Mindy Kaling Claims Former Boss John Edward ‘Helped People’ December 1, 2011

Mindy Kaling Claims Former Boss John Edward ‘Helped People’

Mindy Kaling is best known as a writer, producer, and co-star of The Office. She plays Kelly Kapoor, the bubbly and vacuous customer service rep, and has written some of my favorite episodes of the show (“The Dundies,” “The Injury, “Ben Franklin”). She also gave a clutch supporting performance in the otherwise mediocre No Strings Attached.

I expected her new book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) to be light and funny, and I was not disappointed. The memoir portions tell of her experiences as the suburban child of immigrant professionals and the early struggles involved in breaking into the fields of television and comedy. She also provides a lot of insightful, good-natured mocking of the conventions of pop culture and the entertainment industry.

Her chapter on romantic comedies, which was excerpted in The New Yorker, is a representative sample.

I do, however, have two complaints with the book. One is general, and the other specific. The former regards her writing style: it is too conversational. At times, it seems like she is tossing off a witty e-mail rather than writing a book. My second gripe is with her defense of the TV psychic she used to work for.

After failing to land a position as a CBS page, she had to settle for her first job in television: as a production assistant on a show she nicknames Bridging the Underworld with Mac Teegarden. “Teegarden” was “wildly normal,” and “attractive in a Mario Lopez way, with… a wardrobe of tight, long-sleeve t-shirts.”

It is obvious that she’s talking about “psychic medium” John Edward, as this 2007 AV Club interview confirms.

In addition to being a foot in the door in the entertainment industry, it was her first job with health benefits. Her primary duty was to assist the producers in building segments around members of the studio audience whose loved ones Edward claimed to communicate with. She was also the point of contact for many guests in the weeks following their appearance on the show, and sometimes spent hours talking with them about their deceased relatives and friends. She writes that the concentrated listening involved with the task was useful experience when she became a producer for The Office.

Reflecting on her time with the show, she decides that the program did more good than harm.

If I had to testify under oath, I would admit, no, I don’t believe Mac Teegarden is psychic. I’ve just been made too aware of people like Carl Sagan and basic science and stuff. I am certain, though, that Mac Teegarden provided an enormous amount of comfort to people who had unexpectedly lost loved ones. I don’t know if it was psychic, but it was cathartic, and therapeutic, and it helped people.

Kaling was the one who talked to these people, so she knows better than I do how Edward’s “help” affected them. The broader picture, however, is not so kind to the man.

First of all, “psychics” who do not have TV shows still need to make a living, and they charge money: sometimes quite a bit. That the time and money people spend trying to forge a supernatural connection with someone they have lost would be better spent in seeking professional, scientific help should be uncontroversial. In some cases, seeking out help from self-declared mediums can become habit-forming, taking on qualities often associated with addiction. Putting John Edward and his ilk on TV promotes and legitimizes this dishonest industry.

And what about the all the people who make it into the studio audience but are unable to get a reading from Edward? That has to be a crushing blow for a grieving person. And Kaling herself brings up another unsettling point in the AV Club interview:

People really did seem to believe. We’d get these letters too, people were like, “I’ve been waiting a year and a half just to come on the show,” and it’s just this shitty little studio off in Astoria. We were just like, “Wow.”

Imagine someone waiting a year and a half with the false hope of getting some scrap of information from a person they have loved and lost. The idea is both heartbreaking and outrageous. I cannot fathom a way that such a thing could be good for their mental health. It is unfortunate that Kaling, having taken on the task of writing about her experiences on the show, does not seem to have considered the implications of its practices and of Edward’s profession.

I should re-iterate that most of the book is very funny, and I’ll leave you all with the unique argument Kaling (who identifies herself as a “cultural Hindu”) makes for having a secular funeral:

Please, no religious stuff. I kind of insist no one mention God or anything at my funeral. I’m not making some big atheistic statement, but I want this to be solemn because people are so upset I’m dead, and I don’t want to share the spotlight with God.

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  • Gus Snarp

    Yes, that argument that even if they’re lying, these people actually help  certainly leaves out all the cases where they don’t help, and doesn’t address how unhealthy it may be to set up false beliefs about lost loved ones. I don’t doubt that a so-called medium can occasionally help a person through their grief if they’re careful, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t hurting a lot of other people, nor that a professional therapist wouldn’t help more (or maybe even a good friend willing to listen). But what’s funny here is that Kaling leaves out the conclusion that I draw: If she did all the follow up contact and listened to these people for weeks, it seems to me that if anyone involved with Edward’s show helped them, it was Kaling herself, just by being willing to listen.

