Arguably best known for her role as Kelly Kapoor, the boy-crazy, snarky, pop culture-obsessed customer service rep on The Office, Mindy Kaling says she is actually not at all like her famous character – although she does admit that there are a few things they both might do. According to her first best-selling book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, some of those things are crying at work, driving with their parking break on and holding royal wedding viewing parties.
But Mindy Kaling is so much more than Kelly Kapoor. She’s a writer, comedian, actress, director, producer, Ivy League grad, and mother. She’s worn so many hats, often all at once, and makes us laugh at every single thing she does (when we’re supposed to, of course).
Check out some little-known details that got Mindy to where she is now.
20 She Changed Her Name
Like a lot of major Hollywood celebs, Mindy Kaling opted not to go by her birth name when she began to pursue a career in comedy. Born Vera Mindy Chokalingam, Mindy has been called “Mindy” her whole life, even by her parents who gave her the name after being inspired by the '80s TV show that starred the late Robin Williams, Mork and Mindy, as Glamour reports.
The actress chose to shorten things even further when she began performing at comedy clubs. The MCs battled to pronounce Chokalingam, so she changed her surname to Kaling, Glamour reports.
19 She Was Super Busy At School
While attending the Ivy League school of Dartmouth College, Mindy, always the overachiever, kept super busy! While studying for her degree in playwriting, she honed her comedy skills as an improv player with the group The Dog Day Players, tested our her singing voice in a group called The Rockappellas and drew a comic strip for her college newspaper called Badly Drawn Girl, as Huffington Post reports.
Clearly, Mindy was focused on establishing a well-rounded arts persona, and it’s paid off – maybe her singing experience even helped to influence the Office character of Andy Bernard!
18 She Lied To B.J. Novak To Tease Him
With B.J. Novak, one of the stars on the show and the guy she once had a relationship with (rumours still abound that he's the biological father of her daughter, Katherine), Mindy took great pleasure in teasing her BF-turned-BFF while on the set.
Putting that creative mind to good use, Mindy would tell B.J. stories about their coworkers, like convincing him that show-runner Greg Daniels had dated one of the actresses so that B.J. would fear criticizing her when he worked behind the camera. We don’t know how long she kept this ruse up or how B.J. found out, but we think it was a pretty sneaky joke!
17 She Interned For Conan
As she tried to break her way into show business, Mindy got a coveted position as an intern for Late Night With Conan O’Brien. According to the actress herself, she was “the worst intern that’s ever worked the program,” Jezebel reports, since she spent more of her time watching Conan do his thing than fulfilling any of the duties she was actually supposed to fulfill.
In a weird case of “it’s a small world” because two of Mindy’s co-stars from The Office also worked as interns alongside the tall redheaded: Ellie Kemper (who played Erin Hannon) and John Krasinski (also known as Jim Halpert on the show), The Hollywood Reporter states.
16 She Got Her Big Break Playing Ben Affleck
You wouldn’t think that a short woman would make a name for herself playing beefy Ben Affleck, but that is exactly what happened to Mindy Kaling!
In 2002, Mindy wrote a play with her best friend and roommate Brenda Withers called Matt & Ben, where Mindy played the former and Brenda played the latter.
The show was a surprise hit and showed that Mindy had the comedy chops to write – and perform – some seriously silly stuff! The play became one of Time's Top Ten Theatrical Events Of The Year, as eCelebrity Facts reports.
15 She Wasn’t Picked To Play Herself
How’s this for an insult? Mindy and her friend Brenda then pitched a comedy show that was about their lives, appropriately titled Mindy and Brenda. There was enough interest that a studio even asked them to write a pilot – except they didn’t want the women to play themselves. “By the time we shot the pilot, the script made little sense,” Kaling explained in Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, as Vulture reports.
“Being ‘zeitgeisty’ was the biggest criterion for the show. Being funny was maybe fifth important, after wardrobe choices, hair styling, cross-promotional opportunities with advertisers, and edgy sound effects.”
Fortunately for the two actual best friends, the show was never picked up, and really, it was a loss for the studio, because Mindy is doing better than ever in spite of them.
14 Her Film Debut Was In The 40-Year-Old Virgin
When you first watched The 40-Year-Old Virgin, you might not have noticed a young Mindy Kaling in a quick role. In the 2005 flick, she portrayed an eligible bachelorette named Amy who sat down across from her ex (played by Paul Rudd) and informed him that they’ve been broken up for two years and she doesn’t want to date him anymore, as Mom Me reminds us. It was a small role that lasted less than a minute, but was definitely a memorable one!
13 She Didn’t Date Until College
Since you now know all about Mindy’s extensive extracurricular activities in college, it probably won’t come as any surprise that the funny lady didn’t even date until her senior year!
As a romantic late bloomer and an academic overachiever, Mindy explained to Vulture that, by 33, she’d only had four boyfriends. This dating timeline later informed her character of Mindy Lahiri on The Mindy Project, who she described as having “a little bit of an arrested development thing because in her 20s she was busy [studying] instead of partying.”
Of course, viewers of the show know that Mindy’s character definitely got to have a fair bit of fun later on!
12 She Was The Only Female Writer On The Office
After getting hired to write for The Office in 2004, Mindy found herself the only woman in the writer’s room. At just 24, she became one of the biggest creative powerhouses on the team, and was also acting on the show, as The New York Times reports.
Mindy began appearing as Kelly Kapoor, the customer service head who morphed from a quiet and subdued character into someone louder, brighter and brasher. By the sixth season, she’d scored an Emmy nomination for co-writing the episode "Niagara," Fandom reports.
