Mindy Kaling: ‘You Have to Make Your Imprint and Get Your Coin’

Have you felt yourself, even among friends, saying, “No, I want to be home now.” What kinds of boundaries, in terms of your social life, have you had to draw, if any?

People may be surprised to hear this, but I think I do have a little social anxiety. Going to parties where I don’t know most of the people is stressful to me. I’ve always had four friends. I’ve always felt, not exactly a loner, but…[for example,] I love the Met Gala, but the no-plus-one thing has always been a real stressor for me. Luckily Anna Wintour made it so that you’re going to a literal museum, where there’s so much to take in. If we weren’t going to a museum and just to an event space, I would need to take a Valium or something before I go because it’s so stressful to me. That’s not really something people know about me, because I am so open to one-on-one conversations like this one. At the Hulu Upfronts—

With your friend George Clooney.

Yes, with my friend George Clooney—that’s an assignment where I have to go talk to advertisers and try to win them over to advertise on my show. I have to be really funny and sell the show, while looking beautiful and like I don’t care about my mission, right? And I’m put in a room with some of the most gorgeous, productive, interesting celebrities. So that was a stressful situation for me. I remember running into Zoë Kravitz and Margot Robbie, two people I really admire. We were chatting, but I had to excuse myself to go study for my presentation. And the entire time in the car ride home, I was feeling so anxious, like, Did Margot or Zoë think I was too short with them? I was worried they thought I was somehow rude or stuck up because I wanted to go over this presentation. Reese was also there, so I texted her to get Zoë’s information because I wanted to just make sure she didn’t think I was that way. Like, who gives a fuck about that kind of thing? [Laughs.] Zoë Kravitz is incredibly cool and popular and is also totally fine with a woman taking 10 minutes to go over her material. But of course, I went to bed, thinking, Oh man, if Margot Robbie thinks I’m snobby, I’ll be really upset! If I had the patience or the time to see a therapist, that would be something I’d talk about with them.

In a writers room, you’re always talking about intimate, substantial issues. Do you ever feel that makes small talk at events hard?

Oh, small talk is my greatest fear. In the writers room, you go over such minutiae in detail that switching to light, bubbly conversation with people is hard. My greatest fear is that the person I’m talking to is dying to get out of the conversation, and they have to lie and say they have to go to the bathroom or get a drink. I do so much better in a situation with less than six people, which is why now the main way I’m social is that I just invite people over to my house. I’ll invite eight people over for a picnic at my house because I’m close enough with them that I don’t feel the fear that this person wants to escape this conversation. [Laughs.]

You’re a successful woman, but plenty of situations can still make you feel uneasy.

For sure. Because part of being successful is that you start to spend your career with people who are way more successful than you. It’s a blessing, because I get to learn from them. Like with Ocean’s 8 or A Wrinkle in Time, I was spending my day with women like Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Oprah Winfrey, and Reese Witherspoon. It’s not that I’m not happy or content with how I’m doing—and obviously I’m financially comfortable and have an autonomy in television to make programs that I like. But you can forget that a little bit. I’m always thinking that people see me in the context of other people who are way more successful than me. No, they’re just looking at me. It doesn’t make me feel bad or insecure—I think it’s a good thing. It makes me feel really grounded.

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