What Would Mindy Kaling Do?

by Abby on November 15, 2013

Mindy Kaling on the cover of Entertainment WeeklyI am a fan of both Mindy Kaling and Gretchen Rubin, so I’m shocked that I somehow missed the latter’s recent blog post about the former. (Did you follow that..?) Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project, posted Kaling’s rules for writing her hit sitcom, “The Mindy Project.” The rules help the comedy writers achieve the show’s unique voice – sassy but not mean-spirited, silly but not stupid.

This is interesting to me both as a viewer of the show and as a writer who dabbles in humor. I’ve never seen it spelled out this way, but every writer (and reader and TV watcher) knows that “voice” is huge. Can’t you all think of a few writers you’d read no matter what they were writing about? Because you just know that even if they’re writing about, say, their ill-fated attempt to make falafel for their family, they’ll somehow manage to make it entertaining?

I feel that way about Mindy Kaling. Her book was hilarious, and I enjoy her show, even if I don’t love every single story line and I do agree with the observation that another strong, funny female like Casey Wilson would have been a better addition to the cast this season than Adam Pally. No offense, Adam, but another boorish guy who pokes fun at Mindy’s appearance? Yawn. (See also: “Where are all the female friendships on TV?”)

But back to voice. Kaling’s rules for her show’s writers include, “Conflict should never come from a desire to be cruel or mean” and “Characters don’t have to be maxed out to be funny.” Do you hear that, “Dads”?

As a big sitcom watcher, I am always slightly surprised and dismayed to read reviews of TV shows. Sometimes I agree with the critics (“Modern Family”) but more often, I don’t. I read that the new “Michael J. Fox Show” is hurting for ratings and I’m shocked. We love it. The recent storyline about his freelance writer sister and his daughter’s Twitter battle? Comedy gold! And I am STILL mourning the cancellation of “Up All Night.” Christina Applegate, Will Arnett AND Maya Rudolph? What’s not to like?!

But here’s what you’ve got to remember, and what’s relevant to us writers and bloggers: the most popular stuff is not always the best. There are wide swaths of America where people don’t think falafel and romantically challenged female ob/gyns are funny. Places where they don’t even use the word “swaths”! And that is why “Two and a Half Men” is one of the top shows on TV.

So instead of making yourself nuts trying to chase what’s currently popular – whether it be duck-hunting rednecks or scrappy single moms with drinking problems – focus on what you CAN control, which is your writing and your voice. That’s what Mindy Kaling would do.

OBSERVATION O’ THE DAY: Ever notice certain themes running throughout several consecutive shows? The other night it was churro jokes. I mean, I suppose there IS something inherently funny about a stick-shaped Spanish doughnut…

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Angie Mizzell November 15, 2013 at 8:28 am

And I also think there are just so many options. I get so mad (at the world, really I do) when a show I like gets canceled. I take it as a personal slam… Only two seasons of Smash? Really? I agree that our attention should be focused on our own voice, cultivating patience as we develop it. I’m reading a book on memoir by Beth Kephart, and while I have said things like “writing a book makes me feel like a miner”, she says it’s like gardening, and arranging flowers in a vase. I like this metaphor so much better because it turns my focus back to love and care, rather than frustration and fatigue.

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jetts31 November 15, 2013 at 10:13 am

Best advice ever for anyone who wants to write or is currently writing. Voice is so important. It was the first thing I tried to nail down when I started all of this blogging/writing business 6 years ago. I haven’t achieved any level of real success but I know that when I write, I’m writing in my own voice and not pandering to a particular audience.

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