‘The Office’ writer masters self-deprecating wit in new book

Katie Stroh

Casual viewers of NBC’s “The Office” probably don’t realize how much influence Mindy Kaling, the actress behind the ditzy, boy-obsessed Kelly Kapoor, has on the show. In addition to her small role, Kaling is an executive producer and writer for the show and has written some of its most standout episodes including “The Dundies” and “Diwali.”

Those who have been following Kaling’s career and those who are familiar with her lighthearted, self-deprecating sense of humor via Twitter (@mindykaling) and her blog, “The Concerns of Mindy Kaling,” will be thrilled with Kaling’s new book, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns).”

Kaling draws on her own personal experiences, neuroses and ideals for material in this collection of essays. She discusses everything from her childhood as the chubby, androgynous “obedient child of immigrant professionals” who was afraid of riding her own bike to her time living in a tiny apartment in a dangerous neighborhood when she began working on “The Office,” unsure if the now-classic show would even get a second season.

The short vignettes are written in a conversational, self-effacing style that works perfectly for her subject matter. Her story about trying to find work in New York City after graduating from Dartmouth is called “Failing at Everything in the Greatest City in the World;” she vents her frustration with the current state of American marriages in “Married People Need to Step It Up Already;” and she describes her imaginative motivational workout techniques in “Revenge Fantasies While Jogging.”

Although she doesn’t delve too deeply into her role on “The Office,” Kaling does dedicate an entire chapter to the subject, offering her thoughts on the mega-star Steve Carell (“I’ve always found Steve very gentlemanly and private, like a Jane Austen character”) and guiltily recalling her first big fight with her boss, executive producer Greg Daniels.

Kaling manages to write about the things she’s interested in (“romance, female friendships, heartache, and my childhood … Just that really hard-core, masculine stuff men love to read about”) in a thoughtful and entertaining way that never comes off as shallow or irritating as her on-screen alter ego Kelly.

“I wrote this book in a way that reflects how I think,” Kaling writes. “Sometimes it’s an essay or story, and sometimes it’s a pliest, which is a piece with a list-y quality, a term I’ve just made up.”

“Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?” proves not just entertaining, but incredibly, insightfully funny. Beware of reading this book in public. It’s nearly impossible not to laugh audibly reading pieces such as “The Exact Level of Fame I Want” (enough that she could never go to jail, even if she murdered someone, and would never have to stand in line for brunch) and “Someone Explain One-Night Stands to Me.”

The real heart of the book, though, is its relatability. Any girl — or guy, for that matter — who was an obedient wallflower in high school or who has geeked out over compiling a list of their favorite comedy moments (Kristen Wiig’s Bjork impression on SNL, anyone?) will find a kindred spirit in Kaling. The only deficiency of “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?” is that, at 219 pages, the book is far too short. It’s hard not to want more of Kaling’s bubbly but sharply-written wisdom.

Printed on Monday, October 31, 2011 as: 'The Office' writer showcases witty humor in 'Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?'