Angry Reader of the Week: Maulik Pancholy

"It's an unusual name -- fourteen letters arranged in a unique, and I'd like to think sort of awesome way."

All right! People, you know what time it is. It's time to meet the Angry Reader of the Week, spotlighting you, the very special readers of this website. Over the years, I've been able to connect with a lot of cool folks, and this is a way of showing some appreciation and attention to the people who help make this blog what it is. This week's Angry Reader is Maulik Pancholy.

Who are you?

I'm Maulik Pancholy. It's an unusual name -- fourteen letters arranged in a unique, and I'd like to think sort of awesome way. That "u" in my first name has led to some interesting pronunciations over the years. Growing up, the first day of any new class, I'd just wait for the teacher to awkwardly pause while looking at the attendance sheet to know I was about to get called on.

What are you?

I'm an actor. I'm an activist. I'm an Indian-American. I'm a recently married man. I'm a vegetarian. I'm a bit of a worrier, which is something I'm working on. I'm a New Yorker who happens to actually like Los Angeles. Wait -- is saying "I'm a New Yorker" and "I'm a worrier" redundant?

Where are you?

I'm sitting in my apartment in Brooklyn right now watching the sunset out the window while my dog sleeps on the sofa. We rescued him from a shelter in Queens about 6 years ago, so I'd say this is a pretty nice upgrade for him. On the floor next to me sit a pile of things I need to return that weren't used last weekend at my wedding, where I married Ryan (Corvaia), my partner of 10 years. It was a pretty incredible event – I think somewhat remarkable in that between us we had nearly 75 family members (and another 75 friends) there who couldn't have been more thrilled to be at our wedding. There was a time when I never imagined that would have been possible for me.

Where are you from?

My parents emigrated from India to America in the 1960's and starting with that first move, the sense of where "home" is -- or where I'm "from" -- has always felt fluid. I was born in Dayton, Ohio, but for reasons of pure circumstance, by the time I was 8 years old I had lived in Ohio, Indiana, Texas and Florida. All of junior high and high school was in Tampa, but then I moved to Illinois for undergrad at Northwestern, Los Angeles for the beginning of my acting career, and Connecticut to attend the Yale School of Drama. Now I live full time in New York but spend many months of the year working in LA. So, it's hard for me to define where I'm "from." Having lived in Brooklyn for 11 years now -- the longest I've ever been in one place -- I think of myself as a New Yorker; but even that feels limiting.

What do you do?

I act. I've been told I make people laugh. I hope so, because most of my professional work has been in television comedies: 30 Rock, Weeds, Whitney, Web Therapy, The Comeback, etc. But I got my start on stage where I've gotten to exercise more of my dramatic chops. Lately I've been doing a lot of animation work -- I've been playing the voice of Baljeet on Phineas & Ferb since the beginning of the series, and I currently play the title character of Sanjay on Nickelodeon's Sanjay & Craig.

I also speak. I give speeches at universities around the country speaking about diversity in the media and the changes I've experienced in my own career.

And I'm representing the Asian American and Pacific Islander community now. In May, I was appointed to the President's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. We work with the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders with the overarching goal of improving the quality of life and opportunities for AAPIs by facilitating increased access to and participation in federal programs where they remain underserved. This includes addressing areas such as immigration, healthcare, education, and economic growth. I'm working on issues affecting our communities such as bullying, mental health, and ways to get youth engaged in public service. You can follow the Initiative on social media at @WhiteHouseAAPI (and you can follow me at @MaulikPancholy).

What are you all about?

I'm finding public service to be really rewarding. Having some visibility has given me the opportunity to speak out about things I find important; and I'm proud to be able to champion LGBT rights, to work on policies affecting AAPIs, and to engage in dialogue about how our communities are represented in the media.

Professionally, I'm looking for new challenges. I'm into collaborating with friends whose work I respect in order to create projects that excite us.

And personally, I'm about self-improvement and self-awareness. Which means getting in some yoga and meditation when I can.

What makes you angry?

Fear makes me angry. So often fear is based in a lack of education and an unwillingness to understand others, and ends up leading to hatred. I'm talking about homophobia, which has directly impacted my life. I'm talking about this fear people have that immigrants will take over and ruin our country, when in fact we're a nation of immigrants. It is our diversity that has made our country strong, and the irrefutable research shows that immigration reform will strengthen our economy. We all need to work on ways to keep our minds open.

This morning I woke up to an article in flavorwire.com where this author Mathew Klickstein was talking about the cartoon I do, Sanjay & Craig. In essence he said that there was no reason for my character to be Indian unless they were going to focus on the character's Indian culture. He went on to say that there was no added value for an Indian-American kid watching at home to see someone who looked like him on TV. "Why can't he just relate to a white guy too?" This made me pretty angry. On two fronts: 1) The idea that you can't have a person of color on TV unless you are somehow highlighting their race or culture. I'm Indian-American and I value my culture, but it's not the only thing that defines me. In fact I grew up pretty Americanized, and I think there's great value to having my experience reflected back at me on screen. 2) Having been a kid who watched TV and never saw someone who looked like me, I can say first hand that it would have meant a great deal to see an Indian-American character on screen. Not only because I wanted to act, and it would have made me see that possibility more clearly, but also because my -- or our -- stories are worthy of being told.

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