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Other segments from the episode on November 2, 2006

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 2, 2006: Interview with Greg Daniels and Mindy Kaling; Review of the latest Yo La Tenga album "I am not afraid of you and I will beat your A**;" Review of the…

Transcript

DATE November 2, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Executive producer Greg Daniels and writer-actor Mindy
Kaling discuss their TV comedy series, "The Office"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

I confess I was skeptical when I first heard that the British comedy series
"The Office" was going to be adapted for American television. But the
American version on NBC is hilarious, and it has become very much its own
series. It won the Emmy for Best Comedy Series this year. "The Office"
starts Steve Carell as Michael Scott, the manager of an office who thinks of
himself as generous, enlightened and wise, but is really clueless and
offensive, making his coworkers cringe in embarrassment. The series is shot
as if it's a documentary, and there are many scenes in which characters talk
directly to the camera. Here's a scene from this season. The HR director is
telling Michael that one of the employees has complained about Michael's use
of the word "faggy."

(Soundbite from "The Office)

Mr. STEVE CARELL: (As Michael Scott) No, that is the fun of this place. I
call everybody faggy. Why would anyone find that offensive?

Unidentified Actor #1: (As HR director) OK, I think Oscar would just like it
if you used "lame" or something like that.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) That's what faggy means.

Actor #1: (As HR director) No, not really.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Ohhhh!

Actor #1: (As HR director) Apparently, you called Oscar faggy...

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Yeah.

Actor #1: (As HR director) ...for liking the movie "Shakespeare in Love" more
than an action movie.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) It wasn't just an action movie. It was "Die
Hard"...

Actor #1: (As HR director) All right, Michael. But Oscar's really gay.

Mr. CARELL: (as Michael Scott) Exactly.

Actor #1: (As HR director) I mean, for real.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Yeah, I know.

Actor #1: (As HR director) No. He's attracted to other men.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) OK. A little too far across the line.

Actor #1: (As HR director) OK. I am telling you, Oscar is an actual
homosexual. Yeah. He told me this morning. And, honestly, he hopes he can
count on your discretion.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: After this exchange, Michael is in his office talking directly to the
camera.

(Soundbite from "The Office")

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) I would have never called him that if I knew.
You know, you don't call retarded people `retards.' It's bad taste. You call
your friends retards when they're acting retarded. And I consider Oscar a
friend.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: I have two guests from "The Office." Greg Daniels is the executive
producer of "The Office" and also writes and directs for the series. He wrote
the episode we just played a clip from. He also co-created "King of the Hill"
and has written for "The Simpsons" and "Saturday Night Live." Mindy Kaling is
both a writer and an actor, like several other people on "The Office." She
plays Kelly Kapoor, who Michael describes as "our most ethnic employee."

Mindy Kaling, Greg Daniels, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Now for any of our listeners who don't watch "The Office," can I ask you to
describe what you see the show as being about, how you would describe it to
people who hadn't seen it yet?

Mr. GREG DANIELS: Well, It's like a reality show or a documentary where they
took the cameras to a typical American office, and this one is in Scranton,
Pennsylvania, and they sell something very typical and kind of boring, which
is copier paper and office supplies to other offices, and the boss of this
particular regional branch is so excited that the cameras are there and wants
to explain his life and make it look as interesting and professional as
possible, but he can't help making certain mistakes and putting his foot in
his mouth because that's his personality.

GROSS: And, Mindy, how would you describe your character?

Ms. MINDY KALING: I think Kelly is kind of a ninny. She's a chattery,
teenagery type of girl, and she loves the office and she loves pop culture and
she also is Indian.

GROSS: And she sure talks a lot.

Ms. KALING: I think even when people--my mom and dad were wondering when
they--because they knew I was going to be on FRESH AIR, they said, `Will they
even know you're Indian because I sound like an 11-year-old valley girl, this
girl purporting to be an Indian girl so...

GROSS: Isn't that exactly one of the frictions, you know, one of the things
that your character plays on, the fact that she's like one of the ethnic
people on the show but she's so valley girl.

Ms. KALING: Yeah, that's the coolest thing about--when Kelly was getting
created, I thought the coolest thing that Greg did was that Indian is like the
fifth thing you would say about her.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Ms. KALING: The first four things are lot more pejorative, like she's
annoying, and she's gossipy, and she's overly emotional, and she happens to be
Indian.

GROSS: One of the great things about "The Office" is that the character that
Steve Carell plays, Michael, is everybody who's ever worked in an office knows
this character because he always does the wrong thing. He thinks he's really
funny. He thinks he's a great entertainer. He thinks he's really sensitive.
He thinks he's really aware of the importance of diversity in the workplace.
And he gets absolutely everything wrong. And yet we kind of like him anyway
because we see he's kind of pathetic, you know. He's had like a sad
childhood--even when he was a child, nobody wanted to be his friend, so we
kind of felt like sorry for him and we cut him a break. But he's such a great
character. Can you each talk about what you like about this character and
what you like about writing for him?

