Mindy Kaling is funny. Really, really funny. To use a long, highly specific metaphor, she’s that one friend you catch up with over lunch one day but wind up sitting back and letting her dominate the entire conversation. However, you’re completely fine with it because you know she’s not an insufferable egotist, but simply infinitely better at telling stories than you could ever hope to be. It’s that exact persona that comes across in her endearing memoir “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)” and makes it such a fun and engaging read.
In it, Kaling chronicles her life from chubby Indian girl with a tendency for asexual haircuts and Cosby sweaters, to her years as a big fish at Dartmouth College, her days as a broke, starving, 20-something New Yorker and to her enviable life as an executive producer/writer/actress on NBC’s “The Office.” Similar to published works by Chelsea Handler, Tina Fey and Laurie Notaro, the book is broken down into short, individual anecdotes and essays, although Kaling’s are structured in chronological order to bring us up to speed on her thought processes from those dorky, asexual years to the present.
Like everyone else, Kaling anticipates comparisons to Handler and Fey, but quickly distinguishes her own voice and perspective. She’s certainly as weird and goofy as Fey, but as the pink-dominated cover suggests, she’s much girlier. And she immediately eschews any similarities to Handler with essays entitled “Someone Explain One-Night Stands to Me” and “’Hooking Up’ is Confusing,” which she chalks up to a wholesome, traditional upbringing by her Indian parents and the inherent nerdiness that has kept her on the straight and narrow since childhood.
“Best Friend Rights and Responsibilities” will likely turn into one of those viral memes that are constantly blasted to you by chain letter-happy aunts and grandmas. And though Kaling’s witticisms may appear to be directed solely at women, men would benefit by taking tips from her entirely accurate “Guys Need to Do Almost Nothing to Be Great” (essentials: well-fitting peacoat, dark-wash, straight-leg jeans, a signature drink and great non-drugstore-bought cologne).
For “Office” fans, Kaling dedicates a whole section to her career, from her breakthrough playing Ben Affleck in an off-off-Broadway show to a list of differences between herself and Kelly Kapoor (Kapoor would fake a rape for attention, Kaling would not. Both would fake their own death to catch a serial killer.)
Kaling’s prose is breezy and conversational and her intelligence and self-awareness are readily apparent. It’s tempting to consider Kaling’s memoir as the latest entry from a pantheon of established and rising TV female comedy writers like Fey, Handler, Kristen Wiig, Liz Meriwether and Whitney Cummings, but Kaling adamantly refuses to do so. In her closing chapter, she write directly about why she won’t delve into exploring whether or not women are funny because “by commenting on that in any real way, it would be tacit approval of it as a legitimate debate, which it isn’t.” Everyone’s been jabbering about the wild success of “Bridesmaids” and the glut of new female-centric sitcoms, but Kaling has a point. “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?” is funny simply because Kaling is hilarious, not because of her race or gender. Her success story is an encouraging one, proving that hard work (and not just looks) can take you far within the entertainment industry.