Never have I ever admitted, until now, how eager I am to binge the new season of a teen dramedy (I am…not a teen). But Never Have I Ever—brainchild of Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher—is too good and refreshingly weird not to be excited about, no matter how old you are. (Weird because, for example, notoriously confrontational tennis pro John McEnroe narrates the high school trials and tribulations of an Indian American teenager in California, what of it?) It’s one of the best teen shows I can remember watching—where most of the characters, minus Paxton, actually look like teens—and I’m not surprised Kaling had something to do with it.
An alum of Dartmouth who got her foot in the door on The Office, Kaling has spent her career painstakingly carving a path for herself in a very white, very male industry where she was, as she often talks about, a “diversity hire” who came up through NBC’s diversity program. “For a long time I was really embarrassed about that,” she told The Guardian. “It took me a while to realize that I was just getting the access other people had because of who they knew.”
She’s had to work just as hard to get onscreen as more than a forgettable sidekick as she has to get in the writers’ room. “My career has only become what it has out of sheer need, not because I wanted it that way. I knew if I wanted to perform I was going to have to write it myself,” she told Entertainment Weekly for a 2013 cover story. In a 2017 cover story of her own, Reese Witherspoon recounted a conversation she’d had with Kaling. “Don’t you ever get exhausted by always having to create your own roles?” Witherspoon had asked. Kaling replied: “Reese, I’ve never had anything that I didn’t create for myself.”
Well, create she did. After The Office—where she played Kelly Kapoor and wrote more episodes than anyone else—Kaling created and starred in six seasons of The Mindy Project. More recently, she wrote, produced, and played a leading role in the 2019 movie Late Night, loosely based on her own story as the lone woman and sole person of color in a writers’ room.
Never Have I Ever, which draws on Kaling’s formative experiences as the daughter of immigrants, takes representation to the next level. Not only did Kaling create roles for a diverse cast—and hire a previously unknown Tamil Canadian actress, the excellent Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, to take the helm as Devi through an open call—but she also filled the writers’ room with young Indian women. Together they shaped characters and storylines for a show that’s have inspired some mixed feelings, but also been hailed as a “win” and a “watershed moment.”
If you, too, want to know more about Kaling as you watch this new season, here’s a collection of inspiring quotes and real talk on diversity, hard work, success, mentorship, motherhood, and more—all in one place.
- On the “right” order: “Don’t be scared if you don’t do things in the right order, or if you don’t do some things at all… If you have a checklist, good for you. Structured ambition can sometimes be motivating. But also, feel free to let it go. Yes, my culminating advice from my speech is a song from the Disney animated movie, Frozen.” —Dartmouth University commencement speech 2018
- On dreaming of success: “I don’t remember lying up at night thinking, the dream I have is something where no one who looks like me has ever succeeded. I just thought that I would somehow find a way to succeed.” —The New York Times Magazine
- On possible paths forward: “Don’t trust any one story of how to become successful.” —Dartmouth University commencement speech 2018
- On writing your own part: “Write your own part. It is the only way I’ve gotten anywhere. It is much harder work, but sometimes you have to take destiny into your own hands. It forces you to think about what your strengths really are, and once you find them, you can showcase them, and no one can stop you.” ―Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
- On not letting people stop you: “People get scared when you try to do something, especially when it looks like you’re succeeding. People do not get scared when you’re failing. It calms them. But when you’re winning, it makes them feel like they’re losing or, worse yet, that maybe they should've tried to do something too, but now it’s too late. And since they didn’t, they want to stop you. You can’t let them.” —Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
- On the stigma of being a “diversity hire”: “It used to really embarrass me because I thought I had the scarlet letter on me. ‘Diversity hire’ inherently meant, ‘less talented but fulfilling that quota.’... [I used to think that] if you’re funny, it’s funny and you’ll get noticed. But that isn’t true. If you don’t know the right people to get into the rooms, you will just never be seen. I love talking about it in the movie because it’s really real, and the stigma’s really real, and it truly is a helpful thing. It helped me personally… I really admire NBC for doing that program. I think if more people like me who are successful after coming through something like that talk about how the experience helped them, then there will be less of a stigma to it.” —Deadline
- On the fear of being replaced: “It terrified me that they were interviewing another person of color or another woman because I’d be like, ‘Okay I’m going to get fired’ because you only needed one. I had a lot of growing up to do in terms of not operating from a fear of getting replaced.” —Time Magazine
- On hard work: “Work hard, know your shit, show your shit, and then feel entitled. Listen to no one except the two smartest and kindest adults you know, and that doesn’t always mean your parents. If you do that, you will be fine.” —Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
- On confidence: “People talk about confidence without ever bringing up hard work. That’s a mistake. I know I sound like some dour older spinster on Downton Abbey who has never felt a man’s touch and whose heart has turned to stone, but I don’t understand how you could have self-confidence if you don’t do the work… Because confidence is like respect; you have to earn it.” —Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
- On imposter syndrome: “I don’t feel imposter syndrome and the reason I don’t is that I work so hard. I feel imposter syndrome happens when people feel unqualified for their jobs. Before I got my own show, I put in eight years at The Office. I wrote 24 episodes of TV. I was an executive producer at the end of it and I’d been a staff writer at the beginning. Then I did my show for six years, did 117 episodes. I feel like I’m a real A-student. I feel like I really prepare for my work. Again, it’s not all successes. A lot of times I failed, but I do feel qualified when I move up the ranks, like, ‘OK, I put in my time. I put in my, whatever it is, 10,000 hours. I feel qualified to do this next thing.’” —E!
