Welcome to Helen Hayes Theatre, where Mindy Kaling’s “Late Night” will make its world premiere on Sunday night. The show is a modern comedy of manners. It’s a workplace comedy. It’s a comedy that’s been highly anticipated.
The wait wasn’t worth it. From the opening frame, the only real quality “Late Night” has is a great cast.
The Kaling-Eric Norsoph-Nasim Pedrad—who happens to be my wife’s favorite comedian—conceptualized “Late Night” six years ago. Though Kaling hadn’t yet even written her blockbuster comedy series “The Mindy Project,” she already had an idea for a show about a narcissistic late-night talk show host who desperately wants to be a “conscientious objector” but is unwilling to leave a life he knows without the respect it requires. The characters are loosely based on Matt Lauer, Jimmy Fallon and David Letterman.
As Kaling described in Vulture, “Late Night” is “an effortless evolution” of “The Mindy Project,” putting Kaling’s empowering, self-deprecating humor back to full focus. She told the audience at the series’ first playwriting workshop, “This is what’s been so great about theater is it’s kind of more my world.”
It’s got its share of elements, too, from its simple premise—the comedy of manners, as Radley Metzler has written—to its raunchy conversations (“Why does f—ing piss people off?” Aparna Nancherla jokes as a character called a “Latkezilla.”) But at its core, “Late Night” comes down to a focus on representation.
The fact that it’s tackling the South Asian experience within the American context is absolutely essential. “Our body, body, body,” one of the show’s two subplots about South Asian mothers opens, discussing the ways that South Asian bodies in the U.S. were presented as “other.” “Like this invisible thing that we’re just not allowed to be,” one character says about an Indian-American woman’s abdomen. What’s so brilliant about Nancherla’s character in particular is that she’s a young, female, non-South Asian person—not a teenager from India—who, as the story unfolds, says about herself, “It’s so important, right? It’s like real life is for real people who relate to each other!”
The South Asian community is diverse in terms of culture, religion and race, and “Late Night” aims to create a show that reflects that diversity and knowledge about one another.
And for sure, Kaling has always been not only a groupie for the South Asian experience. She recently wrote a book about it, with journalist Suhana Khan (who was also a writer on “Late Night”). In the interview with Vulture, Kaling even calls “Late Night” a “gift.” And in the reviews that have emerged since its debut, “South Asian” has been referenced repeatedly. More than once, critics have summed up this show as “late night in your pants.”
This feels personal to me. I’ve had much different experiences within the South Asian community than any other woman I know. I speak two languages. I’m in a partnership with Comedy Central. I’ve worked in media and media production. But all the things I say as a response to the world outside the community, it only makes me feel more vulnerable. I’ve lived with these problems my entire life. And I’m not the only one. All those things are what make me unique and powerful, and why the South Asian experience isn’t presented onscreen like this on many levels. It feels important that so many people from the South Asian community have had their voices heard.
Obviously, Kaling doesn’t have the problematic South Asian experience that I do. She and her production team nailed it, and she deserves credit for this, especially after penning the book with Khan. I’m hoping for “Late Night” to continue to champion these voices in the future.
Alex Saikaly is a writer and producer at “Inside Amy Schumer.”