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Mindy Kaling on 'Office' Life

Mindy Kaling, shown here Jan. 25 at the 15th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, takes your questions about her portrayal of Kelly Kapoor on NBC'S
Mindy Kaling, shown here Jan. 25 at the 15th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, takes your questions about her portrayal of Kelly Kapoor on NBC'S "The Office," and her contributions to the show as a producer and writer. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles) (AP)

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Mindy Kaling
Actor, Writer, Producer
Thursday, February 5, 2009; 11:00 AM

Fans of NBC's hit comedy The Office know Mindy Kaling as the ever shallow and typically clueless office drone Kelly Kapoor. Kaling is also one of the show's writers (in fact, she wrote Thursday's episode, 'Lecture Circuit,' which sees big boss Michael Scott going on a speaking tour with typically awkward results) and one of its producers.

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She was online Thursday, February 5 to discuss the current season (including the show's winning the coveted post-Super Bowl slot) as well as what it's like to be a key player on and for one of TV's funniest shows.

A transcript follows.

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washingtonpost.com: Mindy should be joining us shortly. Thanks!

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Mindy Kaling: Hey everyone, looking forward to chatting with you today!

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Washington, D.C.: While waiting for you to arrive, I've come to the conclusion that that blue gown your wore to the SAG awards is really gorgeous, and an amazing color for you. Kelly Kapoor would definitely approve when she saw your picture in the celeb mags!

Mindy Kaling: I would like to give my grateful thanks for that. It was kind of a huge drama picking that dress. I usually wear black because it's the best choice when you're not a size zero. But at the last minute I was like, screw this, I'm wearing the blue. And I'm glad I did. Although I was scared I would look like Cookie Monster, so I'm glad you complimented it. Thank you!

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Seattle, Wash.: Ryan and Kelly's awesome/horrible relationship is one of my favorite things about the show. Can we expect to see much more of that this season?

Also, getting up to dance when Michael started singing Stayin' Alive was genius.

Mindy Kaling: Regarding the dancing, there's a part in that old cartoon show, Fat Albert, where the gang would sometimes dance and they'd cut away and everyone would be in mid-dance. That was the inspiration. And I don't think I had that many lines in that episode, but it did capture what a really horrible dancer I am, so I'm glad that the millions of people who watched that episode after the Super Bowl got to see my skills.

You'll see more of Ryan and Kelly for the rest of the year as the Ryan character comes back from Thailand. B.J. and I have a lot of fun doing those scenes since we're both writers and we're best friends.

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Richmond, Va.: Aside from Kelly, who is your favorite character on "The Office" to write for?

Mindy Kaling: I love writing for Dwight because he has one of the richest back stories of any of the characters. He is a farmer who is part Amish, who has war criminal relatives, and who was involved in a secret love triangle. And has a nine bedroom, possibly haunted hotel/farm. He has such a colorful past and Rainn is such a gifted actor that it's like a great treasure map writing for his character.

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Annandale, Va.: Hi Mindy -- I'm a big fan of Things I Bought That I Love. Hope you will have time to keep updating it!

Mindy Kaling: I don't consider myself a fashion person, I consider myself a shopping person. As a person who has girlie interests and a little bit of disposable income and is also a comedy writer, it's so fun to write about these little Hollywood discoveries to my friends who are not in the business. And I love it because it's an outlet for comedy writing and consumerism. So I love that people read it.

Oh, and, my blog is recession proof -- I'll keep shopping irresponsibly throughout this recession that we're in.

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Washington, D.C.: Which comes first when you write: the "that's what she said" line or the line that elicits said response?

Mindy Kaling: "That's what she said" in our writing room has become so commonplace, that we've had to put a moratorium on it. What comes first is almost always the set up and the "that's what she said" comes after.

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Lakeland, Fla.: What's your favorite episode you have written?

Mindy Kaling: I think my favorite episode (and it's always changing, since I've penned so many great ones, classics really) is "Hot Girl" because I've recently seen Amy Adams at the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the Golden Globes. Since she was the hot girl in my episode five years ago, it's fun to see her rack up so many nominations and become such a decorated actress.

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Chicago: Will a new love interest be introduced for Michael or are you planning on bringing Holly back? I feel like the Jan storyline is played out at this point.