- On the myth of being “bad with names”: “I don’t think it should be socially acceptable for people to say they are ’bad with names.’ No one is bad with names. That is not a real thing. Not knowing people’s names isn’t a neurological condition; it’s a choice. You choose not to make learning people’s names a priority. It’s like saying, ‘Hey, a disclaimer about me: I’m rude.’” ―Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
- On not hiding the effort: “It’s really refreshing to work with women who don’t have to conceal how hard they work. I think the process, the work, used to be seen as something you hide, because everyone puts a premium on being so effortless… I think that’s one of the nicest changes in the last five years: Women don’t have to be these alluring, mysterious cats who get things done and you don’t know how hard they work, how hard they work out, what they’re eating. We now celebrate the fact that women can say, ‘Yeah, I sacrificed this, I have to do this….’ It isn’t effortless.” —Glamour
- On losing your temper: “It took me a long time to realize that when you’re 24 and are losing your temper, it’s sort of adorable because you have to give up. You don’t have any power. But if you’re the boss and lose your temper, you’re just a tyrant. I still can have a short fuse, but I deal with it in a different way.” —The New York Times Magazine
- On being kind: “The best advice I ever got is probably from [The Office creator] Greg Daniels. One piece of advice he gave me, which seems very simple but is very hard to follow all the time, is ‘Be kind.’ If you’re in a room with, a bunch of sardonic, East Coast-educated impatient writers, it’s very hard to show kindness. And I think that especially graduating from comedy writer to running a show where, like, I’m a manager, I can be sued for, like, human resources issues—that’s not something that I came into this doing—so like being kind to people, and listening to people tell you about their families, and their lives.” —AOL talk
- On her evolution: “I think in my twenties I was only focused on, OK, I don’t want to get fired. I want to be successful, and I was only thinking about myself. In no way was I thinking about things that are the most important to me now, which is my health, holding the door open behind me for other people.” —Marie Claire
- On being successful: “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.” —Glamour
- On mentorship: “When you’re a woman and a woman of color who is also an employer, you can’t just be someone who employs people. You also have to be a mentor. It’s sort of your responsibility because there are so few of us.” —The New York Times Magazine
- On opening doors for others: “Especially during these new shows, I realized that the only way that people will have these kinds of opportunities—there’s literally been so little change for women of color—is if people like me make a difference. So it’s just the fact of the matter. We have to be the ones to open the doors for other people.” —Deadline
- On deciding to become a mother: “I think that it’s hard when you have a career that you really love to find the exact right time to have a baby. I think if you wanna be a mother, that’s a great decision. If you don’t, that’s also a great decision. For me, it was a wonderful thing to have done before I turn 40. I recommend it to people who also love their careers.” —The View
- On reprioritizing: “Having a daughter made me realize that, as much as I love my career and I really value and take pride in my work ethic and I’m constantly talking about it, I had to reprioritize the way that I worked and honestly start sacrificing things professionally so that I could be a good mom, which is something I was not used to at all.” —E!
- On self-care: “It’s funny, that’s a term that maybe three to five years ago—I don’t know if this is because I’m Asian or because I’ve worked since I was 15-years-old—used to have pejorative connotations for me. Like, ‘who has time for self-care? I’m trying to build an empire and be a single mom.’ I think it was during the pandemic, when I was working from home and my children were at home, I decided that was an outdated way of thinking.” —Forbes
- On running: “I’m always so self-conscious talking about how much I love running because I don’t look like someone who’s athletic or anything. But it has really helped me...It just focuses me and makes me a better writer. I think I’m a friendlier person, a more patient mom.” —Marie Claire
- On hubris: “I think luxuriating and thinking that you feel successful feels like a little bit of hubris. And in comedy, the minute a character starts thinking they’re celebrated is the minute when something terrible happens to them.” —Deadline
- On what she wants her legacy to be: “I’ve always felt that I represent the underdog. At this time and this place, as an Indian woman and a single mom, I’ve felt like the kind of person who often does not get to be the lead of a story. I want the stories that I tell, the characters I play and create, to resonate with people who do not see themselves onscreen. When I’m gone and people look at my body of work, they can see it in the context of where I came from and where my family came from and say, ‘Wow, that was the beginning of a ripple effect.’ That people are inspired because they felt that I, in some way, helped move the door open a couple more inches. That would be really incredible to me.” —Glamour