“It used to be that you had to make female TV characters perfect so no one would be offended by your 'portrayal' of women. Even when I started out on The Office eight years ago, we could write our male characters funny and flawed, but not the women. And now, thankfully, it's completely different.”—Mindy Kaling
Even if you’ve never had a “fashion show, fashion show, fashion show at lunch,” you should know who Mindy Kaling is. Whether you remember her as Kelly from The Office or as the titular Mindy Lahiri from The Mindy Project, no one could blame you for being a megafan of the actress, writer, and comedic star on the rise. Now that she’s part of the star-studded cast of Ocean’s 8, pretty soon everyone who didn’t already know who she is will be as obsessed with her as the rest of us are. To get to know her better, here are 42 sparkling facts on writer, actress, and producer Mindy Kaling.
1. What’s in a Name?
Kaling’s name full name is Vera Mindy Chokalingam. Kaling has been called by her middle name –Mindy—her whole life, but she changed her last name because when she performed at comedy clubs the MCs couldn’t pronounce her last name. You can spot “Kaling” in the middle of her original last name—I guess that’s the one part the MCs got right.
2. Mork & Mindy & Mindy
Kaling’s middle name Mindy comes from the bizarre, Robin Williams-starring ‘70s TV sitcom Mork and Mindy. Apparently, Mork and Mindy was the only American show that her mother could get while she was pregnant with Mindy in Nigeria. It inspired her mother to make Mindy her daughter’s middle name. Kaling was fortunate enough to meet Robin Williams and she told him the unique story of how she got her middle name. According to Kaling, he didn’t believe her.
3. What Ever Happened To Vera?
Although Kaling has never gone by her first name –Vera— she says it’s the name of an incarnation of a Hindu goddess. The goddess of shopping, rom-coms, and laughter, probably.
4. Go, Big Green!
Kaling graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in playwriting. Who says an arts degree can’t take you anywhere?
5. Busy Undergrad
While Kaling was at Dartmouth, she was a member of the improv group The Dog Day Players, an a capella group called the Rockapellas, she drew a comic strip –Badly Drawn Girl—for her college newspaper, and was a writer at the college humor magazine, the Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern. I don’t know how she had the time for class!
6. Veni, Vidi, Vici
Kaling studied Latin from the seventh grade all the way through to college. She really not only managed to carpe her diem, she carpe’d the heck out of her noctem too.
7. Mindy the Intern
Kaling’s start in the entertainment industry was as an intern for Conan O'Brien. Kaling describes herself as “the worst intern that’s ever worked on the program.” According to Kaling she spent too much time wanting to watch O'Brien, and not enough time wanting to do her intern work. Honestly, that’s understandable, Conan is hilarious. Who wouldn’t want to watch him rather than do their work?
8. Working Girl
When she wasn’t appearing as Kelly Kapoor, Kaling was a writer and producer on NBC’s The Office. And honestly, what would all the toxic relationships on that show be without the ur-toxic relationship of Kelly and Ryan?
9. Two Worlds, One Writer
Kaling has noted that she felt like an outsider and an insider to American culture growing up. She brings that experience to her writing. For The Office, she wrote an episode about Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. Kaling feels like the beloved episode was able to create a perfect blend of Indian and American culture. We just hope there’s way fewer awkward proposals at non-sitcom Diwali celebrations.
10. Not-So-Secret Admirer
Kaling’s favorite author is Jhumpa Lahiri. She’s reportedly reads all of Lahiri’s books the week they come out. Not only does Kaling avidly consume all of Lahiri’s books, but she named her character on The Mindy Project –Mindy Lahiri—after the author. Talk about a fangirl!
11. One Girl in All the Wrister’s Room
When Kaling originally joined The Office she was the only woman working on the writer’s staff. Greg Daniels, the showrunner, has said that she was the best writer on that staff, even when it grew to 18, and included three more women.
12. Award Winning (well, almost)
While writing for The Office, Kaling was nominated for a writing Emmy. She was nominated for her writing in the episode “Niagara.” Fans of the show might recall that episode as the one where Jim and Pam get married.
13. No Comparison!
Kaling hates being compared to other female comedy writers. She thinks it’s unfair to pit female comedy writers against each other in a “there can only be one” type culture. According to her, female comedians can—and do—exist outside their relation to other female comedians. Well put, Mindy!