11 She Was The One To Use More Toby
Actor Paul Lieberstein, who played HR rep Toby Flenderson, is actually an incredibly shy person and generally didn’t enjoy being in front of the camera. In addition to his on-screen role in The Office, he also worked behind the scenes as a director and writer, which is where he preferred to be. (It’s why you’ll notice that Toby has little to no lines in the episodes directed by Paul.)
However, Mindy had other things to say about it, and would try to incorporate Paul as much as possible into her own scripts. She liked him so much that he, along with quite a few other Office cast members, made an appearance on The Mindy Project as a date for Mindy.
10 She Went To Dartmouth – But Spoke At Harvard
As we’ve said already, Mindy was a graduate of Dartmouth College – and that's probably the reason why the character of Andy Bernard went to Cornell, Dartmouth’s rival! However, while she did later give a speech at her alma mater this past June, she was invited to talk at Harvard University to a graduating class of law students.
Sounds weird, right? Yeah, she thought so, too.
While the speech definitely has its moments to shine, Mindy herself thought it was a little ridiculous that she, at 33, was addressing a bunch of Harvard law grads. “The whole situation was wrong,” she said, as Factinate reports.
9 She Walked Out Of The Office
It may be one of the funniest cold opens in the entire duration of The Office (and believe us, there are a lot to choose from), but when Kevin walks in and spills his chili while a voiceover informs the audience of the time, care and preparation involved, it was not something Mindy found funny in the slightest.
In her book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy speaks about her fights with TV writer Greg Daniels. As Book Spoils reports, she writes,
“What do we fight about? I wish I could say they were big, smart, philosophical issues about writing or comedy, but sometimes they’re as small as, 'If we do that cold open where Kevin dumps a tureen of chili on himself, I will quit this show.'
We did that cold open, by the way, and it was a hit, and I’m still working at the show. I can get a little theatrical.”
8 Her Mom Inspired The Mindy Project
If you had a good eye (or a keen knowledge of random trivia), you might have noticed that Mindy’s own parents appear in the Office episode “Diwali.” But that wasn’t the only time Mindy’s mom inspired her work.
Her mother was also an ob-gyn, but, tragically, passed away the day before Mindy learned that her show The Mindy Project, had been greenlit, Little Things reports. In a weird case of things coming full circle, Mindy found out that she was going to become a mama when the final season of the season was announced, as Factinate states.
It’s kind of like her mother was there all along, wouldn’t you say?
7 She Had To Get In Shape For The Mindy Project
Before The Mindy Project began production, Mindy was told by Malcolm in the Middle show-runner Linwood Boomer that she had to get in the best shape of her life, as Vulture reports. Initially, Mindy thought he meant as a lead actress she’d have to lose weight, but no, it was, “Get in the best shape of your life because you are going to be so tired and broken by the show.”
6 Her Character Is Named After An Author
While Mindy Kaling herself is a New York Times bestselling author, she’s also a voracious reader herself, and even went so far as to name her character after her favourite author!
The “Lahiri” last name of her Mindy Project character Mindy Lahiri comes form Pulitzer prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri. As Mom.Me reports, Mindy told The New York Times,
“I love all her books, but The Namesake stuck with me the most personally.
She also wrote a short piece called ‘Rice’ for the New Yorker about a pulao recipe her father makes. I have it printed out and saved in my desk.”
5 Some People Didn’t Like Mindy’s Taste In Men
Everybody always has something to complain about and, for the fictional character of Mindy Lahiri, people took issue with who she chose to date!
In a letter to Fox, the group Media Action Network of Asian-Americans complained that they were “concerned that in the course of two seasons, her character, Dr. Lahiri, has had a white-only dating policy involving about a dozen men,” as Deadline reports. Mindy laughed off such criticism, as Refinery29 reports her saying,
“Do people really wonder on other shows if female leads are dating multicultural people?
Like I owe it to every race and minority and beleaguered person. I have to become the United Nations of shows?”
4 Oprah Revealed Her Pregnancy
Mindy has stayed mum about the paternity of her daughter, Katherine, and has so far refrained form sharing images of her child’s face on social media. In fact, she kept things so private that she didn’t even announce her own pregnancy – Oprah did!
Her Wrinkle In Time co-star accidentally spilled the beans to the press, but Mindy wasn’t mad about it. Factinate reports that during an interview with Ellen, Mindy said,
“If anyone is going to announce big news about your private life, Oprah Winfrey is the person. You can’t complain too much about it!”
We bet she probably scored some great baby gifts out of it, too!
3 She Learned Hindi For Ocean’s 8
Mindy did not grow up learning how to speak Hindi. In fact, she only recently learned the language for her role in Ocean’s 8!
Since she had to speak Hindi in her role as a jewellery maker in the movie, Mindy got a coach to help her do the language justice. According to The Daily Mail, Mindy said, “It was incredibly challenging, and it stressed me out like every night for months before. I got a coach. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do as an actor – learn another language for a scene.”
2 She Doesn’t Need A Husband
While she often plays characters who are more than a little guy-crazy, often eager to settle down, marry and have copious amount of children, the real Mindy Kaling doesn’t feel that kind of pressure.
Although she has become a proud mother to her daughter, Mindy doesn’t feel the need to have a man in her life to feel complete, a perspective that has drastically shifted since she was younger. She told Good Housekeeping,
“I don’t need marriage. I don’t need anyone to take care of all my needs and desires. I can take care of them for myself now.”
1 She’s Working On A Couple Of New Shows
Since her time on The Office and The Mindy Project, the actress hasn’t let up when it comes to creating something new. Exciting things are in store!
The Hollywood Reporter stated that Mindy is developing an anthology-style series based on the 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral, to be aired on Hulu. She's sure to have other projects in the works, so we'll have to wait and see what she does next!
References: Glamour, Huffington Post, The Hollywood Reporter, Vulture, Fandom