Mr. DANIELS: I like that he's trying his best. He's not trying to be
mean-spirited. He's trying to show everyone how cool he is, and when we were
auditioning actors for this, it was very hard for me to give notes to the
actors to audition, so I set up a little video camera. I decided I would tape
myself auditioning for the character, which, you know, I'm not an actor, but I
tried, and I found that the note that I would give myself to get as good an
audition as I could possibly get out of it was that I was hoping that the
documentary about this would one day be seen by Jennifer Aniston, and I was
just trying to impress her any way I possibly could.

Ms. KALING: I didn't know that.

Mr. DANIELS: Yeah.

Ms. KALING: That's so sad.

Mr. DANIELS: So that's what I think is part of it, is that he's kind
of--he's in, you know, Pennsylvania, but he's hoping that all of America is
going to see this and he wants to look as good as he can, and it's like when
you leave an answering machine message to someone that you're trying to
impress and you start to stumble on it and you stumble more and more because
you know that it's being recorded, and there's nothing you can do to get it
back, and that's what I like about him.

GROSS: Have you each written things for him or, you know, contributed things
for his character that you've seen other people do?

Mr. DANIELS: My father is not entirely Michael Scott or even a portion of
it, but I've used different things that he's done. For example, my first
experience writing comedy was writing jokes for him. He was a radio executive
and a salesman, and he would do a comedy bit at his company where he put on a
turban and did a Carnack rip-off known as Aaronak, and the first joke I ever
wrote for Aaronak Michael Scott did in the Dundee Award show episode where
he--and he wore a very similar turban and it didn't go over, and he just
looked at the camera, and that was, you know, taken straight from my
childhood.

Ms. KALING: I would say...

GROSS: Tell us what the joke is. Tell us what the joke is.

Mr. DANIELS: Well, you know, I think it was like the PLO, the IRA and the
hot dog cart down on the corner, and then it was `name three organizations
with better health plans than Dunder-Mifflin,' and for my dad, I used the
company he worked for, so that was the joke. It didn't go over here either.

Ms. KALING: I remember that from the episode, and I remember thinking, like,
who's Johnny Carson, like...

Mr. DANIELS: I know. It was an older reference. The other thing I love
about...

GROSS: Oh, oh, gosh, I hadn't thought of that. That's true. Yeah. Younger
people wouldn't get it.

Mr. DANIELS: Yeah. No. The other thing I love about Michael Scott is that
he's my age, so I don't have to be that current with everything that's going
on. I can still reference all the "Saturday Night Live" characters from the
1980s, and it's still in character for him.

GROSS: Right.

Ms. KALING: One thing that's kind of awkward is occasionally in our writing
room, we will accidentally call Greg "Michael," like that will happen
sometimes.

Mr. DANIELS: Yeah.

Ms. KALING: We don't mean it. I mean, he's nothing like him. But, you
know, just that he is our boss and we work in an office as writers, and
occasionally that will happen.

Mr. DANIELS: Yeah, sometimes I try to be insensitive and capricious to just
help them with their process.

Ms. KALING: Exactly.

GROSS: Mindy, you wrote the episode that airs this week on "The Office" and
it's called "Diwali," and explain what the premise is.

Ms. KALING: The premise of the "Diwali" episode is Kelly Kapoor, the
character that I play who is Indian American, has invited the office to her
Hindu American Association's Diwali Festival at the local Scranton High
School, and Michael is very excited about that, the boss, and he encourages
everybody to go. In fact, he's a little worried that the office is going to
embarrass him in front of his girlfriend at the event.

GROSS: And what actually is Diwali?

Ms. KALING: Diwali is the Hindu festival of light, and it really comes from
the Sanskrit word "divali" and "diva" means light and "ivali" means row. It's
a celebration that's about the Lord Ram's return after exile of 14 years.

GROSS: So Kelly's having a Diwali party, and everybody from the office is
invited, and Michael decides that Diwali is really like the Indian Halloween,
and he just sees it like a costume party, and I think Michael is really just
at his best when he's speaking on behalf of diversity and teaching people's
customs to each other or teaching, quote, "tolerance" to other people.

Mr. DANIELS: One of the things I liked about this one is that he appears to
have learned a tiny, tiny bit from his past mistakes with diversity in that
he's got like a back of his brain awareness that there could be something
embarrassing where he's transferring it to all the other people in the office,
and he's worried about their behavior.

GROSS: Right. So, Mindy, are there things you wrote for this episode that
you had experienced in real life? Like stereotypes about Indians or about how
awkward people are when they're at a celebration for an ethnic group or
religion that isn't their own?

Ms. KALING: I remember--well, I remember distinctly watching the movie
"Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," and Indiana Jones visits a bunch of
Indian people, and all you really remember about them is that they eat monkey
brains, and I remember growing up thinking, like, `This is what people think
of Indians?' Like this is--like that's--they're sort of horrible and crazily
exotic, and then when "The Simpsons" came on, which actually Greg wrote on
there was a character named Apoo, and that was sort of the other thing you
knew, was that they were...(unintelligible)...pretty much. I mean--this was
such a funny, satirical show but--and then later Night Shyamalan. So I felt
like there was a lot of--I sort tried to encapsulate all that like most
Americans. I mean, even...(unintelligible)...know about Indians and tried to
satirize it in a way, and I don't think anyone's really heard of Diwali, so
this is really cool that Greg wanted to do this episode.

