Mindy Kaling Talks Confidence, Resilience and 'Jeopardy!' Odds

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Mindy Kaling.

For Mindy Kaling, who has achieved iconic status by tapping into her unique voice and bringing fresh, diverse stories to life, the creative process is a constant pursuit filled with highs and lows. But even for someone as accomplished as her, confidence doesn't always come easy.

"When was the last time my confidence was shaken? You know, I think as a comedy writer, it's a constant battle because our entire job is to make people laugh," Kaling told Parade over Zoom, on a call that took place during SXSW. "And when we have table reads for our shows...it won't elicit a laugh. I am a person who feels like I'm an A student. And so when that doesn't happen, which invariably it [does], that can be a little disheartening."

The multi-talented writer, actress and producer is speaking to Parade as part of her partnership with Sharpie and Paper Mate to help empower more people to unleash their creative potential and encourage self-expression—both of which require a healthy amount of confidence. So how does the master storyteller behind popular shows like Never Have I Ever and The Sex Lives of College Girls bounce back when her sense of self gets shaken? By staying resilient and remembering her motivations.

Related: 101 Uplifting Confidence Quotes for Days You're Struggling with Low Self-Esteem

"I'm really motivated by [being] the breadwinner in my family," she shared. "I have to make a living. So the best thing that can happen when my confidence is rattled is a sense of urgency to pay the bills. And also, I have a really strong sense of resilience. I want to come back and prove that I can do it."

Kaling acknowledges that women, especially women of color, often face extra pressures in a creative space like the entertainment industry. "I definitely relate to that feeling, especially earlier in my career," she said. "So I'm really proud of the many, many women of color who work on our shows because they are always, without exception, some of the hardest workers that I employ."

While she celebrates the increasing diversity in Hollywood writers' rooms, Kaling is concerned about dwindling opportunities due to recent strikes and production cuts. "It's sad because there's just fewer shows...which means fewer jobs for cast, crew, for everything," she said. "After all the strikes there was a giant retraction and we have so many hundreds of fewer shows. Seeing people who are struggling to work is always heartbreaking."

Related: Every TV Show Ending or Canceled So Far in 2024

And with the IATSE union currently in negotiations with producers for a new contract, she firmly backs the entertainment workers. "I stand with the crew members on all of our shows," Kaling said. "They deserve more than a living wage and to be able to do their job safely."

The multi-hyphenate remains hopeful, however, that demand for fresh content will lead to a "course correction" and more creative roles. And she can't wait to potentially tap into new creative realms herself by trying genres like horror or sci-fi.

"I haven't had an opportunity yet to write for horror and sci-fi because I've been focusing on my comedy shows...but I'm anxious to get to the place where I can work on those," Kaling shared. "I think those genres are so amazing and I would need to put in a ton of research before I did them, which would be such a fun assignment."

Research is key for Kaling, who is incredibly preparatory in her creative process. "Before I even put pen to paper on so many of my projects, so much of my work is just an enormous amount of research, which is the hard work but also the fun of the job," she said. "That's like the hyper preparedness that I feel like I've always, even since I was young, like in my early 20s...that's always been something that I think is really important."

Related: Kate Hudson to Lead New Netflix Series From Mindy Kaling

Kaling is currently working on a show about professional basketball starring Kate Hudson as the unexpected new president of a fictional Los Angeles team. Working with Hudson has proven incredibly inspiring for Kaling's creative process.

"Besides being a movie star, Kate is like an iconic rom-com figure," Kaling shared. "So having her in the show and just hearing her deliver lines inspires me. Her cadences make me want to rewrite things and create new storylines around them. She's so good at physical comedy too, which inspires us writers to give her more pratfalls and gags."

One of Kaling’s co-creators on the show is Ike Barinholtz, her multi-talented pal who is killing it on Jeopardy! this season. Not only did he win Celebrity Jeopardy!, but Barinholtz then became the first celebrity contestant to advance to the currently airing Tournament of Champions. He even pulled off a huge upset by defeating some of the game's top players before eventually being eliminated after his impressive run.

"It's inspiring and infuriating how good Ike is at Jeopardy!" Kaling said. When asked if she might want to follow in his footsteps on the iconic trivia show, she demurred with a laugh. "I'm content just being an answer to a clue on Jeopardy. I don't want to go on and embarrass myself, so the answer is probably no."

With her entrepreneurial spirit and relatable humor, Kaling is a creative force. And while self-doubt may occasionally cast its shadow, it can't keep her from finding her way back through passion and hard work. And so more creative adventures await—one groundbreaking narrative at a time.

Next, All About 'Sex Lives of College Girls' Season 3