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SXSW: Mindy Kaling Teaches Us 10 Things About Running a TV Show

Photo of Ben Travers By Ben Travers | Indiewire March 13, 2014 at 5:30PM

Mindy Kaling had as many jokes as she did advice at her panel on running a network television show.
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Mindy Kaling, Adam Pally, Ike Barinholtz, and Chris Messina in "The Mindy Project"
Beth Dubber/FOX Mindy Kaling, Adam Pally, Ike Barinholtz, and Chris Messina in "The Mindy Project"

Mindy Kaling is a "fucking Indian woman" running her "own fucking network television show." That was more or less the topic of conversation this past Sunday morning when Kaling took the stage for a panel discussion titled, "Running the Show: TV's New Queen of Comedy." Hosted by Anne Fulenwider, the Editor in Chief of Marie Claire, Kaling proclaimed the above profanity-laced statement to a packed auditorium of mostly young women after one of them asked a question regarding her character being the only female doctor and only person of color on "The Mindy Project."

While Kaling was certainly fed up -- she went on to say, "I have four series regulars that are women on my show, and no one asks any of the shows I adore -- and I won’t name them because they’re my friends -- why no leads on their shows are women or of color, and I’m the one that gets lobbied about these things" -- she wasn't ranting at the innocent fan who asked the question, who she soon apologized to saying, "You're so sweet. I didn't mean to put you on the spot." Kaling was merely asserting her opinion forcefully rather than going the safe route her colleagues and guest panelists Adam Pally and Ike Berinholtz tried earlier. Kaling had plenty of truth tellin' to do throughout the hour-long discussion. Below you'll find all the highlights.

Mindy Kaling
Mindy Kaling

On how to hire people for a writers' room:

"You hire a staff of people who you think are really funny and great. We have this whole pre-production period before we start shooting where everyone just pitches out ideas of things that have happened to them [that can apply to the show’s characters]. We just go from there. People contribute and little things sprout from that and other people contribute the leaves of that [sprout]. It’s really fun. It's like having really creative conversations with your funniest friends."

On how her own writers' room functions:

"I think it's pretty gentle. I hear a lot, and I believe it's true, about these very sexist or mean writing room where there's cocaine freely being passed around -- the kind of 'SNL' thing we all read about in all the books about 'SNL.' But our room, because of the culture of 'The Office' writers' room, is very funny and can sometimes be very blue -- which can be out there -- but gentle and loving, also. And all the guys on my staff would identify as feminists. They're like, dudes, and I know the experience for an average comedy writer is not that, especially for a woman, so I felt very lucky I was exposed to smart, nice guys."

On having women in the writers' room:

Fulenwider asked Kaling if she had any women in her writers' room, and she responded, "Oh, a lot of women." The comment was met with a burst of applause, and Kaling jumped on it. "Everyone should hire women! I'm not complaining for getting applauded for that, but everyone should hire women. I want to accept that, but that should be the way it is."

Lena Dunham and Mindy kaling

On funny women writing in the industry:

"One of the reasons I'm jealous of my male counterparts in the business is [they don't get asked], 'Is Will Ferrell too Steve Carell-y?" 'Is Danny McBride too Aziz-like?' 'Is Pally too much like Messina?' Like blah blah blah. It's people who are my friends, they want to put [us] into a pageant you never wanted to be in. And you're like, 'No, we're friends. We both just have our own shows.'" She went on to say, "There's this mentality that there can only be one woman who is funny and running her own show and if there are more than that, you must hate each other. And, no, it's like, I wish you could see them more."

On how Kaling runs the show:

Co-stars and writers Ike Barinholtz and Adam Paley joined Kaling on stage after about 20 minutes to discuss their boss and also provide quite a bit of comic relief. Fulenwider asked how Kaling was to work for, and the seasoned improvisers shot back quickly. "Much like Kim Jong-un," Berinholtz said. "She rules with an iron fist, but sometimes in that fist is a rose. No, she's the best boss I've ever had." Kaling said, "I like to keep a 'V For Vendetta' aura."

On how close the characters are to their real life counterparts:

She rules with an iron fist, but sometimes in that fist is a rose.

"I think our characters on the show are a half-dial switch away from who we actually are," Pally said. "Yeah, I have bro qualities. I'm part bro. I use 'bro' in my everyday vernacular. I might even say it to you," said Pally, speaking to Fulenwider. "You've got a Maxim vibe at a Marie Claire panel," Berinholtz told Pally. "I think a Maxim vibe at a Marie Claire panel basically means I have roofies on me." "Now, you see," Kaling intervened. "My cast doesn't drug women." "We do not drug women," Pally confirmed. "We take drugs with women." The crowd broke into laughter before Pally said to Kaling, "You brought us." I know. I don't know why," she replied.

On the best film endings of all time:

Kaling: "Bridget Jones' Diary"

Berinholtz: "Goodfellas"

Pally: "The Usual Suspects"

On their biggest pet peeves:

Kaling: Moodiness

Berinholtz: Allergies

Pally: Mindy's moodiness. 

Mindy Kaling and guest star James Franco in 'The Mindy Project'
Beth Dubber/FOX Mindy Kaling and guest star James Franco in 'The Mindy Project'

On why she brings on the guest stars she does:

Fulenwider commented on what she saw as one of the bonuses of being a showrunner: hiring whoever you want to come on and be your onscreen boyfriend. "Yeah, yeah. I hire men to make out with me. It's like prostitution," Kaling said. 

On the difference between writing for network television and cable TV:

"The show is 21-and-a-half minutes, and if you're on a cable show or HBO you get 28 or 30 minutes... We wish we had more time, so there could be act breaks and there could be commercials. But I have to say it hones you and makes you better. Here's the one thing: we're a comedy show, and we write hard jokes. And we're often in categories with shows that are about attitude. There are great shows out there, but they are not comedies. They're enjoyable, and they are great. But the hard task of sitting in a room and coming up with jokes is one that [...] other things are put ahead of that, and that is a real skill."

"I think that one of the problems with lumping all the shows that you're talking about like Netflix, streaming and HBO and all these different [shows], they're not the same thing," Pally added. "An HBO sitcom, a 30-minute show, it's a different beast than a 22-minute network show that's a comedy. You're writing differently. You have less episodes to do."

Paley added "When the nominations for the Golden Globes come out, and in the comedy category you've got 'Nurse Jackie' -- which is a great show -- and 'Shameless' and 'Brooklyn 99' and 'The Mindy Project,' they're not the same shows. They're not structured the same. They're not written the same."

This article is related to: Mindy Kaling, Adam Pally, Ike Barinholtz, The Mindy Project, SXSW, SXSW 2014, South By Southwest Film Conference and Festival (SXSW), Television, TV Features, FOX Broadcasting






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