ARUN RATH, HOST:
From her role as the shallow Kelly Kapoor on "The Office" to starring as Mindy Lahiri, MD, in her own show "The Mindy Project," actress and writer Mindy Kaling has accomplished a ton. Just don't point it out the way I did when Kaling came into our Culver City studio earlier this week.
So Mindy Kaling, seasoned TV actor and writer, welcome to the program.
MINDY KALING: OK, seasoned means old. So right off the bat, I feel insulted.
RATH: That was a windup. I knew that from reading your book.
KALING: You know I'm extremely young, right?
KALING: Listeners can't see how young I am. I'm in - basically, I'm in a Minnie Mouse costume, I'm so young.
RATH: Young, but busy, which is a big takeaway from her latest book "Why Not Me?" In it, Kaling takes readers through parts of her life with the same energetic fearlessness she brings to her comedy.
KALING: I wonder if it's fearlessness, or just that I love doing my job so much that the idea of not being able to continue doing it is a bigger fear than having people laugh at me. So it's boldness born of abject terror of, like, not being able to do this. And, you know, to be honest, I haven't had to put myself out there that much because I create my own opportunity so much of the time. So - which is another good way to skirt judgment is to just write your own stuff.
RATH: Let's do a reading from the book.
RATH: Could you read the beginning of the chapter titled "Mindy Lahiri, MD, Every Girl, Mild Sociopath."
KALING: Are you sure you don't want me to read my essay called "How Donald Trump Will Make America Better?
KALING: Because that essay is very well-regarded in some circles. All right, I'll read this other one.
(Reading) Mindy Lahiri, MD, Every Girl, Mild Sociopath. Everyone knows that all white people are racist. And the clearest evidence of that racism is when white people, as well as - I'm so sorry. I didn't know I was going to do a reading. I'm very nervous. I taught myself how to read two days ago.
RATH: Oh, yeah?
KALING: So this is like - I can write. I just can't read.
(Reading) And the clearest evidence of that racism is when white people, as well as people of pretty much every other color, confuse me with the characters I write for myself to play. Racism - when will it end? Between playing the selfish, boy-crazy narcissist Kelly Kapoor on "The Office" and the contrarian, delusionally confident Mindy Lahiri on "The Mindy Project," I should probably give up on anyone thinking that I, Mindy Kaling, am normal or cool. But I still have hopes.
RATH: Do you think that people are more susceptible to thinking that you are these characters you play on TV?
KALING: I think so, definitely. And sometimes, I aid into the confusion by having my character's name be my name. I guess what I'm saying is it doesn't help for you to name a character's first name be Mindy, and then be like I am nothing like the character. Like, I empathize with Americans who think that we're the same person. But we're pretty different.
RATH: You know, one thing - talking about representations of Asians in the media - I know this goes back, but the "Diwali" episode of "The Office..."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE OFFICE")
STEVE CARELL: (As Michael Scott) This is going out to Indians everywhere. (Singing in tune of "Chanukah Song") Diwali is a festival of lights...
RATH: ...You had a kind of weird burden. You're sort of introducing Americans to this culture, but it's also funny and irreverent at the same time.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE OFFICE")
CARELL: (As Michael Scott) (Singing in tune of "Chanukah Song") So put on your saris. It's time to celebrate Diwali. Everybody looks so jolly...
KALING: I was so excited when Greg Daniels - and so much of the credit goes to him for even allowing us to do that because educating Americans on ethnic holidays is not necessarily, like, high on the list of what a corporation wants to do with their TV sitcom. But what - Greg had the best response to it when I pitched it, which was just that no other network's going to do that. And so let's give the American people something that no one else is going to do.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE OFFICE")
CARELL: (As Michael Scott) (Singing in tune of "Chanukah Song") If you're Indian and you love to party, have a happy, happy, happy, happy Diwali.
RATH: So nine years after this episode of "The Office," now you're the star of your own show, "The Mindy Project." And there aren't that many references to being Indian. I mean, there are jokes about using macaroni-and-cheese powder for your mom's paneer recipe. But it seems like maybe you were kind of playing the Indian girl in the beginning, and now you're kind of just, like, playing an American girl. Is it - is that the case? Is it secondary now, ethnicity?
KALING: I'm Indian-American. And I think that when I think of myself as being culturally Indian, it had so much to do with when I lived with my parents and was a kid because they would take me to the Diwali festivals. They would take me to the temple, and they would teach me about all the different holidays. And then my character on my show lives alone in New York, you know, has a younger brother, who, obviously, is also Indian. So I think a lot of the cultural stuff we do on the show now we have fun with is growing up Indian-American. And that really comes into play a lot, or the way that my younger brother and I - you know, he drops out of Stanford medical school to become a rapper. We were, like, mom and dad are going to kill you. And - and he's like yeah, and, like, legit kill us.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE MINDY PROJECT")
KALING: (As Mindy Lahiri) Do you know what it's like for Indian immigrants to have their son drop out of college? It's like if Oscar Mayer's son was a vegetarian.
Your fear that your parents would actually kill you for dropping out of college is something that I think a lot of children of immigrants would maybe relate to.
RATH: So we're NPR, you know, we're not videotaping this. But your publicist did emphasize that you would not be camera ready, which is an ordeal you describe in this book.
RATH: So you're not camera ready now? Because you look camera ready to me.
KALING: That's very nice, thank you.
RATH: I'm a radio person, though, so maybe...
KALING: No, that's very nice. Well, today, I'm going to go be with the writers in the writers' room, so I can look like a - look a little bit more like a slob. I don't have to wear, like, heels and look all dressed up for it. That is something that I've had to do almost every day is do - get into hair and makeup and go do events and be on the show and things like that. And there's so many funny tricks and little secrets that I wish I had known when I was younger that I write a little bit about in the book.
RATH: Give us a secret.
KALING: Well, in the book, I talk about how - I show some photos of myself at red carpet events and then show what I look like when arrive, which is Gollum from "Lord Of The Rings." So...
KALING: By the way, I'm always in a good mood. I just don't look so great. And so we keep this, like - this little facemask in a freezer, which I then put on my face and literally it, like, de-puffs my face as though you took air right out of me a little bit. And then I can look like the Mindy Kaling that you have grown to love and know in your living rooms.
RATH: "The Mindy Project" is coming back. And how awesome is this? It used to be that, like, when a great show got canceled, like, there was nothing anybody could do about it. It was just all the networks would just - you know, the network suits would decide. And now Hulu and, like, things like that. How is it different from the network experience? Do you have more freedom?
KALING: Yeah. Well, first of all, we have much more creative freedom. Well, actually, the very first thing was it was like going from a boyfriend who you tricked into being with you because you got pregnant versus, like, being with a guy who sought you out because he saw you, like, across the room at, like, you know, a carnival or something like that. So it was very romantic is - my relationship with Hulu is they want to be with us. We want to be with them. And that kind of excitement is probably the biggest change. And it makes life so much better.
RATH: Mindy Kaling, her new book of essays is called "Why Not Me?" and it's out on Tuesday.
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