Mindy Kaling on Hating High School: ‘If you Weren't Gorgeous — Just Funny — You Had No Value’

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Mindy Kaling says her tough high school years helped her become a better comedy writer. (Photo: Getty Images)

In high school it can feel like the whole world is against you. You’re not pretty enough, you’re not cool enough, you’re not special enough. But then, there’s this magic place called college, where suddenly your eccentricities become your assets, and instead of struggling to fit in you thrive on originality. At least that was the case for Mindy Kaling. She’s sharing her wisdom with the young readers of Seventeen who are likely going though the same thing.

“I was pretty nerdy in high school,” says Kaling, the author of Why Not Me, in Seventeen’s September issue. “I never had a boyfriend or anything, but I had plenty of crushes. They were private and exciting and gave me a way to connect with handsome, popular guys without ever needing to talk to them. Being single also gave me time to realize my real passion: comedy.”

Convinced she’d one day marry Saturday Night Live star Dana Carvey, she started auditioning for school plays. “They cast the same popular, pretty people over and over while I played a hobo or a homeless woman for, like, nine consecutive productions,” says Kaling. “That was really hard. I had such an inherent trust in adults that all I could think was: This must mean I’m actually really bad at this.” Kaling prided herself on her sense of humor,but it was not rewarded by her teachers. They felt jokes were more appropriate coming from the male students in class. As a female, “if you weren’t gorgeous — just funny — you had no value.” Or so she thought. But, lucky for us, Kaling didn’t let their ignorance crush her spirit. So she focused on her school work and getting into Dartmouth. In college she flourished as a theater major, and her gender and appearance were insignificant.

“I finally got to do and express what I was passionate about,” says Kaling. “People thought I was funny, and that gave me confidence and made me try more stuff, which made me funnier!” She also realized there was a benefit to playing second fiddle in high school — her awkward experiences made her a better comedy writer.

“When you finally take your place in the spotlight — whether it’s doing your own TV show or whatever it turns out to be — you can put all those stored-up goodies to work. And you’ll be so brilliant that no one will be able to look away.”

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