14. Celebrity Blogger
For a little while, Kaling ran a blog named Things I Bought That I Love where she imagined herself as a long-lost Ephron sister. Kaling can unfortunately no longer keep up with the blog, but thanks to the miracle of the internet it’s archived. The very last thing she bought loved was a food dehydrator.
15. Is That Safe?
After college Kaling used to buy and eat salmon filets from the supermarket raw. She called it “homemade sashimi.” I’m sure that chefs, the health department, and doctors recommend you don’t follow her example, and cook your salmon before eating it, or buy sushi grade if you have to have sashimi.
16. Like Mother Like (Fictional) Daughter.
Kaling’s mother was an ob/gyn, and was the inspiration behind Kaling’s character in The Mindy Project. Hopefully, she didn’t have to go through what Mindy did to find her Danny Castellano.
17. Got My Mother’s Good … Sense of Humor
Kaling credits her mother for her sense of humor. The comedy world owes a lot to Dr. Chokalingam!
18. Family Business
Kaling’s parents guest starred on The Office as her character Kelly’s parents. Authenticity is everything!
19. We’re Not Mad
Kaling says that her parents weren’t upset by her decision to shorten her last name. They understood that it wasn’t to escape her identity as an Indian or Hindu, and supported her in her decision. It’s nice to have such understanding and supportive parents.
20. What are Friends For?
In 2002, Kaling wrote a play with her friend and roommate Brenda Withers entitled Ben and Matt about celebrity friends Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. Kaling played Affleck, and the play was a “surprise hit.” They did the show in both New York and Los Angeles. Greg Daniels—the producer of The Office—saw the play and decided to hire Kaling. Talk about a lucky break!
21. Comedy Special Guest
Kaling guest wrote a sketch for Saturday Night Live while she was working on The Office. She was offered a writing job of the non-guest variety, but she already had a contract for The Office, and she couldn’t get out of it. Considering how long the road can be from writer to featured player to cast member, things worked out alright for her in the end.
22. Sorority Girl
Kaling was in a sorority for a short time while she attended Dartmouth. She didn’t really like it, and eventually decided to leave to dedicate more time to improv. Unfortunately, the sisters didn’t make it easy for her, and when she tried to leave via email, they demanded that she "dump them" in person. When she thought that they weren’t accepting her explanation, she used those improv skills to convince them that she truly was sorry that she couldn’t stay in the sorority.
23. I Love Your Work!
Kaling says the first time she was felt like a celebrity was when a woman recognized her at a Thai restaurant. According to Kaling, they told her they loved her on Parks and Recreation—a show she’s never been on. Did they…think she was…Leslie, or Tom? Either way, it’s extremely bad.
24. Speech! Speech!
While Kaling has never given a graduation commencement speech at her alma mater Dartmouth, she has given a commencement speech at Harvard. Kaling says she thinks whatever she told them was boring, “I was a 33-year-old giving Harvard law students advice, so the whole situation was wrong.” Maybe she’d do better if she was speaking to future comedy writers and not future lawyers.
25. You Gotta Have Faith
Despite the fact that Kaling didn’t have a traditional immigrant childhood, she was raised Hindu, and still considers herself to be Hindu.
26. What Are You Watching?
Kaling’s favorite TV show from childhood was the sketch comedy show In Living Color. She says watching it made her feel cool. Her comedy roots definitely started early!
27. Jill of All Trades
On top of being an actress, a TV writer, and a producer, Kaling has also written two hilarious memoirs: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (and Other Concerns) and Why Not Me? Both books were not only hilarious, but also New York Times bestsellers.
28. Not Right for The Part
When Kaling first went out to LA she was writing a pilot called “Mindy and Brenda” based off herself and her real-life friend Brenda Withers. The studio she was writing the pilot for wouldn’t let her play the part of herself –Mindy—even though Kaling wanted to. The studio went so far as to cast a white actress as Mindy rather than allow her to play herself. The show never got picked up, and the world is probably better for it.
29. Non-Model Minority
Kaling had to fight to get her character –Mindy Lahiri—written the way she wanted her to be, which was something of a loveable, selfish mess. There was some pressure from the Fox Network for Kaling to write her as nice, likable and overall less loopy. Kaling got her way though, and Mindy Lahiri graced TV screens as a flawed, loveable doctor who didn’t believe in recycling because she thought it “makes America look poor.”