GROSS: My guests are Greg Daniels, the executive producer of "The Office,"
and Mindy Kaling, who plays Kelly Kapoor and also writes for the series. She
wrote tonight's episode.

More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: We're talking about the NBC comedy series "The Office." Here's a scene
from the "Diversity Day" episode. Michael, played by Steve Carell, is leading
a seminar on respecting diversity.

(Soundbite from "The Office")

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) OK, well, since I am leading this, let's get
down to business and why don't I just kind of introduce myself, OK? I am
Michael, and I am part English, Irish, German and Scottish, sort of a virtual
United Nations. But what some of you might not know is that I am also part
Native-American Indian.

Unidentified Actor #2: What part Native American?

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott): Two fifteenths.

Actor #2: Two--that practically doesn't make any sense.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott): Well, you know what? It's kind of hard for
me to talk about. Their suffering. So who else? Let's get this popping.
Come on. Who's going? Who's going? Let's go here. Oscar, right here.
You're on.

Mr. OSCAR NUNEZ: (As Oscar) OK, Michael. Both my parents were born in
Mexico...

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Oh, yeah.

Mr. NUNEZ: (As Oscar) and they moved to the United States a year before I
was born...

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Yeah.

Mr. NUNEZ: (As Oscar) ...so I grew up in the United States.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Wow!

Mr. NUNEZ: (As Oscar) ...and my parents were Mexican.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Wow, that is a great story! That's the
American Dream right there, right?

Mr. NUNEZ: (As Oscar) Thank--yeah.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Let me ask you. Is there a term beside
Mexican that you prefer, something less offensive.

Mr. NUNEZ: (As Oscar) Mexican isn't offensive.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Well, it has certain connotations.

Mr. NUNEZ: (As Oscar) Like what?

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Like--I don't--well, I don't know.

Mr. NUNEZ: (As Oscar) What connotations, Michael?

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott): No, no, there's no...

Mr. NUNEZ: (As Oscar) You must have meant something.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) No. Now remember...

Mr. NUNEZ: (As Oscar) I'm just curious.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Honesty, empathy, respect.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That was Oscar Nunez playing Oscar. Let's get back to my interview
with Greg Daniels, executive producer of "The Office," and Mindy Kaling who
writes for the series and plays Kelly Kapoor.

One of the things that happens on "The Office" is that since "The Office" is
shot as if it were a documentary about this group of office workers, people
are always talking to the camera, like looking away from the action, and then
talking to the camera in a confidential way, talking about what's really going
through their minds, and they're often giving these kind of pained glances to
the camera as Michael makes a fool of himself in the office, and I'm wondering
if during auditions, Greg, you asked everybody to roll their eyes and give
pained looks because that's so much of what they do. Everybody's always so
embarrassed on Michael's behalf and looking so uncomfortable because of what
he's doing.

Mr. DANIELS: Well, we didn't have a normal audition process. We--or we did
have a normal audition process, but afterwards, we did screen tests, and we
actually took three days and combined all the different finalist actors in
different combinations and went to our production offices which later became
the actual office set, and we filmed them improv-ing scenes together, and that
was definitely one of the great things that distinguished us, for example,
Jenna Fischer was--the pained looks that she would give to camera.

GROSS: She plays the receptionist, the character Pam.

Mr. DANIELS: Yeah, she plays Pam, and she's really the most put-upon of all
of them, and there was one great scene in the auditions that was an improv
scene where Rainn Wilson, who plays Dwight, witnessed her having a fight with
her fiance and decides he's going to try and offer some help, and he says all
these horrible, inappropriate things where he's got his foot up on her desk,
and she didn't actually say a word in the whole improv. She just kept looking
to the camera with a pained suffering that was very funny.

Ms. KALING: And that's a very cool tool because if you noticed in the show,
it's only certain characters who have permission to have that familiarity with
the camera and the cameraman, and other characters with less self-awareness do
it less and it works great. Like, for instance, Rainn Wilson who plays
Dwight, I think is a kind of character who has less self-awareness, even
though he doesn't do it as much as, say, John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer, who
play Jim and Pam, the two like love interests.

Mr. DANIELS: Yeah, it's kind of saying, `Does anyone else see how crazy this
is?' So you have to be kind of a reasonable character to get away with it
although when Michael Scott does it, it has a different flavor. It's usually,
`Uh-oh, I just blew it again, didn't I? Oh, yes I did,' when he looks to the
camera.

Ms. KALING: Or that he's the host of a party and that he wants to keep...

Mr. DANIELS: Yeah.

Ms. KALING: ...you know, he wants to be kind to the camera people as if he
were the host of the party, and the party is the office.

