Transcript: Children Chatting With Maulik Pancholy

DISCLAIMER: This is NOT a certified or verbatim transcript, but rather represents only the context of the class or meeting, subject to the inherent limitations of real-time captioning. The primary focus of real-time captioning is general communication access and as such this document is not suitable, acceptable, nor is it intended for use in any type of legal proceeding.Transcript by

Children Chatting: Discussion between Maulik Pancholy and and Children Chatting members

DANIELLA: Hello everyone. You're listening to Children Chatting With Authors. Today, we're going to be joined by activist, actor, and author, Maulik Pancholy of the book, The Best At It. My question is, how long have you been interested in writing, because you have a career in acting, and what was your experience like writing your first book?

MAULIK PANCHOLY: Hi, Daniella. That's such a great question. First, I just want to say thank you all so much for having me on this podcast. I'm so honored and so excited to be here. I actually had not been interested in writing for that long. The way this book came about for me was, as an actor, I've thought a lot about representation. The fact that when I was a kid, I never saw myself in TV shows or movies or in theater, and I wanted so badly, not only to see my own story but also to be an actor. So I had this thing going on, where I was like, "How am I ever going to become an actor if I never see myself in television or in movies? How will I have a career in this?"

MAULIK PANCHOLY: But as you know, I've forged ahead, and now I have a career in acting. I was sitting around with some friends in the literary world and they were like, "The same thing is true for books, that there's a lack of representation around diverse characters." So, I thought back to all the books that I loved to read when I was a kid and I realized that, of course, that is the case. They were like, "Do you think you have a story to tell? Do you think you'd maybe write a book?" I was like, "Gosh, I don't know. First of all, writing a book, being an author, that's so hard."

MAULIK PANCHOLY: But I went home from that meeting and I read a ton of middle-grade books and a ton of young adult books, and I fell in love with that voice. I fell in love with going back to that time period in middle school, and I thought about literally my own experience of what it was like for me to grow up and never see myself in the world around me. I was like, "Well, there's my story. I'm going to write about what that experience was like." So, that's kind of how The Best At It came to be. I hope that answers your question

DANIELLA: Yeah, thank you.

MAULIK PANCHOLY: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Thank you for asking that, it's a really great question. I would just say though because I see all these really exciting faces who have big careers and futures ahead of them. I was terrified about having taken on this challenge of writing a book, but I had a lot of people who supported me. I would just say that if you have a story to tell, don't wait. Don't wait for someone else to tell it, get out there and tell your story. Don't be afraid to make mistakes, because my first draft was not very good, but hopefully, you all like the book. By the fourth draft, it's now winning awards and making lists and all that kind of thing. Most importantly, I think seems to really, really touch people.

SEBASTIEN: Hi, my name is Sebastian. By the way, I really liked your performance in 30 Rock and Phineas and Ferb. My question is which parts of Rahul were based on you? The OCD or being good at math?

MAULIK PANCHOLY: Very good question. Thank you, Sebastian. Also, thank you for watching 30 Rock, and thank you for thank you for watching Phineas and Ferb, [inaudible] really happy when I meet Baljeet fans. There's a lot of me in Rahul, and OCD is definitely something that I've struggled with. And I'm really careful about the way I talk about it, because I never was diagnosed with full-blown obsessive-compulsive disorder because there's definitely parameters around that. The amount of time that you spend checking things or sort of how intense it is before they call it a disorder. But I was a checker as a kid. I checked the stove and I checked the locks and I still do as an adult.

MAULIK PANCHOLY: And especially when I get really stressed out those things flare up for me. And I wanted to talk about those things in a book because when I was 12, no one was talking about it. And I think that a lot of kids today still struggle with those things, and don't really get a platform to be able to say like, "Hey, this is going on with me." Or have a way to process an understanding of it. And it's really interesting because when I was 12, I was so good at hiding it that my parents didn't have any idea that was going on. So I'd spend a half an hour every night checking all the locks in the house before I go to bed, and they didn't know it was going on because I was really good about hiding it.

MAULIK PANCHOLY: And I don't, I don't want young people to have to hide it. If someone out there is dealing with this, I hope that they'll see a character in a book or in a movie or a TV show and be like, "Oh, that's me. And I can now understand what I'm dealing with and maybe talk to someone about it and get help." And I was pretty good at math. I was actually a mathlete and I went to math competitions, and weirdly I decided to become an artist and actor and an author instead. But I definitely was a mathlete and it's a part of Baljeet that I can also relate to, this wanting to get, "An A plus plus in math." So I hope that answers your question. Thank you for it.

SEBASTIEN: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Thank you.

GABE: Hey Maulik. My name is Gabe, and a few days ago, me and my brother were watching Phineas and Ferb and we see your names in the credits as well, [inaudible], we all freaked out. So, my question is for you, what was it like to work on Phineas and Ferb, and what was it like to get to work with Dan Povenmire? Did you crack up whenever he would do his (singing) voice, did that make you just laugh on the floor?

