Consequently, in the introduction to “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)” — a breezy, intermittently amusing and somewhat unfocused first essay collection — Kaling addresses the inevitable Fey comparison head-on, Q&A style. “Why isn’t this more like Tina Fey’s book?” she asks, referring to Fey’s recently released “Bossypants.” To which Kaling can only reply, “I know, man. Tina’s awesome.”
Of course, Kaling is pretty awesome, too, as evidenced by her status as a writer and executive producer of “The Office,” on which she also plays the self-involved Kelly Kapoor, and is a widely followed tweeter. The problem is that “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?” doesn’t provide enough strong evidence of this awesomeness. A mix of childhood memoir, inside-Hollywood confessional and commentary on important cultural matters — such as why guys should buy peacoats and the sexiness of Pierce Brosnan’s chest hair — the book takes unnecessary detours that sometimes do it a disservice.
An enjoyable chapter on Kaling’s “Office” experiences, for example, inexplicably segues into a list — or, as Kaling dubs it, a “pliest,” a piece with a listy quality — of movie franchises she’d like to reboot. Similar (and cleverer) rundowns can be found on virtually any pop culture blog; Kaling doesn’t need to waste her precious printed pages on throwaway observations like “I always wanted the reboot of ‘Ghostbusters’ to be four girl-ghostbusters.”
The fact that Kaling’s writing occasionally veers into bloggy territory isn’t entirely a bad thing — one of the book’s strengths is its conversational approach, which mirrors the tone of her Twitter feed. Reading her words is like listening to a likably gabby friend chatter happily over generously poured glasses of red wine: What she says is entertaining and makes you want to be her BFF, but some of the details will fade as quickly as those tannins leave the tongue.
Kaling’s prose is at its brightest and most memorable when she recounts her experiences in the entertainment world. Her confirmation that former “Office” star Steve Carell is an indisputably nice guy manages to simultaneously express admiration and exasperation. After a failed attempt to engage Carell in a healthy round of on-set snarking, Kaling writes, “Later I would privately theorize that he never involved himself in gossip because — and I am 99 percent sure of this — he is secretly Perez Hilton.” And her accounts of L.A. life outside the “Office” set, particularly a meeting with executives at a movie studio she does not name, are as horrifyingly uninspiring as any avid pop culture consumer might expect. “For the rest of the meeting,” she writes of her encounter with an executive at that unnamed studio, “we talked in earnest about if there was any potential in a movie called ‘Yahtzee’!” The collection contains a handful of moments like this. One longs for more.
Late in the book, Kaling drafts Michael Schur — former “Office” scribe and creator of another NBC comedy, “Parks and Recreation” — to craft a fake eulogy for her. “I can’t believe she’s gone,” he laments. “I console myself by thinking, Well, I guess the angels just wanted her to shut up.”
By the end of “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?,” we don’t want Mindy Kaling to shut up. Not at all. We just want her to write a more focused book, one that’s as consistently hilarious as she is capable of being. We know she has it in her.
IS EVERYONE HANGING OUT WITHOUT ME? (AND OTHER CONCERNS)
By Mindy Kaling
Crown Archetype. 222 pp. $25