GROSS: There's a flirtation that turned into a kind of thwarted romance
between the receptionist Pam and the sales rep Jim, and you know, Pam had been
engaged to somebody else for years, and that's kind of been called off but yet
she won't actually have a romantic relationship with Jim, although you can
tell they're in love. So "The Office" has become one of the actual many years
in which there's this `will they, won't they?' theme, and did you know you
were heading there at the beginning?

Mr. DANIELS: No, definitely. You know, you can't really see further than
six episodes ahead usually, I think, when you're in the thick of running a TV
show, but that was one of the most appealing features of the English show to
me was the relationship on that show between Tim and Dawn and the idea of the
type of show that we're doing where the cameras are with them, and it's a
reality show, and it's the public life of the office and you only see them
when they're in public, but they have developed these feelings, and if you're
really perceptive or paying close attention, you can see evidence of it, and
it's just such a great thing to have an office romance in that situation
because it's--I don't know, I think it's very realistic, and you know,
everybody's kind of developed a crush on their coworker at some point or
another.

GROSS: In the seasons that "The Office" has been on, are there ways that the
characters have changed that you never would have expected and are there ways
that Michael has changed, the main character, that you didn't plan on, it just
kind of evolved that way?

Mr. DANIELS: Hmm. That's a good question. I think Michael has changed a
little bit, and a lot of it has to do with growing away from the British show
a little bit and also Steve's movie career because when Steve Carell did "40
Year Old Virgin," I think that was eye-opening for me and for some of the
writers to see him play a romantic lead in that way and how likable he was,
and it helped us include some of those characteristics in his character of
Michael Scott.

Ms. KALING: You know when you're on the subway and you see this like really
weird-looking loser that's talking too loudly and they have like a girlfriend?
To me that was like a big change in, like, the second season is that like
characters who are kind of like `That person's loved by somebody?' They are.
Like you see Dwight is loved by somebody and Kelly has love in her own way and
you know all these people that you're like, `That person's like so sort of
terrible in their own way.' Oh, but I guess there's another person out there
who understands them and likes them. And most of the characters on the show
who are real characters have some kind of love life, and that's realistic, I
mean, and sort of unusual, and that's a big difference I think between our two
seasons.

GROSS: And, Jan, who you mentioned is Michael's supervisor, and even when
they do maybe, maybe not have an overnight relationship because she's drunk
and he's drunk, and he doesn't--they probably just fell asleep, we think, but
he...

Mr. DANIELS: I'm glad you picked up on that. We really discussed that a
lot...

Ms. KALING: Yeah.

Mr. DANIELS: ...and that's what we think, too. We think that she complained
about her divorce for hours and then fell asleep on him.

GROSS: Right. Except he thinks that probably much more happened, and he's
always acting as if they had this like long passionate fling...

Mr. DANIELS: Yeah.

GROSS: ...just like another example of him getting just like everything
wrong. It must be so much fun to write for a character like that.

Mr. DANIELS: Yeah. He has such little self-knowledge, and that's what makes
a great comedy character, I think, is someone without any self-knowledge, and
he really lacks it in every aspect of his life.

Ms. KALING: Greg said this thing to me once when we first started working on
the show which I thought was so kind of smart and dead-on, which is that...

Mr. DANIELS: Yes.

Ms. KALING: ...a lot of shows will have the queue of romantic leads be the
stars of the show. In this case, it would have been where Jim and Pam were,
but what he said was a better kind of formula...(unintelligible)...formula in
the first show, and, Greg, you can correct me, is that Michael is the star of
the show, and when we see little glimpses of love emerging in the office, it's
so wonderful and we want little tastes of it vs. you know in other shows
where you sort of get hit over the head with love and romance, and are they
sleeping together, are they not, and blah-blah-blah, and you would just get by
with like a nice glance that the two of them shared and that's like enough to
warm you for the whole week. And then you get to laugh and laugh and laugh at
someone like Steve who's so...(unintelligible)...and funny.

Mr. DANIELS: Yeah, I think so, too. I think that came straight from the
English show but it's the fact that the guy who would be the wacky boss
character on other shows is the lead and has 80 percent of the screen time,
and likable people are kind of forced to be in the background, exchanging
furtive looks and stuff.

GROSS: We'll talk more about "The Office" in the second half of the show.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

We're talking about the NBC comedy series "The Office," starring Steve Carell
as a clueless manager in a paper supply company. Here's a scene from a sexual
harassment episode. In response to complaints about tasteless sexual jokes
and e-mails, everyone in the office has to attend a seminar on sexual
harassment where they are warned about what not to do. After the meeting is
over, Michael is afraid everyone will feel too inhibited, and he has this talk
with his staff.

(Soundbite from "The Office")

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Do you realize what we're losing? Seriously.

Unidentified Actress #1: E-mail forwards.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Exactly. Mmwah! Can we afford to lose
e-mail forwards. Do we want that?

Unidentified Actress #2: I hate them. You send me these filthy e-mails and
you say forward them to 10 people or you'll have bad luck.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Give me a break. Stanley, how about that hot
picture you have by your desk? Centerfold in the Catholic schoolgirl's
outfit. I mean, it is hot, it is sexy and it turns him on, and I will admit,
the best part of my morning is staring at it. But what, are we going to just
take it away?