MAULIK PANCHOLY: Oh, I guess it's such a great question. Thank you, Gabe. Is that your brother with you? [points to screen].

GABE: Yes.

MAULIK PANCHOLY: And what's his name?

GABE: Christian.

MAULIK PANCHOLY: Hey Christian. Thank you for that question. Oh my gosh. I was so enthusiastic about listening to that. I almost forgot the question. What was the question? What was it like to play Baljeet? I'm so embarrassed now.

GABE: And Dan Povenmire.

MAULIK PANCHOLY: I played Baljeet. We started recording that cartoon I'm sure way before you were born. We started recording that cartoon in 2007, and we just had a movie that came out in 2020 as you probably know. So, I've been playing this character for 13 years. So, I will say that it's such a big part of my life and such a joyful part of my life, and a really fun part of my life. And Dan Povenmire is one of the most insanely talented, hilarious people I have ever met. His, excuse me, Doofenshmirtz (singing). I can't even do it. His voice is really amazing. He's just so creative. One of the things that I loved about that cartoon, and that one of the things that I like love about being an author is you can kind of create whatever world you want to create.

MAULIK PANCHOLY: And they did that so much. As you know, episode one it's like, they go in the backyard and build a rollercoaster. So, the imagination of it is, I think, my favorite part of doing that cartoon. Because there's nothing holding us back. If you can dream it, these kids can go do it. And so I'm hoping that we'll, we'll make some more movies in the future just because it's not something I want to let go of. I love that show so much. I'm so glad that you and Christian love it too. So thank you for that question.

GABE: Thank you very much.

NICHOLAS: My name is Nicholas and my question is, where did you get the idea for Rahul's friend.

MAULIK PANCHOLY: It's a great question. I love your background by the way. Thank you, Nicholas. So a lot of the book was based on my own experiences growing up. So, it's very fictional. The Chelsea character, for example, I did have a best friend in middle school, who in my mind is kind of the best friend that we all should have in middle school. She was someone who always stood up for me, we had an amazing time together, and I was, like Rahul, I was a scrawny nerdy kid who sometimes felt left out of things, and kind of an outsider. And so, the two of us did have this pretty insane, awesome, beautiful kind of bond. So, that was where that idea for Chelsea came from. And I think the other, for me in the book, the other best friend character is the grandfather. The grandfather is based on a mix of both my grandmother and my grandfather. My grandfather and I would have these really deep philosophical conversations about life. He'd try to like talk to me about, "Who do you want to be when you grow up?" And, "What kind of person do you want to be in the world?" And those kinds of conversations. And my grandmother also was a really insanely smart, talented woman, but she had this mischievous side to her. So, we'd sit down to play cards and we'd all be like, "Wait a minute. Why is she winning?" She is definitely hiding cards under her leg. So the character in the book of Bhai was a little bit of both of them, sort of the philosophical mixed within this mischievousness. So, that... that's kind of where some of those characters came from, but I drew a lot on people in my own life. So, I hope that answers your question.

NICHOLAS: It does. Thank you.


CHARLIE: Oh, we were wondering, how did you write this book? How do you write a book and how do you get inspired to write it?

MAULIK PANCHOLY: Oh, that is a great question. It's Charlie and Lisa, is that right?

CHARLIE: Charlie and Malika.

MAULIK PANCHOLY: Oh my gosh. Hey Malika. So nice to meet you. It is. How do you get inspired to write a book? So, I kind of like what I said to Daniella. The big inspiration for me for this book was the fact that I wanted to write the book that I needed when I was 12 years old. And that didn't exist. I will tell you, daily inspiration in writing a book is really challenging. Sometimes you sit at your computer and the story is just coming out of you, and you're typing really fast. And you're like, "Oh my gosh, I wrote 2000 words in just two hours." And you're so excited. And then sometimes you look back at that and you're like, "Oh, these are the worst 2000 words I ever wrote." Or sometimes it's brilliant.

MAULIK PANCHOLY: And then some days you're just walking around your room and hoping, hoping, hoping that you'll have an idea. It can be a sort of like a push and pull process where some days are awesome and some days are really challenging. But in a nutshell, I was telling the group that if you have a story that you want to tell, I would a hundred percent start writing it now. There's no reason to wait, because no one else is going to write the book that you could write. And so that's a big thing to remember when you're thinking about inspiration is that you, who you are in this world is completely unique and no one can tell the stories that you want to tell. So, if you have a story to tell, do it. Sit down with your computer, start writing.

