I want to be Mindy Kaling’s friend, and I think I’m not alone. To admit, before the Emmy Award winning writer and actor’s memoir, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), debuted, she wasn’t on my radar. I’ve seen a few episodes of The Office, and knew that she was an ace Twitter user (to note: “I’m dying to see my book on sale at @urbanoutfitters, up on the impulse gift buy table, with South Park Christmas shot glasses and stuff!”), but otherwise was unaware of what a jewel she is in today’s roster of funny women writers/actors.
A New York Times’ Magazine article about Kaling last month revealed that she unabashedly loves her family (her own parents played her character Kelly Kapoor’s in an episode of The Office), was broken hearted when Target crashed the day of their Missoni collab debut, and is friends with Samantha Ronson (who DJ’ed Kaling’s book release party with a special playlist called “You’re Hanging Out with Mindy”). The article did not make Kaling sound like a distant, successful celebrity to be admired from afar, but instead like some awesome and talented friend of a friend that you would love to get brunch with. (Never having to wait in line for brunch, ever, is a level of fame that Kaling would like to attain, by the way).
Reading Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is akin to befriending Kaling for two hundred pages and basking in her sincerity and humor. The modern day comic-memoir structure tends to go something like this: one third funny stories about growing up weird; one third behind-the-scenes narrative about how the comic came to be on the show you probably know them from; and one third essays/insights on topics like dating, apartment living, Hollywood, and cupcakes. Kaling’s book sails along this structure, self-deprecating without becoming self-loathing, and offering so many awesome gems of insight and hilarity that my copy is now dog-eared beyond the point of no return.
Friends are central to the book, but Kaling doesn’t write about friendship in some sappy, girl-power kind of way. She writes about her friends, from high school to The Office, with genuine admiration. The friends she made in college, namely Brenda Withers and Jocelyn Leavitt, (candid photos of said friends pop up throughout the book), become her first roommates in post-college New York. They settle for Park Slope’s cheap neighbor Windsor Terrace: “We could afford it, Prospect Park wasn’t too far, and people already assumed we were lesbians, so we fit into the neighborhood right away.”
Joining the legions of young people trying to balance day jobs and creative dreams, she and Brenda (who often spent their one-hour-a-day of creative time debating whether or not Harry Potter could really exist) wrote Matt & Ben, an hour long play where they dressed as Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who discover the screenplay for Goodwill Hunting after it falls from a ceiling tile. The play was named best of the New York Fringe Festival 2002, and went on for successful runs in New York and L.A. From there, Kaling describes the series of events that lead her to write for The Office. Her reverence for friends never falls behind, though. The chapter “Best Friend Rights and Responsibilities” offers an official-document-sounding list of what having a BFF entails, and will have many readers nodding their heads in agreement.
Those They’re Just Like Us! segments in tabloid magazines try to show celebrities being down to earth in sweatpants or at the dry cleaners, but with Kaling, you know she’s just like you because she is. The book is so freshly sincere and positive without ever being cloying. Another victory of the book is Kaling’s open admission to her relationship with her body. She talks about how much she loves to eat (but also loves dieting fads, calling them a “hobby”) and laments personal stylists who want to dress her in navy, cap sleeves, or “poet tops,” all in the chapter “When You’re Not Skinny, This Is What People Want You to Wear.”
By far, one of the best scenes in the book is where Kaling writes about the photo shoot she and Office co-star Ellie Kemper did for People’s Most Beautiful issue. When the stylist brought a trailer full of size zero gowns, Kaling found herself crying in the children’s bathroom of the public school where the photo shoot was happening. In the bathroom stall, she discovered a smear of what looked like excrement and a child’s graffiti: “This school is bulls–t!” which made her a) laugh and b) demand that the stylist alter one of the gowns to fit her. In the end photo, she’s smiling in a gorgeous fuchsia dress that the stylist had to rip down the back and alter with canvas. Looking at beautiful Kaling, though, you’d never know. It’s a sweet moment of chubby girl victory.
I was so impressed just to read about Kaling that I took for granted throughout the book how hilarious she is. She’s cognisant of her place among today’s funny women. In the first chapter’s Q & A about the book, she answers the fake question “Why isn’t this more like Tina Fey’s book?” with: “I know, man. Tina’s awesome. …it’s very difficult to lure her into a Freaky Friday-type situation where we could switch bodies, even though in the movies they make it look so easy. Believe me, I’ve tried.”
Another golden moment is where Kaling describes the two weeks where she was a guest writer at SNL, working with the likes of Fey, Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig, but fails to produce any hit sketches. “I had spent the last four hours trying to write a sketch where Bill Hader was a pregnant female cat,” she confesses. “I don’t know why, but it seemed so funny to me at the time. Like, this is gonna be so great when the others hear this aloud. Like ‘Land Shark’ for a new generation.” In another section, she lists her top favorite comedic moments of all time, favoring a lot of Will Ferrell (who wouldn’t?) and giving props to Melissa McCarthy, Amy Poehler and more (honorable mention: Kristen Wiig impersonating Bjork. How did I miss this? How?)
Even with a bright list of household female comic names, Kaling is a minority as a successful female TV writer, as only 15% of television writers right now are women. And even with films like Bridesmaids beating out dude films at the box office, the debate of women being funny is still on the table. Kaling nails this at the very end of her book, in response to the mock question, “Why didn’t you talk about whether women are funny or not?” “I just felt that by commenting on that in any real way, it would be tacit approval of it as a legitimate debate, which it isn’t,” she writes. “It would be the same as addressing the issue of “Should dogs and cats be able to care for our children? They’re in the house anyway.” I try not to make it a habit to seriously discuss nonsensical hot-button issues.”
It’s awesome to find a celebrity book that is equally as satisfying as it is genuine.