“Every week, I’ve looked very foolish,” Mindy Kaling said in late August when Vulture visited the set of The Mindy Project’s Halloween episode, which airs tonight at 9:30 on Fox. Judging by the costume her character was wearing, she was keeping the streak going: Dr. Mindy’s idea of a hot costume is Sexy Mailman, a postal-carrier uniform paired with a ridiculously short shirt, fishnet stockings, and heels. A few hours after that, she changed into a new mash-up getup: Lil Wayne on the Prairie — because even TV Mindy comes to realize that just getting tarted up for Halloween is ultimately kind of lame.
Subverting the usual sitcom tradition of outrageous costumes by looking purposefully terrible is part of Kaling’s comedy philosophy of never being afraid to look terrible. “Do you remember that episode of 30 Rock where Liz got the cheap Lasik and starts crying out of her mouth?” Kaling asked us later. “It was so funny and a bit grotesque. I just thought, This is the funniest, coolest thing ever. In The Office, I didn’t get that many opportunities to go, Yeah, I’m completely willing to do stuff for comedy.” To make up for it, the first three episodes of The Mindy Project have seen her character picked up by the cops, hung-over and mascara-smeared after having been shamed by a Barbie doll in a pool; punched in the face, from which she emerged bloody and broken-nosed; and ordering red wine with ice at a nightclub. “In the pantheon of funniest people ever — Sasha Baron Cohen, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey — they all do these things that show they have no vanity,” Kaling said. “I’ve been really eager to embrace that.”
In this episode, most of the cast will, too. On set, Ike Barinholtz, the writer who also plays male nurse Morgan, is being helped into his costume: a pair of enormous breasts. Someone else will be a giant butt. There’s a strap-on urinal lying around in the office of Mindy’s nemesis/love interest Danny. And in an empty exam room are several wigs — some obviously for men — that will be fitted to Kaling later. “The observation that girls wear sexy costumes is an old one,” she told us, “but it sort of rings true. I think we came up with a way to address it without seeming like we’re treading on familiar territory.” During the episode, Mindy has an epiphany: “Women shouldn’t have to choose between being hot or funny,” she says. Cue another costume change, this time to Dirty Harry Potter.