30. Say it With Cupcakes
Kaling says she’s an assertive person, but often times after she has to be brusque and assertive she’ll send cupcakes. Why not soften the blow?
31. Give It to Her, She’s Worth It.
Kaling doesn’t like to be asked where she gets all her confidence from. In an interview she said she finds the question to be undermining. Kaling feels what the question is really saying is, “You, Mindy Kaling, have all the trappings of a very marginalized person. You’re not skinny, you’re not white, you’re a woman. Why on earth would you feel like you’re worth anything?” When she puts it like that, you have to admit she has a point. Maybe all that confidence just comes from an abundance of talent.
Kaling has done work for Disney! In 2015, Kaling hilariously embodied the emotion of Disgust when she provided the voice for that character in the charming film Inside Out. In 2018, Kaling appeared in Disney’s adaptation of the beloved children’s book A Wrinkle in Time as Mrs. Who.
33. Crossing Over
Before she landed her job on The Office, Kaling worked for Crossing Over With John Edwards, a psychic TV show where people reach out to dead loved ones. Kaling said the job was never particularly scary, but she did describe it as depressing.
34. Funny Guy
According to Kaling, her best friend, B.J. Novak, is the funniest person she knows. High praise from Kaling, who’s the funniest person I don’t actually know.
35. A Good Waste of Time
Kaling was once asked on Jezebel what was the best thing she’s done while she’s supposed to be working. Proving Kaling is just like her characters, she admitted that she spent time looking through Chris Evans’ IMDb page to see what movies he’d been in. This was inspired by Kaling’s daydreams about dating Evans. Maybe she’s too relatable.
Kaling grew up very different from most Indian kids. She says that because her parents met while they were both working in Nigeria, they actually came from very different parts of India. Because of this, the only language they had in common is English, so Kaling only grew up speaking English. This is in contrast to some first generation immigrant kids who grow up speaking two languages at home.
Kaling’s best friend is B.J. Novak, who worked with Kaling on The Office. They once dated, and as a result, fans and blogs looooove to read into their interactions and Instagram mentions of each other and speculate on whether or not they’re secretly together or—gasp—if he’s the father of her child. Of course, I am very serious and not one of those people at all.
Kaling lost her mom the day before it was announced that The Mindy Project had been greenlit by Fox. When the show’s final season was announced, Kaling found out that she was pregnant with her daughter. It’s sort of beautiful the way life works out like that sometimes.
Kaling’s pregnancy was supposed to be kept secret from the public. Kaling told Oprah and Reese Witherspoon she was pregnant while co-starring with them in A Wrinkle in Time. Oprah later revealed that Kaling was pregnant to the press, in a big “oops” moment. Kaling isn’t mad though, and on Ellen, she said, “if anyone was going to announce big news about your private life Oprah Winfrey is the person. You can’t complain too much about it.” Fair enough!
40. Oh, Baby!
Kaling had her daughter on February 15, 2017, and she’s Kaling’s first child. She named her daughter Katherine Swati Kaling. Her daughter’s middle name is in honor of Kaling’s late mother. While the public still doesn’t know who the father of the baby is, there is plenty of speculation in the rumor mill about the identity of Kaling’s baby daddy. What we do know is this—baby Katherine has already met Oprah.
41. You've Got Mail
Kaling is obviously a rom-com aficionado, and has said that she’s a huge fan of writer and director Nora Ephron, who penned classics like You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle. Well, imagine Kaling’s reaction when she found out that Ephron was actually of a fan of her work. Ephron had been given Kaling’s first book as a gift, and she wrote Kaling a letter telling her how much she enjoyed it. Much of Kaling’s show—The Mindy Project—is rooted in romantic comedies like the ones Ephron wrote and directed. Ephron sadly died before The Mindy Project came out. It’s a less than happy ending, but her work will always endure and inspire others like it did Kaling.
42. Pam Fan.
While Kaling was writing for The Office, her favorite character to write for was Pam Beesly. That’s pretty funny considering Kaling played Kelly Kapoor but hey—who could resist getting to write cute and flirty Pam-Jim dialogue?