If you put two brilliant funnywomen in a room together, comedic magic is guaranteed. Tavi Gevinson, the founder and editor of Rookie (a two-year-old website for teen girls that covers everything from sex to after-school snacking) knows this well, and commissioned a conversation between Girls‘ Lena Dunham and The Mindy Project‘s Mindy Kaling for the site’s second print publication, Rookie: Yearbook Two. “I feel like this is such a special glimpse into two beautiful minds and I’m honored they’d do it just for Yearbook Two,” Gevinson tells Rolling Stone. “As a boss/feminist/girl/human, so many parts ring true and have gone under my word doc of wise words.” Here’s the Q&As’ exclusive online debut:
I was a fan of Mindy Kaling’s long before I was a friend of Mindy Kaling’s, and the most wonderful surprise is that the experiences are remarkably similar. Mindy’s work (from Matt and Ben, the fringe play that got her noticed in 2003; to her nearly decade-long run as The Office‘s resident clothes whore Kelly Kapoor; to her best-selling book of essays; to her pièce de résistance, The Mindy Project) is notable for its wit, openness, and ladylike ferocity. Ditto Mindy. I started picking her brain on our first date (at her favorite Ethiopian restaurant, where she taught me how to order and told me I had small bones—a first!) and continue to do so today in email chains where we get to complain to each other about the day-to-day realities of running a TV show. So this interview is just a more formal version of what I want to do to Mindy Kaling every day: quiz her, quote her, learn from her.
LENA: Let’s start light: What would you like your legacy to be? For example, I hope to have made it easier to be oneself in this hardscrabble world and to have rescued at least 15 animals from certain death. I’d also like to be known as “prolific, iconoclastic, and winsome.”
MINDY: “She threw the most amazing parties and she had the most gorgeous and cheerful husband. Gay teenagers would dress up as her for Halloween. She seemed to have read every book, yet no one ever saw her reading. She had the appetite of an Olympic swimmer and the physique of an Olympic figure skater. She dressed like Chloë Sevigny and could fuck for hours. . .”
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I could write those for another 10 pages. Truthfully, I guess I would like to be remembered as a great writer and a kind person. I wouldn’t mind if an expensive bag were named after me, like Jane Birkin.
What makes you laugh harder than anything else on earth? I am guessing it’s nothing toilet related. I am the worst about toilet humor – I hate it, and I feel that the day I embrace it will be the day that I no longer have anything positive to offer the world.
I love when people fall out of frame unexpectedly. I also love accents. Borat saying “my wife,” you know, that kind of thing.
How would you describe your fashion style? Please answer in the form of the first paragraph of an InStyle profile that, while not 100 percent accurate, embodies the things you strive for in your wardrobe and your beauty regimen. For example: “Lena Dunham sits down at a café table in the sixth arrondissement. She brushes her bangs aside, revealing reddened, teary eyes. ‘I’m sorry – I just passed Jim Morrison’s grave and was overcome with emotion,’ she says. She is 15 minutes late but too focused on her canvas satchel of antique books to care…”
“When Mindy Kaling arrived to the Chateau Marmont 30 minutes late, she apologized profusely and began dabbing ice water on a badly skinned knee. ‘I thought I hit an old woman in the Loehmann’s parking lot,’ she said, a flush of perspiration on her cheeks and forehead. ‘Turned out it was a sack of trash with a shawl draped on it. Got so mad at it that I kicked it, and this happened.’ She gestured to her knee.
“Miss Kaling ushered in a scent that was a curious mix of cardamom, citrus, and Old Spice Pure Sport. Without looking at the menu, she ordered a Moscow Mule, the steak and fries with five mini bottles of Tabasco sauce. Her shirt was Ikat print, and her harem pants were tribal print. She had neon pink high tops she promptly took off. ‘You don’t mind, do you? It’s a hell of a lot of shoe for a summer’s day,’ she purred. I did mind. I minded a lot.”
What do you think is the power of TV, and why do you love it?
The serialized nature of TV breeds anticipation, and anticipation breeds a kind of loyalty and excitement in viewers that I love. I watched The X-Files every week when I was a teenager and I was as devoted to it as I was to a boy I had a crush on. Watching it was one of the coziest hours of life. When Conan started at Late Night, I loved him like he was a movie star – but unlike with a movie star, I was rewarded with him every night of the week! Movies can’t do that. Being on TV builds a relationship with the viewer, and I feel really lucky to have that.
What would you say is the hardest part about being a boss? I’d say it’s that there’s no convenient time to take naps and the constant sense that you are neglecting something or someone.
I want to be part of the gang. I don’t want to be the gang leader who has to stay on gang schedule and pay gang taxes. I have to do that stuff now. Sometimes I just want to shoot my machine gun in the air, you know?
Do you ever get embarrassed to point out gender bias? I always apologize and say something dumb and sassy like “Not to be the girl who cried misogyny, but no one would ever say that to Larry David!” Somehow I feel the need to point out that I know I’m doing it, and that I may sound humorless, and that I wish I could be free and easy like Cameron Diaz at a hockey game.
