Writing on The Office was the foundation of your success, and you’re in the main creative role of The Mindy Project as well as starring in it. Could you go back to writing without acting?
No. Because I’m writing for the screen, because I’m writing words that people say, it’s so performance-based. If you were in our writers’ room, you would see that we’re performing as it happens. I don’t think I could ever just do one or the other because it’s so linked to how I put words on the page.
There’s a chapter in your book about dating a “Will” who works in the White House. What do you think President Obama thinks of your fling?
I always speak so highly of everyone that I met in my experiences there, so I would hope that he liked it.
You write that onscreen sex scenes are actually fun. Who’s your favorite fictional partner?
Anders Holm, who was my fiancé on the show. He’s like 11 feet tall, so he does that thing that a lot of girls like where he just makes you feel really tiny. And Seth Rogen is a great kisser.
If The Mindy Project had been on a streaming service like Hulu from the get-go, how might you have written it differently?
Maybe the luxury of a little bit more time. I came from eight years of writing and acting on The Office, so I really like the structure of a network show, and I grew up liking it. Probably the only real difference would be they average 22½ minutes, and the average network sitcom is 20½ minutes, which doesn’t seem like a big difference, but those extra two minutes are huge.
Who is the one person you’re dying to have guest-star?
Reese Witherspoon. I love Reese. She’s fantastic. Obviously she’s superfunny. And I think she would be such a good foe to my character. And, let’s see … Idris Elba. Wouldn’t everybody love to have Idris Elba?
You have said that you want to work with feminists, so what’s the Mindy Project litmus test for staffers?
There are so many shows now that are record-breaking, so you have more choice where you can work. And if you choose to work on a show whose star is a very flawed, complicated, big comedy character who’s a woman, then already that bodes well with where your politics lean and where your priorities are. It just would not be a place where you could work if you did not have a strong feminist leaning.
At the beginning of your career, did you anticipate you would have to answer constant questions about being a standard bearer for women of color or women in general?
I didn’t think about that. I do find it surprising that it’s so remarkable to other people. But if it makes me seem special or the show seem special, then I like it. I’ve only ever lived in my skin, and I don’t know what the experience is like to be anything other than what I am.
Is there any type of humor that’s off-limits?
Definitely. I’m not the kind of comedian who puts a huge premium on saying the raunchiest thing just to shock people. I’m not that person. I do think it’s cool that other people do that, and I am titillated by it, but that wasn’t my training on The Office, and that’s not usually what makes me laugh the most.
You’re writing a book with B.J. Novak. He’s your ex but also your favorite writer and your “soup snake,” an Office malaprop for “soul mate.” Do soup snakes ever end up together?
I don’t know about that.
This appears in the September 07, 2015 issue of TIME.
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