As an actress, comedian, writer, producer, and director, Mindy Kaling is one of Hollywood’s most beloved multi-hyphenates working today. She first gained recognition starring as Kelly Kapoor in the NBC sitcom THE OFFICE, but her brilliant comedic writing for the series is what garnered her six Primetime Emmy nominations.
Screenwriters, especially those interested in tackling TV comedy, can learn so much from Kaling’s career and creative instincts, so let’s take a look at her body of work, as well as key insights she has shared over the years.
Write for Yourself
Kaling once said she considers herself a writer who acts. She often writes her own material and has said she loves writing for herself. She also has spoken about how her love for television comes from being forbidden from watching it growing up and that watching comedy and taking notes in movie theaters was her way of learning about comedy.
The lesson here: write what you would want to watch. If you’re a comedy writer, write what makes you laugh. It’s a little difficult to expect an audience to fall in love with your stories and characters if you haven’t already.
Write What You Know
This is probably the most overused writing advice, but it holds water. In an interview with Sam Jones of Off Camera, Kaling talks about how her character in THE MINDY PROJECT was an OBGYN because that was her late mother’s profession.
“Growing up with an OBGYN means you’ve kind of done through your whole life, just like a whole lot of research on it just by living with one. But I remember thinking: ‘Why am I making this harder for myself?’”
Be a Fan of The Material You Write
Mindy is not shy about talking about her love for comedy and television in general and has a lot of knowledge about different shows.
It’s much easier to write something if you love it. If you don’t love television comedy, don’t write it. If you don’t watch TV, don’t attempt to write for television. Find your niche. Find out where your passion is and chase it.
Write Multi-Layered Characters
When it comes to writing characters, specifically nerds like the ones featured in NEVER HAVE I EVER, the Netflix series she co-created with Lang Fisher, Kaling felt the need to portray a different way of being a nerd. She tells NPR:
“There’s also the belligerent, confident nerd, and they want big things for themselves. We wanted to show an ambitious nerd … [who] wanted to lose her virginity, wanted to be cool, go to concerts.”
Write the Roles You Want to See On Screen
When Mindy was asked in Glamour Magazine about what she hopes her legacy will be, she talked about how she felt she portrayed the underrepresented voices on screen:
“I guess I’ve always felt that I represent the underdog. At this time and this place, as an Indian woman and a single mom, I’ve felt like the kind of person who often does not get to be the lead of a story. I want the stories that I tell, the characters I play and create, to resonate with people who do not see themselves on screen. When I’m gone and people look at my body of work, they can see it in the context of where I came from and where my family came from and say, ‘Wow, that was the beginning of a ripple effect.’ That people are inspired because they felt that I, in some way, helped move the door open a couple more inches. That would be really incredible to me.”
Mindy Kaling has shared a wealth of knowledge about comedy writing, but perhaps the common theme in a lot of what she talks about is that writing should be something that brings you joy. Write how you like. Write what you like. Write stories that you would want to watch up on the big screen.
Because even though writing can be tough and frustrating at times, your love for it helps get you to the other side.
Inspired to write for TV? Enter the WeScreenplay TV Pilot Screenwriting Contest! Early Deadline: June 15th.
Julia Camara is an award-winning Brazilian screenwriter/filmmaker. Julia won a Telly Award for the sci-fi found footage feature Occupants. Julia’s feature directorial debut In Transit, won Best Experimental Film at four different festivals. Julia’s other writing credits include Area Q and Open Road.