Vera Mindy Chokalingam, professionally known as Mindy Kaling, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to parents Avu Chokalingam, an architect, and Swati Chokalingam, an obstetrician/gynecologist (OB/GYN). Mindy’s parents are from India, and met while working at the same hospital in Nigeria. Her father was overseeing the building of a wing of the hospital, and her mother was working as an OB/GYN. The family emigrated to the United States in 1979, the same year Mindy was born. Mindy’s mother died of pancreatic cancer in 2012. Mindy has a brother, Vijay Jojo Chokalingam, an educational consultant and critic of affirmative action policies.
Mindy graduated from Buckingham Browne & Nichols, a private school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1997. The following year, she entered Dartmouth College, where she was a member of the improvisational comedy troupe The Dog Day Players and the a cappella group The Rockapellas, was the creator of the comic strip Badly Drawn Girl in The Dartmouth (the college’s daily newspaper), and was a writer for the Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern (the college’s humor magazine).
Mindy graduated from Dartmouth in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in playwriting. She was a classics major for much of college and studied Latin, a subject she has been learning since the seventh grade.
While a 19-year-old sophomore at Dartmouth, Mindy was an intern on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Mindy said she was a terrible intern, “less of a ‘make copies’ intern and more of a ‘stalk Conan’ intern.”
After college, Mindy moved to Brooklyn, New York. She said one of her worst job experiences was as a production assistant for three months on the Crossing Over With John Edward psychic show. She described it as “depressing.” During this same time, Mindy did stand-up in New York City.
In August 2002, Mindy portrayed Ben Affleck in an off-Broadway play called Matt & Ben, which she co-wrote with her best friend from college, Brenda Withers—who played Matt Damon. The play was named one of Time magazine’s “Top Ten Theatrical Events of The Year” and was “a surprise hit” at the 2002 New York International Fringe Festival. Initially, Brenda Withers and Mindy had, “for their own entertainment, mockingly pretend to be the best friends Matt Damon and Ben Affleck; that pretending spawned Matt & Ben, the goofy play that re imagined how Damon and Affleck came to write the movie Good Will Hunting.”
Mindy wrote a popular blog called “Things I’ve Bought That I Love,” which reemerged on her website on September 29, 2011. The blog was written under the name Mindy Ephron, “a name Mindy chose because she was amused by the idea of her 20-something Indian-American self as a long-lost Ephron sister.”
In 2004, when The Office producer Greg Daniels was working to adapt The Office from the BBC show of the same name, he hired Mindy as a writer-performer after reading a spec script she wrote. He said, “She’s very original … If anything feels phony or lazy or passé, she’ll pounce on it.”
When Mindy joined The Office, she was 24 years old and was the only woman on a staff of eight. She took on the role of character Kelly Kapoor, debuting in the series’s second episode, “Diversity Day.”
In a 2007 interview with The A.V. Club, she stated that Kelly is “an exaggerated version of what I think the upper-level writers believe my personality is.” After the “Diwali” episode, Mindy appeared with Greg Daniels on NPR’s Fresh Air.
Mindy directed The Office webisodes The 3rd Floor. She directed the Season 6 episode titled “Body Language,” which marked her television directorial debut. Her contract was set to expire at the end of Season 7. On September 15, 2011, she signed a new contract to stay with the show for Season 8 and was promoted to full executive producer. Her Universal Television contract included a development deal for a new show (eventually titled The Mindy Project), in which she appears as an actress and contributes as a writer.
Mindy and her fellow writers and producers of The Office were nominated five consecutive times for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series. In 2010, she received a nomination for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series with Daniels for the episode, “Niagara.”
In 2012, Mindy pitched a single-camera comedy to Fox called The Mindy Project, which Mindy wrote and produced. Fox began airing the series in 2012.
Fox canceled the series in May 2015 but was later picked up by Hulu for a 26-episode fourth season and a 16-episode fifth season. In March 2017, Mindy announced that the show’s sixth season, due to air starting September 2017, would be the last.
In November 2016, ABC Studios announced that Mindy and Ed Weeks, a co-star of The Mindy Project, would be executive producers of an ABC network comedy series written by Weeks and Hannah Mackay. The series centers on liberal lesbian couple Laurel and Marisa who move with their teenage son to Laurel’s conservative hometown in Kansas.
Mindy’s TV appearances include a 2005 episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, playing Richard Lewis’s assistant. She is featured on the CD Comedy Death-Ray and guest-wrote parts of an episode of Saturday Night Live in April 2006.
After her film debut in The 40-Year-Old Virgin with Steve Carell, Mindy appeared in the film Unaccompanied Minors as a waitress. In 2007, she held a small part in License to Wed starring fellow The Office actors John Krasinski, Angela Kinsey, and Brian Baumgartner. Kaling was in the 2009 film Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian as a Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum tour guide, and voiced Taffyta Muttonfudge in Disney’s animated comedy film Wreck-It Ralph. In 2011, she played the role of Shira, a doctor who is a roommate and colleague of the main character Emma (played by Natalie Portman) in No Strings Attached. Mindy also made an appearance as Vanetha in The Five-Year Engagement in 2012.
In June 2016, it was confirmed that Mindy would star alongside Helena Bonham Carter, Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, and Rihanna in Ocean’s Eight, the all-female version of Ocean’s Eleven. It was also reported in September 2016 that she will play Mrs. Who in A Wrinkle in Time, the live-action Disney adaptation of the novel.
In 2011, Mindy published a memoir, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), which appeared on the New York Times best-seller list. Her second book, Why Not Me?, covers the many events that have happened in her life since 2011, and was published on September 15, 2015. Why Not Me? launched at No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list. In 2015, Mindy Kaling acknowledged that she would be writing a third book with B. J. Novak, who she has long been associated with after acting and writing together on The Office.
Mindy has said she has never been called Vera, her first name, but has been referred to as Mindy since her mother was pregnant with her while her parents were living in Nigeria. They were already planning to move to the United States and wanted, Mindy said, a “cute American name” for their daughter, and liked the name Mindy from the TV show Mork & Mindy. The name Vera is, according to Mindy, the name of the “incarnation of a Hindu goddess.”
Mindy has a close friendship with B.J. Novak, whom she met through writing for The Office. The two dated on and off while writing and acting on the show, sometimes mirroring the on-again, off-again nature of the relationship between their respective characters Ryan Howard and Kelly Kapoor. B.J. Novak served as a consulting producer for Season 1 of The Mindy Project, and has appeared on the show four times. His brother Jesse composes the music for The Mindy Project.
Mindy devised her stage name after discovering while doing stand-up comedy that emcees would have trouble pronouncing her last name, Chokalingam, and sometimes made jokes about it. She toured solo as well as with Craig Robinson before he was on The Office.
Mindy has said that she never saw a family like hers on TV, which gave her a dual perspective she uses in her writing. She thinks the “everyone against me mentality” is what she learned as a child of immigrants. She named her Mindy Project character Mindy Lahiri after author Jhumpa Lahiri.
In 2012, Mindy was included in the Time 100 list of influential people. In 2014, she was named one of Glamour magazine’s Women of the Year.
On August 15, 2017, Mindy announced she was pregnant.