Within my group of friends, there exists a powerful and devoted obsession with The Office. Quite often we find ourselves deep in conversation about our opinions of the show, whether we believe it has improved or gone downhill in its eight-season tenure, or how it has benefitted from different characters being added on or leaving. Other times we just go around proclaiming “I love Jim” while sitting around YouTubing.
One evening, while watching an early episode in the series, we decided to consider which characters we were most like. One friend insisted the falsity of her being labeled as Angela, another said she wanted to be Pam but knew that none of us seemed at all like her. Then they arrived at me – and I was, by a consensus, most like Kelly Kapoor.
A couple of years ago, I was informed that Mindy Kaling was not just the actor behind the character of Kelly. She, like BJ Novak (who plays Ryan), was a writer on the show who had been responsible for some of the greatest lines and moments in Office history. When not performing on the show, she has written some of the gems of the series, including when Michael stepped on a George Foreman Grill, causing him to burn his foot and become moderately incapacitated.
Her recently released memoir of sorts, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), is a witty and eccentric look into Kaling’s experiences as a comedian, writer and actress best known and often most judged by her role on The Office. She covers topics from childhood to job hunting to romance all with the clever insight of someone who has spent more of her time behind-the-scenes than in front of the camera, much to her betterment.
When my friends, apparently joking but at the time seemingly spiteful and vindictive, labeled me as Kelly – the resident melodramatic, trend-crazy, celebrity news-hungry employee of Dunder Mifflin – I was quick to respond with an accusation of a conspiracy. But after reading an excerpt of Kaling’s book in The New Yorker, I was forced to backtrack and rethink my allegation.
IEHOWM? (AOC), as I have affectionately nicknamed it, shines a light on not only why Mindy Kaling is a terrific example of how the entertainment industry is not completely lost, but also why being compared to Kelly Kapoor is not as much an insult as it may seem on the surface. Kaling herself draws comparisons between her personality and her character’s – the interest in celebrity gossip, the slightly morbid fascination with dieting, the fashion victim persona, the cheesy devotion to romantic comedies – while still being quick to counter the similarities with stark contrasts. And while she does aim to draw a sharper line between herself and Kelly, she embraces those aspects of herself that people might consider less than flattering.
Kaling, with all of her wit and comedic genius, is just a regular double-X chromosome member of our society. While not all women are the pop culture-obsessed, fashion-concerned individuals that stereotypes might have the world believe, there is some truth to the general theory. And there is even more value to accepting this label and considering it as a part of your personality without being your entire personality.
Kelly is a caricature of feminine fanaticism and neuroses. As Kaling outlines in the chapter “Types of Women in Romantic Comedies Who Are Not Real”, stereotypes of idealized or exaggerated characters will always exist in modern pop culture. And there is nothing wrong with being in small parts an image of these women. But after reading Kaling’s book and reflecting on my disgust at being compared to Kelly, I must concede that in the ways that I consider myself similar to The Office character, perhaps there is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a natural instinct to want to only have comparisons drawn between yourself and people that reflect well on you. But in this case, the strangeness I share with Kelly is in balance with the quirkier character of Mindy. And I’d happily share some of her characteristics.