talented or to have great ideas – for true magic to happen, the work has to get done. 

23 thoughts on “Why Not Me, Mindy Kaling

  1. I am reading “Why Not Me?” currently; I knew I had to after reading Mindy’s first book. I agree that the second is more serious, because it iss more focused on, like you say, “how hard she works to be successful,” something that wasn’t as fully explored in her premier book. A “I’ve told you a little about my history, now I’m getting down to the nitty gritty truth about my history” kind of story.

    I like that you say “comedy is a personal genre.” This is so true – Parks and Rec is still one of my favorite television series, and while a few of my friends enjoy it as well, they share less of my love for Portlandia which is definitely comedic to me (Yay Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein!) but a strange, outlandish (both true), unlikable series to others.

    Trying not to be long-winded here, I’ll end by saying it’s refreshing to learn that people/celebrities I admire had to struggle and really work towards their success – most of them did not just fall into their rewards. It gives me a little more hope for myself.

    1. Ahh Portlandia! A divisive show even between my husband and me :) (He loves it, and I love some of the sketches, but not all of them.) Just goes to show that comedy is more like a Venn diagram than anything!

  2. I freaking love Mindy! She is absolutely brilliant and all I want to be in a grown up woman. She is honestly much of my inspiration for confidence in attitude, work and body image. I really enjoyed reading this post, and had no idea she wrote a few books! I will definitely have to get the audio versions for my runs, what a fabulous idea!

  3. I adore Mindy Kaling. I think she appeals to young woman in such a different way than most comedians. She loves herself, flaws and all, while still being able to make fun of herself on her show. You can also tell she’s such a hard worker and is so dedicated to her professional career. I simply love her. I didn’t love her first book, I think because I never watched The Office and there were plenty of references to that (I do however, watch The Mindy Project). You said you’ve read both, would you recommend this one?

    1. I think so, but I did love The Office, so I’m probably somewhat biased! This book is definitely more focused on her work now and what she’s had to do to make The Mindy Project successful. Maybe you can find it at the library and give it a try with no financial strings attached ;)

  4. I’m not really familiar with Mindy Kaling’s acting myself, but I read Why Not Me? last weekend and I really enjoyed it. It’s fresh, funny when it’s supposed to be and she feels ‘real’ in her essays. Great review!

      1. I’ve seen a few fragments of her shows, but I mostly got a copy of her book because people that do watch the show recommended it to me and I like reading non fiction at times.

  5. I just finished this book a few weeks ago! I agree, it was definitely more serious than her first book, and I think I enjoyed this one a little more. I think especially the story about her almost-romance with the guy who worked for POTUS showed off her maturity and growth from the last book. I just want her and BJ Novak to get together <3

  6. I’m sure you’ve read “Bossypants” so I’m wondering how you think Mindy and Tina compare, especially re their career successes and personal lives. Which one of these authors’ experiences would you want to emulate, and do you think you could?

    1. My husband and I listened to Bossypants on a road trip a few years ago and I actually had to pull over when she was talking about her “fashion regimen” (ie standing under an air conditioner to try her hair, etc) because I was laughing so hard. My husband said, “You know this is totally you, right?” and I couldn’t agree more! I think I’m probably much more like Tina personality-wise, but both of them hustle far more than I do and are more ambitious than I am. I could never hope to achieve their level of talent because I’ve always been more interested in my family and friends than I am in my career. I love the work I do, but I’m not willing to work 100 hour weeks to make it better, and I truly think that their success is hugely related to their stamina. I just couldn’t cut it. Fortunately, I’m completely fine with that!

  7. She is doing so many wonderful things for so many different demographics–truly an inspirational powerhouse! I’ve enjoyed reading all of her interviews surrounding the release of this book, but need to actually read THE BOOK. This post might just be the kick-in-the-pants that I need.

    For more fun with books, check out aliteralinterpretation.wordpress.com. I think you’ll like it.

    1. I agree! She works so hard – I’m very proud to be represented by a woman like her! Definitely read it if you get a chance :)

      Also, bacon rice Krispie treats? I’m intrigued!

      1. Agreed. And I figure you can put bacon in pretty much anything that’s edible. Possibly some non-edibles. I tried it when bacon-mania first hit the food scene, and there is something about the salty-sweet-naughtiness that will keep you coming back. Highly recommended, though not liable for your cholesterol spike.

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