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Mindy Kaling joins Ivy Film Festival for conversation about ‘Never Have I Ever,’ writing career

Kaling, writer for shows including “The Office,” “The Mindy Project” talks new projects, career

Actress, comedian, writer, producer and director Mindy Kaling joined Ivy Film Festival for a virtual conversation Friday afternoon. Kaling is best known for her role as Kelly Kapoor on NBC’s sitcom “The Office.” She has also worked as a writer, producer, director and actress as obstetrician and gynecologist Mindy Lahiri on “The Mindy Project,” the Fox comedy show she created.

Kaling was introduced by IFF Directors Grace Attanasio ’21.5, Jessica Dibble ’21, Sasha Pinto ’21 and Claire Zhang ’22, and was then interviewed by Industry Team Coordinator Rachel Carlson ’23 and staff member Ivy Hobson ’22. 

The conversation began with Carlson asking about Kaling’s most recent project: the hit Netflix show “Never Have I Ever” that she created alongside writer and producer Lang Fisher. “Never Have I Ever” is a coming-of-age comedy-drama that follows an Indian-American high schooler, Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) as she copes with the death of her father. 

Kaling said she never “would have necessarily thought” that she would create a show about high schoolers, but after Netflix approached her, she changed her mind. As both an Indian-American and someone who has dealt with the loss of a parent, the show is close to Kaling’s heart.

“I don’t think I would have dealt with this side of my life, because, frankly, it's a little bit painful and awkward to reflect at my age back at that time in my life,” she said. 

In order to make the story feel “real,” Kaling said that there were many Gen Z writers on the team to point out anything that sounded inauthentic. Kaling and her team also watched movies like “Booksmart” and “Eighth Grade” in order to reacquaint themselves with a younger audience and better understand how they talked and acted. Kaling wanted to make sure that she did not seem like an “out-of-touch older creator.”

“We just kind of did our homework and were really stressed about it, so we’re happy that it came across authentically,” Kaling said. 

After discussing “Never Have I Ever,” Kaling described her unconventional route to comedy. She moved to New York City a month before 9/11 with a dream of entering the comedy world, but her dream jobs at Saturday Night Live or as an NBC page remained out of reach. 

Kaling noted that when she applied in 2002, there were no Asian people accepted to the NBC page class or working at “Saturday Night Live” as cast members or writers. But despite the lack of representation she saw in the industry, Kaling continued to pursue a career in comedy.  

“I still wanted to do it even though I didn't see myself reflected in it,” Kaling said. “It's one of those things where when there seems to be these insurmountable things, your ambition and your confidence has to be bigger than the people telling you that you can't do it.” 

Kaling quickly realized that if she wanted to obtain a role, she would have to make one for herself. So, she and her friend Brenda Withers, with whom she attended Dartmouth, created a play called “Matt & Ben” which was about Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s friendship and the creation of their film “Good Will Hunting.” When “Matt & Ben” was recognized by the 2002 New York International Fringe Festival, Kaling began to gain traction in comedy. 

Kaling said that her love for writing stems from the fact that “you can look however you want and be successful.” Someone reading a script does not take into consideration what the writer looks like, so “it is very freeing,” she added. 

Kaling has written two New York Times best-selling memoirs, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)” and “Why Not Me?” She explained that writing a book is different from writing for a television show: While writing television shows is social and community based, writing books is full of solitude. In order to compensate for that lack of collaboration, Kaling has tried to approach authorship similarly to screenwriting, focusing on character and dialogue. 

“I decided that I would think of it as writing dialogue for a character named Mindy and not as writing an essay,” she said. “My essays … are designed to make it seem like a very one-sided conversation with your chattiest friend who has something they think is memorable to talk about from their youth or from their recent experiences.”

Throughout the pandemic, Kaling dealt with multiple shut-downs of the set of her new, unreleased HBO Max series, “The Sex Lives of College Girls.” If even a staff member’s family member tested positive for the virus, the staff member and whoever came into contact with them would be unable to return to work for ten days. Oftentimes, this would shut down entire departments, delaying the production of the show. 

“The thing that COVID did in the comedy world was it was just a momentum killer in almost every way,” Kaling said, but “I think that’s stopping now that people are getting vaccinated.”

The conversation concluded with Kaling reflecting on her college years at Dartmouth, where she graduated with a theater degree in 2001.

“I came to college nominally to get an education but mostly just to do extracurricular activities,” Kaling said. ”For me, it was doing improv, doing a cappella and going to the film program and just attending classes in large groups.” 


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