Career Advice Mindy Kaling

Career Advice: What We Can Learn From Mindy Kaling Of ‘The Office’

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In spite of being a writer, Executive Producer, and actor on one of the top half-hour comedies on network television, “The Office” (and now “The Mindy Project”), Mindy Kaling is near the beginning of her entertainment career.

Unlike Stories I Only Tell My Friends, in which actor Rob Lowe chronicles his 30-plus years in showbiz, or Bossypants, whose author, Tina Fey, has 15 years of professional experience, Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) gives equal coverage to the pre-making-a-living-at-showbiz years as it does to “The Office” and everything that has come from that.

This is a good thing for readers with big dreams who are just starting out or who feel stuck where they are. She recounts the lean years in sometimes hilarious detail, which can make those going through their lean years now feel a lot better.

She shares stories of auditions gone wrong, being a great nanny, not getting a much-desired job as an NBC page, and time spent working as a production assistant on a cable show featuring a physic communicating with studio audience members’ dead relatives.

But beyond the foibles and lost opportunities are some behaviors which contributed to Kaling’s success. Yes, being smart and talented helped, but what can you take away from Mindy Kaling’s entertainment career and embrace for your own career? Here’s some valuable career advice:

1. Obsess and Analyze And Obsess Some More

In this case, I’m talking about comedy. Hours spent watching early Comedy Central programming and mid-afternoon repeats of “Saturday Night Live” and “Kids in the Hall” as a kid gave Kaling her early start absorbing, thinking about, and reenacting her favorite comedy bits.

Essays included in her book, titled “Types of Women in Romantic Comedies Who Are Not Real” and “My Favorite Eleven Moments in Comedy,” make it clear that the obsession and analysis continue.

2. Find Your People 

During the time that Kaling became a student of comedy, she shifted away from her previous click of shopaholic friends to spend time with Mavis, a classmate who wanted to watch the same TV shows and movies that she did. In college, she found Brenda, another best friend who similarly shared her interests.

This relationship would be instrumental in Kaling’s career breakthrough. She writes in her book, “I love comedy and now surround myself with people who love to talk about it as much as I do.” In an elite sitcom writer’s room, she continues to find her people.

3. Develop Your Voice

Kaling and Mavis not only watched comedy, but also wrote and recorded their own sketches using favorite characters from “Saturday Night Live.” She and Brenda both did theater in college (with Kaling writing one-acts and Brenda starring in a number of productions) and lived together in New York when they were just starting out.

“Brenda and I have always done ‘bits,’ even before we knew they were called ‘bits,’” she wrote. “We would take on characters, acting like them for a while on the way to the subway or getting ready to go out.” This is a valuable pastime for people who want to be performers or writers, as they soon learned.

4. Make It Real

While they were struggling in New York trying to find a way into show business, Kaling and Brenda decided to write something together to perform in. After some initial struggle, they settled on developing one of their ‘bits’ into a play called “Matt & Ben,” which was a fictionalized version of the relationship between best friends Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Brenda played Matt Damon and Kaling played Ben Affleck. They produced it initially for the “New York International Fringe Festival” and won “Best Play.”

That changed everything. Producers contacted them to put the play up Off-Broadway, which they did. It turned into a sold-out sensation, and got them a pilot deal that ultimately didn’t go forward. By then, though, she had gotten hired as a staff writer on an NBC show that was a remake of a British show called “The Office,” so it didn’t matter. She had broken in.

This book is not for everyone. As I said earlier, Kaling doesn’t have a lot of career ground to cover and much of this book is more observational humor than strict bio material. Kaling has many obsessions besides comedy and she has no qualms about waxing on and on about them.

For instance, the book includes an essay called “I Love Diets,” one which details “Best Friend Rights and Responsibilities,” and another one that asks (but does not answer) the burning question, “Who Do Men Put on Their Shoes So Slowly?”

Some, like me, will appreciate and enjoy Kaling’s humor even when the subject matter isn’t something of particular interest. Others might get impatient with the diversions. But it’s a quick read and there’s a lot to be gleaned from it for those just starting out in showbiz and those who want to be.

Jenny Yerrick Martin

Jenny Yerrick Martin is an entertainment career expert, veteran hiring executive, and the founder of YourIndustryInsider.com. She is the author of, "Breaking into the Biz: The Insider's Guide to Launching an Entertainment Industry Career."

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