Unidentified Actor #3: (As Stanley) That is my daughter. She goes to
Catholic girls school. I'm taking it down right now.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: My guests are the executive producer of "The Office," Greg Daniels,
and Mindy Kaling, who writes for the show and plays Kelly Kapoor.

There was a time when--I think "The Office" has become much more popular
lately, and in its first season, it was unclear whether it was going to catch
on. It was unclear whether it was going to be a hit and I think whether it
was going to be renewed by NBC. Was there anything that you had to do during
that period to convince the network to keep you?

Mr. DANIELS: Oh, yeah. There was a certain number of business things that
we did. We gave away a lot of concessions before they would pick us up, from
a business sense. But most of it was trying to persuade them that this is how
these type of shows grow, is that it's a character comedy and you need to
teach people who the characters are and that we were a team that could
continue to improve and improve the product and that they should bet on us and
things like that, and inside NBC, there were a lot of people who were big fans
and felt very connected to the first season and felt very proud of it and, you
know, especially a lot of the middle management and the people who worked
there, and I think that they saw a lot of themselves in some of the employees.

Ms. KALING: When I was getting hired for this show, it was also when "Joey"
was staffing. I remember when I thought--we thought it was going to be a full
season, my parents are like, `Do you think that maybe you can try to parlay
this into a job at "Joey"?' Because they weren't sure
"Joey"...(unintelligible)...25 episodes and...(unintelligible)...and picked up
the first...(unintelligible)...of the midseason, and it's just funny how
things change.

GROSS: Greg, one thing I'm curious about you. You've worked on several
different shows, and they each capture like a different part of the "American
Zeitgeist." You know, you wrote for "Seinfeld," and he's like the New York,
neurotic, Jewish comic. You wrote for "King of the Hill," and you know, Hank
Hill is the guy who's probably more comfortable in Home Depot than any place
else. You know, he hunts, he's from a small suburban town, completely
different from Seinfeld, and now doing "The Office." That's a completely--you
know, it's a pretty different sensibility, too. I'm just wondering how you're
able to fit yourself into so many different--like world views.

Mr. DANIELS: Well, I like to do stuff that isn't necessarily my personal
background because I get more curiosity and interest when I'm doing the
research, and for example, with "King of the Hill," we would go to Texas a
number of times. I took all the writers there, and we would fan out with our
reporters' notebooks and try and get a sense of it. But a lot of it has to do
with just the emotional stories, like Hank Hill is pretty much everybody's dad
or uncle or the, you know, the kind of masculine impulse that's out there, and
you know, I think that Michael has certain similarities to Hank. And
"Seinfeld" is more like my upbringing because I grew up in New York, but
again, I only did one episode of that show. But I loved it. I loved it
dearly.

GROSS: Which was the episode?

Mr. DANIELS: Well, it was based on something, again from my dad that
happened to my father when I was a kid in New York. We had a car, but we
didn't have a garage space so every other day my dad would have to repark the
car, which often took like 45 minutes or an hour of hunting around for a
space.

GROSS: It was like alternate side of the street parking?

Mr. DANIELS: Exactly. Yeah. Every other day you have to switch. So one
day, he found a space after searching for 40 minutes, and he started to back
into it and the guy behind him tried to front into it, and they got stuck in
that position, and neither of them would leave and my dad was very stubborn,
and one of the guys--one of his friends he saw walking down the street after
about an hour of being locked in this battle of wills with this other guy, and
he sent this friend to--now this was before cell phones--he sent this friend
to talk to my mom and my mom brought him dinner down there, and they basically
sat locked in that stalemate for probably four or five hours, and so when I
was pitching ideas to Larry David, I, you know, I pitched him that story, and
he thought it was a classic New York story, so that was the episode that I
worked on.

GROSS: You mentioned before that you wrote jokes for your father and used
some of them on "The Office." What context did he use the jokes in?

Mr. DANIELS: Did he use it in his life?

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. DANIELS: He was a frustrated stand-up comedian and he was an executive
at Capitol Cities and later at ABC, and he was the president of ABC Radio at
one time, and he would have different instances when he would have to give
speeches, and he would--by that time, I was a comedy writer and he would call
me up, and I would get all of the other guys on whatever staff I was working
on to pitch jokes for him so at different times he had some pretty great joke
writers working for him.

GROSS: Wow, how lucky was he to have all these like great writers at his
disposal!

Mr. DANIELS: Yeah.

Ms. KALING: Didn't you and Conan O'Brien--at one point you and Conan had
written some materials for him? That's pretty cool, like for his awards show.

Mr. DANIELS: Yeah. Well, my writing partner at the beginning of my career
was Conan O'Brien, so he often wrote jokes for my dad as well, and Mike Reiss,
who later ran "The Simpsons," contributed jokes. Mike Reiss and Al Jean. I'm
trying to think of other people. There was a bunch of great comedy writers
who, when I was working on my first job, but not necessarily the news, would
submit jokes for my dad.

GROSS: How did you and Conan O'Brien become writing partners?

