Mindy Kaling wants to be more personal. In the introduction to her latest book, Why Not Me?, the writer and actor explains that "If my childhood, teens and twenties were about wanting people to like me, now I want people to know me."
On Saturday night, in conversation with author Michael Lewis at City Arts & Lectures in San Francisco, that openness was on full display to a sold-out house. Kaling spoke of her desire to have kids, ribbed Lewis on his defense of Woody Allen and even fielded a question about writers' inside jokes from surprise guest B.J. Novak. Along the way, Kaling dispensed smart, self-aware anecdotes and advice. Here's a quick sample.
On advice for aspiring actors:
"Here's the thing -- this is for young women, and it seems like there's a lot of young women here -- you can't expect encouragement. You might be lucky, and have nice parents – I was born very lucky, and I had that – but you can't expect it at all. The encouragement you have to find is within you, in that little fire that everyone's always trying to put out. And you're like, 'Ah, no, it's still there. I still wanna do it, and I'm gonna do it.' So getting used to people encouraging you? You can't get hooked on that, because it will not come until much, much later, after you've proved it yourself. That seems like a bummer thing to say, but it's true. I mean, when you're a chubby Indian kid with a haircut that's like a boy's, sitting in the classroom, and you say you want to be a leading lady in your own plays, any reasonable person would be like, 'Eehhh... I'd revise your ambitions.'"
On the impetus to write, and the obligation to be funny:
"When I'm writing, I think I'm more motivated by injustice than I am about being funny. So I have a story that later maybe is funny, but is about a time when I felt I was treated unfairly. That's very easy to write down, because as you know, it's very easy to go on a rant about a time when you felt mistreated. And then later, you have to look at it and go, 'OK, will anyone care about this? Is this actually something that's relatable?' Then it's like decorating a Christmas tree -- you put some jokes and observations on it, after you feel like it has a spine. That's how I write when I feel passionately about something."
On being recognized for her talent instead of her demographic:
“Because I'm Indian, and because I am a woman, I become part of a very small group – at this point, I think there's about three of us who have big shows, which is in itself something that needs to change. But the issue, and the reason I say things like that, is that I believe I can compete with white men. Nothing makes me happier than feeling recognition from people who are my demographic; I cherish that, and I think it's to be welcomed. It feels very gratifying to me. And yet I don't want to self-categorize my work into a group that's smaller than I can compete with.”
On advice for those entering college and the adult world:
"I've never given this advice before, but I think it could be useful. When I was in high school, I did not date a lot -- surprise, surprise -- and later, it helped me get into a good school... but I think that it would have been good for me to care more about that, or explore it more, or try to get my heart broken in high school. Because what it did later is in my 20s, and even in some of my 30s, I became so boy-crazy. I'm too susceptible to handsomeness. I'm too responsive to what a good-looking guy wants to say to me. I think if I had just a little more more experience when I was younger, I wouldn't care so much about what Ashton Kutcher wants to say to me at a party. Most of my advice is always just to study and study and work hard, but honestly, you should have growing pains."
On the question 'You describe yourself as a competitive, bookish nerd, yet you love fashion, gossip, small talk and romantic movies. How do you reconcile these two seemingly contradictory sides of yourself?'
"You know, I have always thought that was so unfair, and uncool. I think of myself as a smart person, I love to read, I keep up on global events and have political views. But because I am sometimes traditionally girly, or I like traditional girly things, that's seen as anti-intellectual. I look at the way the show is perceived, or the way the book is perceived -- that it's easy to do, or it's like picking up an issue of US Weekly. But it's not."