MAULIK PANCHOLY: If you're a director, go out there with your phone and make videos. If you're an actor, get together with your friends and make a play. Just tell your stories. The book process is hard for me. I wrote a bunch of descriptions on the characters, and a couple of chapters, and an outline for the entire book. And then I got a literary agent, and we took that, those pages, to a bunch of different publishers. And I was really lucky because five different publishers bid on it. So, there's a little bidding war. And I got to pick the publisher that I wanted to work with. But what I also want to tell you is five publishers said no.

MAULIK PANCHOLY: So, we went to 10 total publishers and five of them said yes. And five said, no. So if anyone ever tells you no, just remember that there will be someone else who's going to tell you, "Yes." So don't stop at "No". So, I hope that answers your question.

CHARLIE: Yeah. Thank you.


LAUREN: My name is Lauren. I'm the children's librarian at the Studio City branch, and Maulik, I had a question. Well, I have two questions. My first question is there's certain themes in The Best At It that are stuck in my brain. So, right at the beginning, with the grandfather racing with his wheelchair, when Rahul goes with Chelsea for that commercial tryout, and Chelsea stands up for him. In the end, I'm not going to ruin it, but that the ending joyous scene at the fair. There's certain scenes that really just stick out and will stick with me for, I don't know, maybe even forever. I remember some of these scenes. So I was wondering, do you think being an actor and reading scripts helped you create things like that, that are just unforgettable? That just stay with you?

MAULIK PANCHOLY: That's such a good question. Thank you so much. And also thank you so much for saying all those really nice things about the book. That means the world to me. I think my favorite thing about meeting people who've read the book is to really hearing the parts that resonated with them, the parts that really stood out for them. So, thank you. Thank you for that. I do think that being an actor has affected the way I write things, and I've had a number of people tell me the book feels really film-made. And I know that I tend to, when I write, almost think about the scene from the outside in. Almost like the camera's panning in. So, at the International Bazaar at the end of the book, you can kind of see the football goalposts, and all the tables, and then it kind of goes and tied on Rahul walking in.

MAULIK PANCHOLY: And so I do think that there's an element of that. And another thing, I think of myself as an artist, and as someone who acts and who writes. And I think that a lot of the things that I was able to bring as an actor is the emotional connection in the characters, and this basic acting training is sort of that every character wants something. Otherwise, the scene wouldn't exist. And I thought about that a lot when I was writing the book, that when Rahul goes to that audition, he needs something so badly from it, and Chelsea wants to help him get it. And so it's so devastating to them when they don't get it, and they both react to it differently. And so, I'm hoping that those emotional beats of the story are the things that stick with people after they've finished reading the book. So, I hope that answers your question, too.

LAUREN: Oh, definitely. And you're right. The emotional impact. Can you talk about being an artist? You're an author, you're an actor. Can you just talk a little bit about your activism and the act to change, and how children can also participate in something like this?

MAULIK PANCHOLY: Yeah. Oh my gosh. Thank you for asking that question. So, in 2014, I was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the President's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. So, I worked at the White House for three years, and while I was there, one of the things that we learned was that Asian American kids were being bullied at really high rates, and sometimes at twice the national average. And there wasn't really any anti-bullying campaigns that were speaking to the specific needs of Asian American kids. So, while I was there, we launched this campaign called Act to Change. And then when the White house Turned over, we moved it outside of the White House, and so, now it's a national nonprofit. The website is A-C-T-T-O-C-H-A-N-G-E. So, I'd love for all of you to check it out.

MAULIK PANCHOLY: And here's what I always say is that, even though it's focused on uplifting Asian American and Pacific Islander kids, we, everyone who is there, and it's a lot of amazing people who are working in this organization. We have an advisory council that includes Tan France from Queer Eye, and Hudson Yang, who was on Fresh Off the Boat. And just all these really amazing people. We all believe that you can't lift up one group of kids without lifting up all kids. And so even though we focus on bullying around Asian American kids, we're very conscious of things like Black Lives Matter, and other communities of color, and kids who are Caucasian, and what they might be going through in the fact that we have to bring all the kids together at the table to eradicate bullying.

MAULIK PANCHOLY: So, I would love for any of you to please check it out. We're doing a bunch of webinars. We just had a youth conference on Saturday. I wish I had [inaudible 00:16:10], then I would have invited all of you to that, too. But it's a pretty exciting thing. So, hopefully, you'll check it out and come get involved.

CYRUS: Hi, my name is Cyrus, and my question is why did you want to write a book?

MAULIK PANCHOLY: Yeah. That's a great question. Yeah. It's funny, because I was telling a selling Daniella earlier, that part of it was that I wanted to write the book that I didn't have when I was 12. But it's also a really good question because there's a lot of other ways to reach 12 year olds. Or eight to 14 year olds, or even adults. It doesn't have to be a book. But the thing is that I actually, I really love books. I love to read. The reason I knew I wanted to be an actor when I was a really little kid, is that I just love storytelling in kind of all of its formats. And so for me, it can be reading a book, it'd be watching a cartoon or being on a cartoon, or watching television or theater.