  • Anonymous

    Exploiting the grief of people for monetary gain is not “helping them.”  It is “stealing from them.”

  • Anonymous

    Bentley, I love that you’re taking on pop culture topics!

    This is a great analysis of Kaling’s blindspot and what is, essentially, as Blitzgal nicely put it, an exploitation of people’s grief shrouded in “help.” 

    Something interesting about this is that Kaling doesn’t seem to distinguish between John Edward, the man she knew personally (who obviously helped her to advance in her career), and John Edward the TV personality/”psychic” and businessman (responsible for exploitation). What I’m getting at is that I suspect Kaling’s judgment about this guy is clouded by the fact that he was instrumental in furthering her career, and thus fails to see the problems with/exploitative  what he does for a living.

  • How sad that an otherwise smart, witty person would knowingly help bilk people in such a callous way! Off topic, what is wrong with her book reading like a witty email? I ask this as a writer.

  • Placibo Domingo

    This douche nozzle is coming to the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa next year, and I wrote them to say what a bad idea I thought it was. Their defense is that he just rented the hall, and, hey, look over here at all the other great stuff we do! I think maybe a letter to the editor of the local paper is next. Blitzgal, can I use your line?

    And I’m sure he does makes some people feel better. But then again, so does heroin. I wouldn’t recommend either as a long term solution to your problems, though.

  • Phillip Moon

    Off topic on Kaling.

    I had the opportunity of working (extra/background) on an episode of The Office a few years back. We were doing the Casino Night episode and I was one of many people playing cards. At one point I was sitting at the table with Kaling and a few of the other cast members and we were playing Texas Holdem in between takes. Kaling and I got into a bidding war which caused Brian Baumgartner (I’m pretty sure it was Brian) to fold. Brian was holding a solid hand and had he stayed in, he would have won, because Kaling and I were both holding bust hands. I won. I had the better busted hand.
    That was one of the best four days I had working on a single episode of a show, and Kaling (producer, writer and actor) was pleasant and quite funny. 

  • Anonymous

    The use of the phrase “and stuff,” saying “like” the way people do in conversation- these are turn-offs for me. They are also fillers for saying something more complicated. My point in comparing it to an e-mail is that it would be more acceptable if it was something you knew the person wrote quickly. I think that stricter editing and more careful phrasing would not have detracted from the book, but would have eliminated some of the more amateurish passages. It only annoyed me a few times, though.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    I always found it suspicious that a guy who claims to talk to the dead, thus proving not only the existence of an afterlife but also communication with it, only has a daytime cable TV show. If his claims were true, he would be collecting Nobel Prizes. That alone should raise suspicions in most people.

  • Dan

    John Edward is the biggest douche in the universe.
    Had to be said.

  • Clearly you’re not familiar with Sylvia Brown.

  • Excellent post, Bentley.

    I’m glad to see that with ten comments so far, no one has taken the smug position that “the suckers have it coming,” and that they deserve to be cheated by Edward.  I’ve seen that too often.

    In anticipation that someone might, let me say that grief is pain, and pain of any kind can drastically reduce a person’s ability to think rationally or with discernment. People in grief, even intelligent ones are vulnerable to manipulation by anyone who offers them relief. They don’t have to be extremely credulous in general in order to fall prey to a waste of flesh like John Edward. If someone is not very well-practiced in looking at claims skeptically, and very few people are, grief can reduce their ability to sense fraud, like the way stress can reduce an otherwise healthy person’s immune system against infectious diseases.

    The bereaved need and deserve the real world support of real people who care about them, not the exploitative tease of “psychic” parasites.  Edward deserves to personally feel all the suffering of others, “comforted” or not, from whom he has profited.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, but John Edward actually won the award. . .

  • My vote goes to Van Praagh(.com)

    (John EdwardS  ain’t so great either.)

  • Gus Snarp

    Isn’t that kind of her shtick though? Seems like the characters I’ve seen her play all talk that way, I assume for comedic effect, and she may have intended to keep that same comedic tone for her book…

  • Anonymous

    Dialogue and prose are not the same thing.

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