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Arts in Review

Book Review: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

In her book, readers learn a little bit about Kaling’s unathletic childhood, how college ruined her, and her many jobs in New York including babysitting and working for a TV psychic. But most surprisingly is her big break that got her attention from the show biz world

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By Amy Van Veen (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: November 23, 2011

Mindy Kaling is not Tina Fey. I know. It’s an “aha!’ moment that would make Oprah cry, but it’s something that is crucial to understand before diving into Kaling’s new book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). Kaling herself understands the utter importance of making this distinction by addressing this major concern in her introduction. Fey has been a successful SNL writer and creator of her own critically-acclaimed attempt at a sitcom; meanwhile Kaling failed at interning for Conan, was a disappointment guest writing on the same sketch show that gave Fey her start (Kaling’s words, not mine) and nearly got fired for arguing with Greg Daniels, her boss and leader of The Office (US) movement. These are just a couple of differences between Kaling and Fey.

For those who feel the need to even bring forward a criticism against Kaling for releasing a comedy book around the same time Fey released hers – does that argument really need to be made? Are we actually going to complain about multiple female comedy writers getting their works published? Let’s not and say we never did – that way Amy Poehler can get her act together and give us some more hilarity.

Don’t worry, readers. This is not a biography. Well, I suppose it’s a biography of sorts. It’s a biography of the progression of humour that has brought Kaling from the androgynous puppeteering kid pictured on the back cover to the successful and slightly racist shopaholic on the front cover.

This kind of identifier may tempt readers to mix up Kaling with her on-screen persona, Kelly Kapoor, but she made sure to include a section on the differences (and similarities) between herself and her character in the chapter entitled “All About The Office” – which also includes her slightly tumultuous creative relationship with Daniels, the terrifying location where they work, and the truth about Steve Carell. Allegedly all the rumours are true about him – he’s actually a Jane Austen character, basically way too nice for Hollywood.

In the book, readers learn a little bit about her unathletic childhood, how college ruined her, and her many jobs in New York including babysitting and working for a TV psychic. But most surprisingly is her big break that got her attention from the show biz world – and no, I’m not talking about her atrocious audition for Broadway’s Bombay Dreams or her failure to get Kenneth the page’s job. I’m talking about her and her good friend writing and starring in Matt & Ben, a short play that won them acclamation at the 2002 Fringe Festival and a spot Off-Broadway that attracted the likes of Steve Martin and Nicole Kidman. Thankfully, that show got shut down before it was turned into a money grab pilot for network television, allowing The Office to enter the picture and change Kaling’s life (and ours).

On top of all the biographical stuff that makes her all too relatable—everyone loves a humiliating interview story and horrific tales of stepping on a cockroach in a tiny New York apartment—Kaling also offers some helpful Hollywood insights. Some highlights would be her opinion of roasts (hates them), which movies she’d like to remake (Ocean’s Five, a pre-pre-pre-pre-prequel), the newest blockbuster trend (board game movies – no joke, Liam Neeson will be starring in Battleship in May 2012), the unreality of stock characters in chick flicks (while still defending the genre with admirable conviction), and the top comedy moments that have influenced her (including the latest Melissa McCarthy brilliance in Bridesmaids).

Kaling is one of those female comedy writers who doesn’t try to hide the fact that she’s female. She’s honest and she’s herself – she’s not pushing her femininity on anyone, nor is she trying to cover it up with a men’s tie and some unnecessarily crude jokes. She’s honest about the horrors of being a woman (such as cap sleeves and muumuus), as well as the hilarities (like creating Tarantino-style scenarios in her head to get through jogging).

She’s an odd one, but that’s why she’s wonderful. She’s odd and entirely herself. Just like Tina Fey, Rainn Wilson, Steve Carell and Amy Poehler (seriously, you others – write your books, already!). Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me? ends all too quickly with some other concerns, like the requirements for her own funeral, a eulogy by friend and colleague Michael Schur, and a long, drawn-out goodbye.

People may be hanging out without you, Mindy, but they’re obviously missing out.

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