MAULIK PANCHOLY: But there's something really special, I think, about the role of a book and how much time it takes you to read it, how it's your own imagination. We all see these words on the page, but what we're imagining in our heads might be very different. I do think like the really good authors, they paint a very clear picture, but they also leave part of it open too, so that you can fill in some pieces with your own imagination. So, there's something just really special about books and, and I'm going to write another one and hopefully another one after that, just because I really fell in love with the writing process and this kind of storytelling. So, hope that answers your question.

CYRUS: It did. Thanks.


CHRISTIAN: Hey, Maulik. Is this Christian, Gabe's brother. I know you're on Broadway. How did it feel to be backstage and on the actual stage?

MAULIK PANCHOLY: Yeah. So, that's a really good question. Yeah. I just did a Broadway play and I did another one a couple of years ago. So, being backstage, there's two parts of being backstage. One is when you're just hanging out with all of your other actor friends, and that part is really chill and really fun. And then there's the moment where you're waiting backstage to go onstage. And that part, especially on opening night or first preview, it is super exciting, because you're just like a ball of nerves, and a ball of energy, and a ball of excitement. So, there's a lot going on. And then I will say that, being on that stage is pretty, pretty great.

MAULIK PANCHOLY: I do a lot of comedy. And my favorite thing is that, I feel like as an actor, you kind of know where some of the laughs are. Like, "This line's going to get a laugh." Or whatever. But there's always the unexpected laugh, where you do something that you didn't even know you were going to do, or something of the audience finds funny that you didn't think was even that funny. And that is one of my favorite parts about being on stage is the surprise, I guess. The surprise element. So thank you for that question.

SPEAKER 10: In this book, Rahul faces discrimination because he's Indian. Have you ever faced discrimination?

MAULIK PANCHOLY: It's a really, really good question. Yeah, I think so. I think a lot of times when I was younger, I just felt like I didn't fit in because of the color of my skin. And I certainly wanted to be more white because I thought that if... I lived in a largely white community, so I thought that if I was more white, I would be more accepted. And I would do, really now I look back and kind of like, insane things. There was a product called Sun-In that would lighten your hair. And I remember I wanted to get it so bad, so I could have lighter hair. Or I was like, "Gosh, should I put more sunblock?" So I'd be lighter skinned. And now I'm like, "Gosh. I don't want to change who I am."

MAULIK PANCHOLY: I want to embrace who I am. Dark hair and dark skin is beautiful. But I didn't know that as a kid, and I certainly did get made fun of, I think for cultural stuff, or my parents have accents, and sometimes the other kids would make fun of that, or make fun of the foods that I ate. Especially when I was growing up, there were a lot of caricatures on television, a lot of really stereotypical Indian characters. And they were kind of always the butt of the joke. And sometimes people would bring those characters up to me, and in a way that was, I think, meant to be funny, but would make me feel different. And then in fact, as an actor, certainly. When I first got to LA, my first television job, I played a foreign exchange student from an undefined country, sort of India-like country. Everything that was about that character that was meant to be Indian was the butt of a joke.

MAULIK PANCHOLY: So, the roommate made fun of the music he listened to. The character was in a boarding school, and the roommate would make fun of the food he ate, and the way he dressed, and the way he danced, and all that stuff. And, every one of those things, with every laugh that the audience would give to one of those jokes, I would be like, "Wow, I'm degrading myself, because this is my culture." So, those are the kinds of things that I dealt with. And now as an adult actor, I try to work against those kinds of stereotypes in the projects that I choose, and certainly, as an author, it's something that I really wanted to bring up.

MAULIK PANCHOLY: One of my favorite moments is Rahul ends up rooming with a kid who's his family only recently moved here from India, and Rahul kind of gets to sort of see this sort of spectrum of what it means to be Indian in America, and also see how similar they are and some of the differences. And that was really important to me because I think being Indian American can mean different things to different people. So, yeah. I hope that answer to your question.

SPEAKER 10: It did. Thank you.

MAULIK PANCHOLY: Yeah. Thank you. I'm so inspired by all of you. I'm so inspired by these questions and your enthusiasm. And also, you all asked some pretty deep stuff. And so it gives me a lot of hope for the future that we have young people like you out there who are really thinking about stuff. So, I just want to reiterate too, tell your stories. Get out there and tell your stories. Because I want to hear them.

MILES: Thanks for listening to the Children Chatting with Authors podcast!

[Music outro]

DISCLAIMER: This is NOT a certified or verbatim transcript, but rather represents only the context of the class or meeting, subject to the inherent limitations of real-time captioning. The primary focus of real-time captioning is general communication access and as such this document is not suitable, acceptable, nor is it intended for use in any type of legal proceeding.Transcript by