Mr. DANIELS: Well, we went to college together, and we were both on the
humor magazine at our college, and we had written--we tried to sell a little
project the summer between our junior and senior years with some of the other
people and we liked working together, and when we graduated, there weren't any
other people who wanted to pursue this professionally so we kind of teamed up,
and so we sent in jokes, and we sent them into one show, "Not Necessarily the
News," and my mom said, `You know, you guys really are not going to get your
first job. You should, you know, think about something else.' So we went to a
temp agency and we signed up to be temps, temporary office workers which I
could have used a lot actually in this job...

GROSS: Really. Yeah.

Mr. DANIELS: But, unfortunately, we got hired to be comedy writers, and we
went out to LA. That's the beginning of the whole story for me.

GROSS: Mindy, in the Six Degrees of Separation category, you were an intern
on Conan O'Brien's show, were you?

Ms. KALING: Yes, I was an intern. I was 19 as was John Krasinski..

Mr. DANIELS: And Angela Kinsey. So there's three of our cast members were
Conan interns.

Ms. KALING: Well, my first season on "The Office," I was going to say,
because of Greg's resume, my joke was that Greg was like 400 years old because
he had written on "The Simpsons," "Seinfeld," "Saturday Night Live," created
"King of the Hill," "Not Necessarily the News," and he was like 40 when I met
him, and it was so amazing to me that you...

Mr. DANIELS: She used to make fun of me that I was being too old. It's like
I work with a lot of writers in their 20s, and they're constantly pushing,
trying to push me out of the way into my grave.

GROSS: You know, listen. We were talking earlier, Greg, about how you
auditioned your people for "The Office."

Mindy, what was your audition like?

Ms. KALING: My audition was that I happened to be in the room when we needed
somebody in the second episode, "Diversity Day," written by B.J. Novak, I
was--had I already been established as somebody in the office? Or not?

Mr. DANIELS: Well, I had this idea to hire writers-performers and I went to
see Mindy, who was doing an off-Broadway play that she had written and was
starring in--called "Matt and Ben," and--which it was a very acclaimed show,
and...

GROSS: As in Matt Damon and Ben Affleck?

Ms. KALING: Yes, and I played Ben Affleck.

Mr. DANIELS: She played Ben Affleck, yes. So I always thought that she
would be a great writer-performer from the very beginning so--but I did hire
her as a writer just with like a little subclause in the deal that was a
writer-performer deal, and I hired her based on spec--"Arrested Development"
that she wrote as a writer.

GROSS: So, Mindy, you didn't expect to become one of the regular characters
on the series when you were hired.

Ms. KALING: No, and I wasn't even hoping. To me it was--it's just seemed so
far away from anything that I could do. It's been such a dream to be--you
know, and now my parents, my parents are actually in the Diwali episode, and
to think that I started from where I started now. They have a scene with the
two of them and Steve Carell, it's like a massive joke in my family that
they're on stage with this Golden Globe-winning genius.

GROSS: Do they...

Mr. DANIELS: The fun...

GROSS: Are they the ones who play your parents and who are trying to make a
match for you with another--with a man?

Ms. KALING: Yes, and it's kind of great because they play very traditional
Indians in the show who had an arranged marriage, and actually my parents met
in Nigeria and they had a love match, was what my grandmother would call it,
which is my dad's side of the family, a lot of arranged marriages, but he fell
in love with my mom, who I guess was a foxy ob-gyn in Lagos in 1977 or
whatever and they had this sort of forbidden love match, and my dad is the
only one in his family who didn't have an arranged marriage, but yet they play
this very traditional South Indian couple.

GROSS: Greg, you were going to say something there?

Mr. DANIELS: I was going to say that her parents are very good in the show,
and for some reason, the format of it being a documentary and a reality show
lends itself to nonactors...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DANIELS: ...and a lot of our cast didn't ever have acting experience
before.

Ms. KALING: The great thing is that John Krasinski's father and my mother
work at the same hospital in Boston. It's a very funny coincidence, and I
think that at that hospital, they think anybody can be on "The Office." So
many people at St. Elizabeth's hospital in Boston, like so many people that
they know or have been on "The Office." So you know, I think for them, it's
sort of a funny easy thing to do, is get on "The Office."

GROSS: Well, "The Office" is a great series. I wish you continued good luck
with it and continued success with it. Thank you both so much for talking
with us.

Mr. DANIELS: (Unintelligible).

Ms. KALING: Thanks, Terry.

GROSS: Greg Daniels is the executive producer of the NBC series "The Office."
Mindy Kaling writes for the series and plays Kelly Kapoor. She wrote
tonight's episode in which she invites everyone to her family celebration of
the Hindu holiday Diwali. At the party, Michael, played by Steve Carell,
sings a song he wrote for the occasion.

(Soundbite from "The Office")

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) (Talking) This is going out to Indians
everywhere...(unintelligible)...one of the greats. Mr. Adam Sandler.

