“This is Kaling at the height of her power.”—USA Today
In Why Not Me?, Kaling shares insightful, deeply personal stories about falling in love at work, seeking new friendships in lonely places, attempting to be the first person in history to lose weight without any behavior modification whatsoever, and believing that you have a place in Hollywood when you’re constantly reminded that no one looks like you.
In “How to Look Spectacular: A Starlet’s Confessions,” Kaling gives her tongue-in-cheek secrets for surefire on-camera beauty, (“Your natural hair color may be appropriate for your skin tone, but this isn’t the land of appropriate–this is Hollywood, baby. Out here, a dark-skinned woman’s traditional hair color is honey blonde.”) “Player” tells the story of Kaling being seduced and dumped by a female friend in L.A. (“I had been replaced by a younger model. And now they had matching bangs.”) In “Unlikely Leading Lady,” she muses on America’s fixation with the weight of actresses, (“Most women we see onscreen are either so thin that they’re walking clavicles or so huge that their only scenes involve them breaking furniture.”) And in “Soup Snakes,” Kaling spills some secrets on her relationship with her ex-boyfriend and close friend, B.J. Novak (“I will freely admit: my relationship with B.J. Novak is weird as hell.”)
Mindy turns the anxieties, the glamour, and the celebrations of her second coming-of-age into a laugh-out-loud funny collection of essays that anyone who’s ever been at a turning point in their life or career can relate to. And those who’ve never been at a turning point can skip to the parts where she talks about meeting Bradley Cooper.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
One evening last year, I was onstage at a Q&A in Manhattan hosted by a magazine to discuss my life and career. This was one of those fancy events where ticket prices are high, and there’s wine and cheese beforehand, and cocktails, but no real meal is served at any point. It made you wish you had just shushed the naysayers and brought three hot little sliders in your clutch to nibble at opportune moments. No one else seemed to mind the lack of food, though, because the theater was packed, primarily with an older, mostly white crowd.
I was very tired. I had filmed a full week on the show, traveled on a red-eye from Los Angeles, done press all day, and arrived at the theater. It would be the last hurdle before I could go back to my hotel, take off my pants, and eat a room-service club sandwich while I watched syndicated reruns of The Big Bang Theory. Sheldon’s sweetbazinga! would lull me to sleep, as is always my preference.
At the end of the interview, the moderator opened the floor to the audience. I noticed that the small group of people who lined up to ask me questions looked very different from the majority of the crowd. They were mostly young women of color. After a few people went, a young Indian girl stepped forward to take the microphone. She looked about fifteen, and not only out of place in that crowd but also a little young to be asking a question in front of such a big audience. I think she felt it, too, because I could see from the stage that she was shaking. After a moment of nervous silence, she asked, “Mindy, where do you get your confidence? Because I feel like I used to have it when I was younger but now I don’t.”
Context is so important. If this question had been asked by a white man, I might actually have been offended, because the subtext of it would have been completely different. When an adult white man asks me “Where do you get your confidence?” the tacit assumption behind it is: “Because you don’t look like a person who should have any confidence. You’re not white, you’re not a man, and you’re not thin or conventionally attractive. How were you able to overlook these obvious shortcomings to feel confident? ”
But this wasn’t coming from a white man. This was coming from a vulnerable young girl who thought that maybe, when I was her age, I too had faced similar obstacles. All she wanted was guidance, or maybe a little empathy.
My answer was not very good. My tiredness betrayed me, and I think I said something like: “Wow, I don’t know. I think it’s from my parents always telling me I could do anything. I wish I had a better answer for you.” I wished her good luck, and she nodded politely and said thank you.
When I get asked the same question over and over for years, the words of my answer begin to lose their meaning, even for me. Talking about confidence has become, to me, like listening to the flight attendant go through the in-flight passenger safety announcements. I could be leafing through a copy of American Way as I speak. I open my mouth and glib phrases like “supportive parents” and “strong sense of self” leak out. People seem mollified, but who knows? Maybe they are tuning me out too.
As I watched her walk back to her seat, a wave of guilty regret hit me. This girl had done a lot to summon up the courage to ask a question, and she didn’t even want anything in return other than my honest answer. She didn’t want a selfie or for me to read her script, or to call her cousin’s friend who loved The Office so she could tell me, “No, I loved Office Space. Were you in that? ” She just wanted me to give her practical advice, and I answered in a way that was technically true but did not offer a lot of insight. And everyone had been fine with it.
And that really sucks. Because then why am I even speaking on panels in the first place?
So this essay is for that girl who went out of her way to be vulnerable in front of so many people, to whom I gave such a shitty, unhelpful response. Because I’ve thought about it now and I have my real answer. Hopefully she hasn’t stopped liking me and moved on to Laverne Cox, though if she did, how could I blame her? She seems inspirational as hell and her legs are like whoa.
For the record, I, like everyone else, have had moments when I felt unattractive and stupid and unskilled. When I started at The Office, I had zero confidence. Whenever Greg Daniels came into the room to talk to our small group of writers, I was so nervous that I would raise and lower my chair involuntarily, like a tic. Finally, weeks in, writer Mike Schur put his hand on my arm and said, gently, “You have to stop.” Years later I realized that the way I had felt during those first few months was correct. I didn’t deserve to be confident yet. I happen to believe that no one inherently deserves anything, except basic human rights, and not to have to watch an ad before you watch a trailer on YouTube.
So here it is: Mindy Kaling’s No Fail, Always Works, Secret Guide to Confidence. This is why you spent your entire vacation reading this book instead of talking to your family.
Confidence is just entitlement. Entitlement has gotten a bad rap because it’s used almost exclusively for the useless children of the rich, reality TV stars, and Conrad Hilton Jr., who gets kicked off an airplane for smoking pot in the lavatory and calling people peasants or whatever. But entitlement in and of itself isn’t so bad. Entitlement is simply the belief that you deserve something. Which is great. The hard part is, you’d better make sure you deserve it. So, how did I make sure that I deserved it?
To answer that, I would like to quote from the Twitter bio of one of my favorite people, Kevin Hart. It reads:
My name is Kevin Hart and I WORK HARD!!! That pretty much sums me up!!! Everybody Wants To Be Famous But Nobody Wants To Do The Work!
HARD WORK; OR, THE THING NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR ABOUT
People talk about confidence without ever bringing up hard work. That’s a mistake. I know I sound like some dour older spinster chambermaid on Downton Abbey who has never felt a man’s touch and whose heart has turned to stone, but I don’t understand how you could have self-confidence if you don’t do the work.
Table of Contents
Hello Again 1
For the Ladies 7
How to Look Spectacular: A Starlet's Confessions 8
Some Thoughts on Weddings 23
Mindy Kaling, Sorority Girl 28
(Minor) Fame Has Changed Me 41
Things to Bring to My Dinner Party 49
Take This Job and Love It 65
How to Get Your Own TV Show (and Nearly Die of Anxiety) 67
Mindy Lahiri, MD, Everygirl, Mild Sociopath 84
On Being a Mentor, by Greg Daniels 86
I Love Sex Scenes! 90
Coming This Fall 96
A Day in the Life of Mindy Kaling 101
Bad Sport 115
Love, Dating, and Boys who Ru(i)n the World 121
Soup Snakes 123
One of the President's Men 133
A Perfectly Reasonable Request 155
A Perfect Courtship in My Alternate Life 158
All the Opinions You Will Ever Need 189
Unlikely Leading Lady 191
Harvard Law School Glass Day Speech 203
4 a.m. Worries 212
Why Not Me? 215
Photography Credits 227