The Instagram post seemed innocent enough. A ticket stub from a stand-up comedy show with the caption “Funniest shit ever” and a heart emoji. And yet, because the name on the ticket was Aziz Ansari and the post came from Mindy Kaling, it quickly took on a life of its own.
“As a survivor, this is disheartening,” one commenter wrote in response. “I believed you to be a champion of women.”
“I am sorry to hear that. I am a champion of women,” Kaling replied. “I am also a champion of my friend and do not believe they are mutually exclusive.” When another follower suggested she should keep her support of Ansari “private,” Kaling said she believed “it would be more cowardly to be his friend and not come to his defense when people disparage him in public.”
Now, in this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast, the writer and star of the new film Late Night is speaking out for the first time about what it felt like to have her followers condemn her for defending a man who was—perhaps unfairly—lumped into the pool of #MeToo offenders after a woman he dated anonymously accused him of mistreating her.
When I bring up the Instagram post, Kaling begins by offering a “correction.”
Whereas I suggest she received a lot of “backlash” in response to the post, Kaling says, “The truth is that there was a lot of pickup of some comments when a majority of comments about it were how much they loved Aziz and how excited they were to see him. But as with anything on the internet, three people can seem like an army when it’s amplified.”
“So the truth was that so many people were so excited that Aziz was coming back and doing stand-up and they were saying how excited they were for Master of None,” Kaling adds, describing Ansari as both a “friend” and a “great comedian.”
“But one of the most amazing things about that stand-up show is that he really talked about that situation in a really vulnerable way,” she continues. “And it was one of the reasons that I wanted to post about it. Because I thought it was just really bold and honest and admirable.”
Ansari first began to talk about the allegation against him on stage this past February in New York. (The show Kaling saw came about two weeks later in Los Angeles.)
“There were times I felt really upset and humiliated and embarrassed, and ultimately I just felt terrible this person felt this way,” Ansari told that crowd. “But you know, after a year, how I feel about it is, I hope it was a step forward. It made me think about a lot, and I hope I’ve become a better person.” A few months later, he began his performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music by addressing the elephant in the room and joking, “Not the most hilarious opening to a show.”
Contrast that with Louis C.K., whose multiple sexual transgressions are on a much more severe scale and has thus far refused to address what he did in any meaningful way, instead resorting to alt-right-inspired attacks on young gun control advocates and gender non-binary people. When he finally did talk about his situation on stage, he did so without any sense of contrition, telling his audience, “I like to jerk off, and I don’t like being alone.”
Kaling says she just wishes people could have understood her point of view, because in her eyes Ansari has “talked about it in a way where he’s learned so much from it in a way that other people don’t.”
“So many young women had such a personal reaction and were writing about, if you support this then you’re erasing our story, and I truly have so much empathy,” Kaling adds of the visceral responses she received. “So it’s a tricky thing. I don’t think that by me supporting my friend who I think is a really wonderful person and a good person that that negates the power of these women’s stories.”
“So that’s just my feeling about it, and I don’t put that on anyone else or think anyone else needs to do anything,” she says. “That’s just one woman’s personal story of how much I enjoyed his show and I wanted other people to see it.”
Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: Emmy-nominated star of Veep and co-founder of the Upright Citizens Brigade, Matt Walsh.