(Singing) "Diwali, the festival of lights. Let me tell you something.
Tonight has been one crazy night. So put on your saris, it's time to
celebrate Diwali. Everybody looks so jolly, but it's not Christmas, it's
Diwali. The goddess of destruction Kali stopped by to celebrate Diwali.
Don't invite any zombies to our celebration of Diwali. Along came Polly to
have some fun at Diwali. If you're Indian and you love to party, have a
happy, happy, happy, happy, happy Diwali. Happy Diwali!"

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Coming up, rock critic Ken Tucker reviews the latest CD by Yo La
Tengo.

This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Rock critic Ken Tucker reviews latest Yo La Tengo album,
"I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass"
TERRY GROSS, host:

For more than 20 years, the husband and wife team of Ira Kaplan and Georgia
Hubley have led their band Yo La Tengo through the indie rock scene with ever
shifting sounds, styles, subject matter and group members. The current Yo La
Tengo consists of Kaplan on guitar, Hubley on drums and James McNew on bass.
In recent years, the trio has written the scores for the movies "Junebug" and
"Old Joy," and they recently released an album called "I Am Not Afraid of You
and I Will Beat Your Ass."

Rock critic Ken Tucker says, `It's less a summing up than a move forward in
the evolution of the band's sound.'

(Soundbite from "Mr. Tough")

YO LA TENGO: (Singing) "Hey, Mr. Tough, don't you think we've suffered
enough. Why don't you meet me on the dance floor when it's time-to-time time.
And if you need to tell me something once, you won't have to say it twice.
And if you ask for a nickel, I'm going to hand you a dime. And we'll forget
about our problems at home for a little while. And leave our worries in the
corner. (Unintelligible)."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. KEN TUCKER: "If you ask for a nickel, I'm going to give you a dime" goes
a line in Yo La Tengo song, and it's shorthand for a characteristic of the
band. They always give you more than you expect and if you put a little
effort into following their discursive, eclectic music, you'll be repaid many
times over in pleasure. Ira Kaplan can play great, gusting squalls of guitar,
as in the two 10 minutes-plus compositions that bookend this album. But more
often, he's singing in a delicate, precise voice about comforting a lover and
overcoming sadness.

(Soundbite from "Black Flowers")

Mr. IRA KAPLAN: (Singing) "You can never sleep enough. Your alarm is going
off. You wake up and you can't pretend a dream was just a dream again. Won't
you dry your eyes? But it doesn't matter anymore. You did just what you did
before. Until you realize...(unintelligible)."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. TUCKER: Kaplan's a former rock critic or an active one, if you consider
his intelligently elusive compositions as a melding of every kind of pop and
not-so-pop music he's listened to. There's certainly the sensibility that
informs a song like "The Race Is on Again," with its chiming guitars by way of
The Birds or REM or the Beatles, or by now, after all these years spent
synthesizing influences to create their own sound, Yo La Tengo. In any case,
the result is a dream song that follows its own melodic logic.

(Soundbite of music)

YO LA TENGO: (Singing) "(Unintelligible). Just last night, just last
night...(unintelligible). I couldn't sleep..."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. TUCKER: Sometimes on the band's carefully shaped sprawls such as the
willfully vague and intentionally misspelled song called "The Story of Yo La
Tengo," the band leads you down blind alleys of non sequiturs and elliptical
imagery. But just as often, they'll give you a song that's exactly about what
its title says, propelled by music that makes the sentiments snap into sharp
clarity. That's the way it is on "Sometimes I Don't Get You."

(Soundbite from "Sometimes I Don't Get You")

YO LA TENGO: (Singing) "Sometimes I don't get you. It's like I understand.
All I do is a waste. Put on your...(unintelligible). Then
I...(unintelligible). Together...(unintelligible). Sometimes I don't get
you. La-la-la. Sometimes I don't know you..."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. TUCKER: Based in Hoboken, New Jersey, and living out what sounds like to
some extent a bohemian artist's existence that few artists today even know
they could emulate, let alone actively try to achieve, Ira Kaplan and Georgia
Hubley are actually middle-class music makers living in the best of both
worlds. They have the kind of `arty', in the best sense, instincts that lead
them to take noisy chances in the studio and to use a painting by the great
cartoonist artist Gary Painter for their new album cover. On the other hand,
they handle their mainstream semisuccess with light dignity and a constant
subtle sense of humor. In their world, they're superstars, even as they know
the concept of the superstar is outmoded, which gives them plenty of leeway to
plunder rock history, come up with original riffs and thoughts and turn out
such a consistent body of work. The gleaming excellence of this album seems
like just another brick in their sturdy wall of sound.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor at large at Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
the latest album from the band Yo La Tengo.

Coming up, David Edelstein reviews the new Borat movie.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Film critic David Edelstein reviews Sacha Baron Cohen's
film, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit
Glorious Nation of Kazakshtan"
TERRY GROSS, host:

The 35-year-old comic Sacha Baron Cohen speaks fluent Hebrew and was educated
at Christ's College, Cambridge, but his best known alter egos are hip-hop
wannabe and TV talk-show host Ali G, a flamboyant queen named Bruno, and a
Kazak journalist, Borat. Now Baron Cohen plays Borat in the movie that has
everyone from rodeo cowboys to the Anti-Defamation League to the government of
Kazakshtan up in arms. Film critic David Edelstein has a review.

