Mindy Kaling

Photo Credit: Alyssa Creagh | Daily Texan Staff

The Interactive portion of SXSW isn’t all Chelsea Clinton and Mindy Kaling. Every year, SXSW brings some interesting characters and events into town with it.

Here are some of the alternative options for this year’s festival.

1. How Douchebags Ruined Dating

This session presents the argument that “douchebags” have ruined the online dating platform for nice guys. This is apparently an epidemic which the presenter, Elissa Shevinsky, is hoping to solve.

Day: Monday, March 10

Time: 9:30-10:30 a.m. 

Where: Sheraton Austin

Badge: Interactive

2. I Measure Everything My Kid Does

Amy Webb, mom and CEO of Webmedia Group, explains how she has logged everything her child has done — including eating, burping and pooping — since she was born. According to Webb, she realized she could “quantify and study [her child] in attempt to optimize all of her development.” If that wasn’t enough Webb will teach you why doing this makes you a better parent. 

Day: Sunday, March 9

Time: 4:00 PM - 4:15 PM

Where: Austin Convention Center Ballroom F

Badge: Interactive

3. Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon

This panel, which features Kevin Bacon himself and many “surprise” guests, explores the 20th anniversary of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon phenomenon. Plus, it’s Kevin Bacon.

Day: Sunday, March 8

Time: 3:30 PM - 4:30 PM

Where: Austin Convention Center Ballroom D

Bage: Interactive

4. Font Nerds Meet Up

Are you a font enthusiast? Good news, SXSW is offering a chance to meet others just like you. Here attendees can discuss the terrible Comic Sans, the classic Times New Roman and the
popular Helvetica.

Day: Friday, March 7

Time: 3:30 PM - 4:30 PM

Where: Long Center

Badge: Interactive and Film

5. Alternative Healing Meet Up

Attendees can join in on sharing their stories of using alternative ways to get through hard times. The session will focus on things like “The Secret” and the “Law of Attraction” and how social media connects people practicing these methods. 

Day: Monday, March 10

Time: 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM

Where: Proof Annex

Badge: Interactive

6. A Conversation with Nicholas Cage

Nicholas Cage in front of a full audience. Need I say more?

Day: Monday, March 10

Time: 12:30 PM - 1:30 PM

Where: Austin Convention Center Room 18ABCD

Badge: Interactive and Film

7. Four Caffeinated Strangers Launch a Product, Live

One coder, one designer, one statistics expert and one moderator will create an online product that will be available on the market in just an hour. They will assess everything about the product in this short time — the product itself, logos and industry trends. 

Day: Saturday, March 8

Time: 12:30 PM - 1:30 PM

Where: Four Seasons San Jacinto Ballroom

Badge: Interactive

8. Live From Space! Talk with Astronauts in Orbit

Attendees will be able to talk with astronauts in orbit 240 miles from Earth’s surface. The audience will also be allowed to ask these astronauts questions about the work they’re doing in space and about the technology it takes to communicate back down to Earth. 

Day: Saturday, March 8

Time: 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM

Where: Omni Downtown Capital Ballroom

Badge: Interactive

9. International Space Orchestra

Yeah, this exists. The International Space Orchestra (ISO) was founded two years ago. Space scientists from NASA, the Search for Extraterrestrial Institute, Singularity University and the International Space University got together to perform on Apollo 11’s mission control. Attendees can hear from ISO’s founder about the creation and journey of the orchestra.

Day: Tuesday, March 11

Time: 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM

Where: Omni Downtown Lone Star

Badge: Interactive

10. Life Lessons from a Professional Dominatrix

Professional Dominatrix Kali Williams will explain how her experience with latex catsuits, cages full of willing submissives and the exotic underworld can be applied to every day relationships. Those in attendance can gain advice from Williams on how to ‘whip’ their lives into shape.

Day: Saturday, March 8

Time: 1:15 PM - 1:30 PM

Where: Austin Convention Center Ballroom F

Badge: Interactive

Every sitcom has a flirtatious male, a primary couple and characters in messy situations with fantastic apartments. Writers rarely get around these staples, and for good reason. But “The Mindy Project” and “New Girl,” which run back to back on Fox, take the same tropes in entirely different directions. 

In both shows, the main character is a professional single woman between the ages of 27 and 35, with a college education and a penchant for awkward situations. She has three male friends: the weird but funny one, the angry but sexy one and the neurotic but well-groomed one. Her love interests are a series of gorgeous, white men with great smiles, and she is unlucky with almost all of them because she has insane amounts of sexual tension with the angry but sexy guy friend. 

“New Girl” highlights the actors’ talents with slapstick comedy and jokes about relationships. The characters are stereotyped. The writers built satires, not people. 

Jess is positive. Nick is gruff. Schmidt is, well, Schmidt.

