At 33, she is the creator, producer, head writer, and star of her own Fox network sitcom, The Mindy Project. Her growing fan base includes more than 2 million Twitter followers, at whom Kaling fires off tweets on topics as varied as shopping, friendship, and the revenge fantasies she has while jogging. Her collection of essays, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), became a best-seller last year when her only claim to fame was being a writer on and co-starring in the NBC series The Office.
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If colleagues left in the dust are shaking their heads, Kaling shrugs off her heady ascension. "I'm an Asian kid who grew up the child of immigrants and went to an Ivy League school," she says, her high-pitched voice and rapid speech making her sound like an enthusiastic teenager rather than an industry heavyweight. "I'm a hyper-perfectionist and a people-pleaser."
Raised in Boston with her older brother Vijay by her OB/GYN mother Swati and architect father Avu, Kaling became interested in comedy as a teenager. She spent hours deconstructing movies and comedy skits. After graduating from Dartmouth College, she and her roommate Brenda Withers moved to New York and while looking for work wrote a comedic play called Matt & Ben, in which Kaling played Ben Affleck to Withers' Matt Damon. In 2002, it won top honors at the Fringe Festival. After moving off-Broadway, Time magazine named it among the "Top 10 Theatrical Events of the Year."
Producer Greg Daniels, just about to launch The Office, took note and hired the then 24-year-old as the show's sole female writer. During her eight-year tenure, the cast earned an Emmy nomination and she earned critical praise for her role as the narcissistic customer service representative Kelly Kapoor.
The Mindy Project
Last year, when the show entered its final season, Kaling made a pitch to Fox: She wanted to write, produce, and star in The Mindy Project, playing a romantic-comedy-obsessed OB/GYN in New York. Then Kaling boarded a plane to Boston, where she spent three months at the bedside of her mother, who was dying of pancreatic cancer. "In some ways, those were the most amazing three months," says Kaling, who describes her relationship with her mother as one of the most significant of her life.
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Most patients are diagnosed at a late stage with a five-year survival rate of 2%. "No one is lucky to get cancer, but I remember feeling jealous of people who got a cancer where there were stages and you could do chemo to [treat] it," says Kaling, whose mother lived with the diagnosis for eight months.