Mr. DAVID EDELSTEIN: For better or worse, I'm squeamish when it comes to
watching people get humiliated. I don't look at baseball players after
they've struck out or actors on award shows when the envelope brings bad news.
Maybe I'm a nice guy. Or maybe I identify with losers. It doesn't matter.
What matters is that more and more of my time watching movies and TV is spent
squirming, cringing, averting my eyes and even plugging my ears. My guess is
that this genre has caught on because it's grounded in a documentary
aesthetic. You find handheld camera work and even the slickest commercial
concoctions, and audiences for TV shows have developed an appetite for the
sting of reality. Real time, real humiliation.

The sultan of squirm is the British comic Sacha Baron Cohen, a caricaturist
whose vocal and physical stylings can make you gasp with admiration. As the
faux black rapper Ali G on his TV show, he asks his frequently right-wing
guests questions of such overbearing idiocy that he often shuts them down
completely, a victory in this genre. But it's another character, Borat, who
has captured the American public's fancy. The full title of Baron Cohen's
movie is "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious
Nation of Kazakhstan." He plays a Kazak television personality who embarks on
a cross-country American odyssey in the hope of learning the Westerners'
secrets of civilization. With a look of genial befuddlement, he poses earnest
questions to his unwitting subjects that betray his miniscule IQ, cultural
backwardness, rampant libido, sexism, homophobia and anti-Semitism. His
clueless American interviewees think he's a legitimate, if primitive,
journalist, and they do their best to tutor him in our ways, patiently
explaining the etiquette of dating and dining or the underlying tenets of
feminism. There have been charges that the movie is anti-Semitic when it's
actually the reverse. It's a nasty travesty of Eastern European and Central
Asian countries that once supported pogroms and either actively or passively
the extermination of Jews.

Baron Cohen was raised as an orthodox Jew and you can taste his glee in
portraying Borat's Kazakshtan village as incestuous and inbred, a place where
the local rapist is regarded as a colorful eccentric, and every year the
citizens have `the running of the Jew' in which the masked demonic figure
attempts to, quote, "get the money."

When Borat in his good-natured way says something grossly inappropriate about
women or Jews, many of his subjects attempt to overlook it. They understand
that he's from the Third World, that his grasp of our language and mores is
shaky, but his subjects can't win. We laugh at them when they let his
outlandish interjections pass, and we laugh at them when they become visibly
uptight. We laugh at them when they take offense, and we laugh at them when,
like a group of frat house slobs who give him a ride in their RV, they take no
offense whatsoever. I stopped laughing at the formal Southern dinner party
that follows Borat's etiquette lesson.

(Soundbite from "Borat" movie)

Mr. SACHA BARON COHEN: (As Borat) Ha, nice to meet you.

Unidentified Actress: It's so nice to meet you. Welcome to America.

Mr. BARON COHEN: (As Borat) Will you please teach me how to dine like
gentlemen.

Actress: Of course. I'll be happy to.

Mr. BARON COHEN: (As Borat) Should I pay compliments to the peoples.

Actress: Yes, but only if you truly agree with that compliment.

Mr. BARON COHEN: (As Borat) You have very gentle face and a very erotic
physique.

Unidentified Actor #1: You're correct.

Unidentified Actor #2: Yeah, that's a very good observation.

Mr. BARON COHEN: (As Borat) She is your wife?

Actor #2: Nope, that's my wife.

Mr. BARON COHEN: (As Borat) In my country, they would go crazy. For these
two, not so much.

Actor #2: Yes.

(End of soundbite)

Mr. EDELSTEIN: OK, maybe you'll find that hilarious. The audience I saw the
movie with sure did, but I didn't want to look at that poor woman's face. I
loved Borat in small doses on the TV show and I love parts of this movie.
It's genuine gorilla comedy, and Baron Cohen is a master at toying with his
victims. The climax is blood-curdling and riotous. He tries to kidnap Pamela
Anderson and make her his bride, and reportedly she wasn't in on the joke.

As a whole, though, I found the movie depressing. Baron Cohen is so inspired
at improvisation that it's disappointing when he jumps so quickly, so eagerly,
to outraging the people he interviews. It would be more interesting if he
gave them some room to maneuver, to show their own wit. But then, of course,
we wouldn't squirm or cringe. We wouldn't get our visceras in a twist, and I
imagine after the success of Borat, I'll be sitting through a lot more
comedies with my hands over my eyes.

GROSS: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

We'll close with a song from the new Borat CD. He's singing in an American
Bar.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BARON COHEN: (As Borat) (Singing) "In my country there is problem, and
that problem be the Jews. They pay everybody money. They
never...(unintelligible)...that's true. Throw the Jew down the well, so my
country can be free. You must...(unintelligible). Then...(unintelligible).
If you see the Jew coming, You must be careful of your...(unintelligible). He
must help find you money, and I'll tell you what to do. Everybody! Throw the
Jew down the well, so my country can be free. You must help
him...(unintelligible)."

(End of soundbite)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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