Characters on “New Girl” rarely act outside of their defined character boundaries. Schmidt can have a serious girlfriend, but he still needs to be Don Quixote. Nick can be suave, but only for a scene. The show is built on these characters staying in character. If one of them grew or changed, the magic pixie dream life would be lost. 

The downside is that the writer’s depend on Zooey Deschanel remaining quirky. The most notable example is season two’s “Parents,” in which Jess tries to “Parent Trap” her divorced mom and dad back together. This woman is 30 years old. No amount of adorability should make this an acceptable plot line. 

“The Mindy Project” treats its characters like people. Mindy Kaling writes better than any writer or actor on TV today and she knows what women want in a lead character. The viewer sees Mindy for her wants, her desires and her hopeful cynicism. She is, in many ways, the viewer. But “The Mindy Project” isn’t perfect. Just like “Parks and Recreation” did after the first season, Kaling needs to listen to her critics and tweak the parts that are failing.

The secondary characters on Kaling’s show are not nearly as memorable as the ones in “New Girl,” despite the terrific actors who play them. Viewers don’t know Morgan, Jeremy and Betsy outside of Mindy. There are too many fascinating minor characters, typically played by celebrities, to allow for character development to happen. The viewer doesn’t need to care about Seth Rogen or James Franco. They need to care about the regulars, and often they don’t because they are rarely given their own story lines. They exist solely to live around Mindy and say witty things. 

It’s easy to love the four roommates on “New Girl.” It’s easy to laugh at their mistakes and feel like their friends. In “The Mindy Project,” it’s easy to love the titular character but not care about anyone else.

It is unlikely that “New Girl” will change its formula, because it has too many devoted viewers. Luckily, it’s not too late for “The Mindy Project” to reach perfection. Get rid of the guest star clutter, focus on the friendships and make it an ensemble piece. “New Girl” and “The Mindy Project” need to learn from each other, or combine into one supercharged lady sitcom. 

Review

Casual viewers of NBC’s “The Office” probably don’t realize how much influence Mindy Kaling, the actress behind the ditzy, boy-obsessed Kelly Kapoor, has on the show. In addition to her small role, Kaling is an executive producer and writer for the show and has written some of its most standout episodes including “The Dundies” and “Diwali.”

Those who have been following Kaling’s career and those who are familiar with her lighthearted, self-deprecating sense of humor via Twitter (@mindykaling) and her blog, “The Concerns of Mindy Kaling,” will be thrilled with Kaling’s new book, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns).”

Kaling draws on her own personal experiences, neuroses and ideals for material in this collection of essays. She discusses everything from her childhood as the chubby, androgynous “obedient child of immigrant professionals” who was afraid of riding her own bike to her time living in a tiny apartment in a dangerous neighborhood when she began working on “The Office,” unsure if the now-classic show would even get a second season.

The short vignettes are written in a conversational, self-effacing style that works perfectly for her subject matter. Her story about trying to find work in New York City after graduating from Dartmouth is called “Failing at Everything in the Greatest City in the World;” she vents her frustration with the current state of American marriages in “Married People Need to Step It Up Already;” and she describes her imaginative motivational workout techniques in “Revenge Fantasies While Jogging.”

Although she doesn’t delve too deeply into her role on “The Office,” Kaling does dedicate an entire chapter to the subject, offering her thoughts on the mega-star Steve Carell (“I’ve always found Steve very gentlemanly and private, like a Jane Austen character”) and guiltily recalling her first big fight with her boss, executive producer Greg Daniels.

Kaling manages to write about the things she’s interested in (“romance, female friendships, heartache, and my childhood ... Just that really hard-core, masculine stuff men love to read about”) in a thoughtful and entertaining way that never comes off as shallow or irritating as her on-screen alter ego Kelly.

“I wrote this book in a way that reflects how I think,” Kaling writes. “Sometimes it’s an essay or story, and sometimes it’s a pliest, which is a piece with a list-y quality, a term I’ve just made up.”

“Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?” proves not just entertaining, but incredibly, insightfully funny. Beware of reading this book in public. It’s nearly impossible not to laugh audibly reading pieces such as “The Exact Level of Fame I Want” (enough that she could never go to jail, even if she murdered someone, and would never have to stand in line for brunch) and “Someone Explain One-Night Stands to Me.”

The real heart of the book, though, is its relatability. Any girl — or guy, for that matter — who was an obedient wallflower in high school or who has geeked out over compiling a list of their favorite comedy moments (Kristen Wiig’s Bjork impression on SNL, anyone?) will find a kindred spirit in Kaling. The only deficiency of “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?” is that, at 219 pages, the book is far too short. It’s hard not to want more of Kaling’s bubbly but sharply-written wisdom.

Printed on Monday, October 31, 2011 as: 'The Office' writer showcases witty humor in 'Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?'