When nerds are depicted on screen, they are often bookworms and wallflowers who struggle to stand up for themselves. That’s not the type of nerd Mindy Kaling wanted to focus on in Never Have I Ever, the Netflix series she co-created with Lang Fisher.
“There’s also the belligerent, confident nerd, and they want big things for themselves,” Kaling says. “We wanted to show an ambitious nerd … [who] wanted to lose her virginity, wanted to be cool, go to concerts.”
Kaling first became known for her role as Kelly Kapoor on The Office. She was also a writer and producer of the series, and she was the showrunner and star of the series The Mindy Project.
Never Have I Ever draws on Kaling’s experiences when she was in high school. The main character, Devi, is the 15-year-old daughter of immigrants from India and one the school’s top students. She’s nerdy and unpopular — but she’s also outgoing, opinionated and on the hunt for a boyfriend.
Kaling was initially hesitant to revisit her teen years for the project: “Like a lot of comedy writers, I think of my adolescence and childhood as incredibly embarrassing,” she says. “I thought it would honestly be too painful and embarrassing to relive those experiences.”
But Kaling filled the writers room with a staff of young Indian women, and once they began sharing stories, her outlook changed. “It ended up being very cathartic, actually,” she says. “It made me feel that all the stuff I was going through as a teenager, I was not alone.”
On where the idea came from to give Devi a temporary paralysis brought on by her father’s sudden death
It happened to the brother of my co-creator, Lang Fisher. … When we were talking about the series — there are so many teenage series … about love and sex and all of that — and we were both really interested, because we had parents that died unexpectedly, in talking about grief and how grief manifests itself. And [Lang’s] brother, after her parents got divorced, had about four months when his legs were paralyzed. And then, all of a sudden, they started working again. And they went to every doctor. They went to every psychologist. And it was this mysterious thing. …
Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) becomes temporarily paralyzed after the sudden death of her father in Never Have I Ever.Netflix
In researching it, this is something that happens to people, particularly young people, sometimes after trauma. So that was hard to resist as something to talk about. And after she spoke to her brother and got permission, we felt we wanted to use it in the series, because we thought it was a really fascinating physical manifestation of a teenager’s grief.
On how her experience of being a diversity hire for the writers room of The Office informed her movie, Late Night[I’m a] proud diversity hire. … I think the [NBC diversity hiring] program was invaluable, and I think that NBC was, at that time, the only one of the major networks that was doing something like that.
At the time, I didn’t think so. At the time, I thought it was really humiliating, actually, because the way that that works is a diversity hire is no cost to the show. So when you get hired and you’re a minority and through that NBC diversity hiring program, you know that NBC is paying the cost of your salary, not the show. So that’s why the show is incentivized to hire minorities. …
There’s this phenomenon that … a writer gets hired for a year and then they only pay your salary the first year. So if you are going to continue on for a second year, they won’t pay your salary anymore. So you’d have this phenomenon on these shows — because other networks started doing the same thing — where you’d have a minority writer who is a staff writer, which is the entry-level writing job, and then the next year there’d be a different staff writer, because to promote them, the show would have to take on the cost of the staff. …