Mindy Kaling: I think we are invested as writers in discovering new love interests for Michael and of course Amy Ryan is a huge asset to the show. Given her movie schedule right now, it's hard to say when she will be able to come back, but we'd love to have her come back.

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Washington, D.C.: How do the broad topics of the episodes come to fruition? For example, the emergency planning is pretty funny. It's all the rage in a lot of work places these days. How do you writers know that?!? I also especially enjoyed the ethics seminar/meeting.

Mindy Kaling: All the writers go home for the holidays and have our friends and relatives tell us what their work lives are like. It's not surprising when you write for "The Office" that you have your whole extended family telling you their office anecdotes.

And when Ryan's character was found guilty of fraud last year and we had Amy Ryan on the show, it seemed like a minefield of comedy to have her run an ethics seminar. That business ethics scene, where they sing Let's Get Ethical, is probably one of my favorite moments of this whole season. It was so awful/wonderful. I couldn't believe it. Amy Ryan should get an Oscar for playing the best dork ever.

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Lancaster, Pa.: a.) Have you ever received any complaints from any Amish about Dwight's character? And b.) How would they know?

Mindy Kaling: We were smart when we picked the Amish to characterize every so often because truly they would never have any idea. Maybe that's cowardly of us, but it works for us. The turnaround time for complaints from the Amish is suitable for a fast-moving TV schedule.

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Hershey, Pa.: Hi, Mindy! Do you ever find it challenging to write for any of the characters? I would think that some are easier to write for than others.

Mindy Kaling: I find it certainly challenging to write for Creed because his character is so eccentric, that you really do need to make sure to reign it in. According to our show, if you look at all of the details, he's like 105 years old, he sleeps at the office, he's fathered dozens of children. Oh, and he was a huge action film star in China in the 70s. So I've found it challenging to write for him because there are almost no constraints.

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Arlington, Va.: Not a question, but you might chuckle. My son and many pals, inspired by Dwight and pranks from "The Office", periodically conduct an elaborate "Assassin" game during class breaks in and around lockers throughout their very large, four floor high school here in Arlington. You die with "beet bombs" (fresh beets placed in the bottom of someone's locker). Last player "standing" at day's end wins. It's co-ed, there's team work, secret and shifting alliances, money changing hands for "locker protection", sabotage, etc. I thought I was seeing a huge breakthrough in his commitment to academics this winter, but it's just he can't wait to get to school every day to play Assassin between classes. Thanks (I think...?) for the inspiration....

Mindy Kaling: You're welcome. I'm happy the show is inspiring your child to play creative games, but I am sorry he's not studying for his SATs.

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Washington, D.C.: My wife, who is Indian, worships you for your portrayal of the Kelly character. It escapes the tired stereotypes of South Asians but doesn't run away from her ethnicity (for example, in the Diwali scene). The character is ditzy without being stupid, yet is also assertive and clever with a barb. Total lack of pretension.

I just think you're hilarious. Sorry this is a comment, not a question.

Mindy Kaling: I'd like to say to this man that we should run away together. Let's run away together; thank you for your compliment. I think the Kelly character is fun to play because she's not a role model for anybody. Although I do sometimes believe my parents wish I played a cardiologist at Johns Hopkins.

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Arlington, Va.: Thanks for working so hard at keeping this show real and "wicked" funny. Love how you are developing various characters/spreading attention around, e.g., Pam and Angela, Andy more appealing now after Super Bowl episode. Which brings me to my question: While loving John Krasinski as "a tall drink of water", and Jim's camera expressions and pranks, we ever going to get to know him as a person a bit, what he's about besides devotion to Pam?

Mindy Kaling: The Jim character is, in many ways, the smartest character on the show because he is the most private. He doesn't confess things to the camera and let the camera see his vulnerabilities as much as the other characters do. And the minute he does that, I think one of the tent poles of the show becomes weakened. But his character has aged five years since the beginning of the show and we will show what the maturing of that character will look like this season. He's getting married now and he has a mortgage. So he's more of an adult with adult problems.

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Mindy Kaling: I hope everyone watches tonight's episode and then next week's, which is also mine. And then you don't have to watch the show anymore, just my episodes.

Seriously, thank you so much for all of your questions and I'm sorry I couldn't get to more of them.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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