I totally understand this. I don’t get embarrassed, though – I get nervous. Because journalists don’t like to be told that their questions are sexist. Every so often I read insane things like, “Who is the next Lucille Ball?” and they list all these red-haired actresses. As though the essence of Lucille Ball’s talent was derived from the color of her hair.
More than half the questions I am asked are about the politics of the way I look. What it feels like to be not skinny/dark-skinned/a minority/not conventionally pretty/female/etc. It’s not very interesting to me, but I know it’s interesting to people reading an interview. Sometimes I get jealous of white male showrunners when 90 percent of their questions are about characters, story structure, creative inspiration, or, hell, even the business of getting a show on the air. Because as a result the interview of me reads like I’m interested only in talking about my outward appearance and the politics of being a minority and how I fit into Hollywood, blah blah blah. I want to shout, “Those were the only questions they asked!”
I find being young and female has its real workplace advantages, too (old men want to open up to you, people worry that you’re cold). Have you found any?
I don’t know how young I’m considered now (I’m 33) [Lena: That is yooooung. I met a 98-year-old the other day!], but when Greg [Daniels, executive producer of The Mindy Project] hired me at 24, I do think it was nice for both of us to be around someone with a completely different set of experiences. I was an overtly feminine child of immigrants with a big chip on my shoulder, and he was a gentle, thoughtful, gracious father of three. I think we learned from each other in cool ways.
I’m tactile and affectionate, and that is part of how I am on set with the actors, the crew, and the writers. I think it helps that I’m a woman, because I’m not sure how it would be construed if I were, say, a tall, older, physically imposing white man.
And I’m a feminist who wants to work with other feminists. I would wager that only a masochist sexist would want to work at a show with an opinionated female lead and showrunner. So I work with people who love women. That’s a nice thing.
Do you get guilty? If so, what makes you feel guiltiest? I personally hate doing things I know are bad for my body, canceling plans on children, and speaking to my sister in a condescending way just because she’s an undergraduate.
I feel so guilty when I upset my father or let him down. My dad is like the dad from The Road. He knows every highway in this country and what every building is made out of. He would do anything for me, and has done everything for me. Now I’m tearing up just writing this.
I also feel bad when I keep my writing staff late at work, even if it’s for a good reason. Though I guess not that bad, because we stay late a lot.
I often feel guilty pointing out behavior in other women that I don’t support. Like somehow, the moment I was pulled from my mother’s severed stomach, a pen was placed in my tiny balled fist and I signed a binding document that says “I got all your backs, ladies.” And the thing is, I do support women, but part of that is being clear about what behaviors aren’t helping the bigger cause [of feminism].
I too feel guilty when I don’t have knee-jerk unconditional love for all the decisions or all the art made by every woman I see. But that’s OK. I think most educated and empathetic women probably feel the same way. Like, I don’t like comedy shows where women play cutesy instruments as part of their comedy routine. But I don’t like it when guys do that, either.
Who are your role models? Besides you, I would list my mother, Gilda Radner, Georgia O’Keeffe, Nora Ephron, Jane Campion, Jane Goodall, and Joan Rivers (plus Eloise and Pippi Longstocking).
You are. I love what a good writer you are, and I marvel at how much the camera loves you. I’m learning so much from younger people. A pet peeve of mine is when artists are asked who they love and they don’t name anyone younger than them. They only give props to, like, super-old people or to dead ones like Dorothy Parker and Charlie Chaplin.
I love Tina Fey, Vince Gilligan, Jonathan Franzen. B.J. Novak continually inspires me. Lorne Michaels is so stylish and has perfect taste. I strive to be as balls-out funny as Danny McBride, though who could emulate that, really? Nora Ephron, not only as a writer and director, but also as a hostess, a wit, a New Yorker. These are artists I want to copy and impress.
As an overall person? I would say that my mother is the single biggest role model in my life, but that term doesn’t seem to encompass enough when I use it about her. She was the love of my life.
Can you tell the readers of Rookie what inspires you about other women? I love seeing women stand up for things they believe in, teach their daughters how to do the same, prepare meals out of whatever they have in their fridges, wear helmets when they ride their bikes, call BS when they see it, and accept that feminism comes in a lotta different forms.
I love women who are bosses and who don’t constantly worry about what their employees think of them. I love women who don’t ask, “Is that OK?” after everything they say. I love when women are courageous in the face of unthinkable circumstances, like my mother when she was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. Or like Gabrielle Giffords writing editorials for the New York Times about the cowardice of Congress regarding gun laws and using phrases like “mark my words” like she is Clint Eastwood. How many women say stuff like that? I love mothers who teach their children that listening is often better than talking. I love obedient daughters who absorb everything—being perceptive can be more important than being expressive. I love women who love sex and realize that sexual experience doesn’t have to be the source of their art. I love women who love sex and can write about it in thoughtful, creative ways that don’t exploit them, as many other people will use sex to exploit them. I love women who know how to wear menswear.