October 7, 2022
Walking into a middle school still feels weird for Maulik Pancholy. “It certainly brings up those old feelings of: do I fit in, do I belong?” said the actor, best known for his roles as Alec Baldwin’s executive assistant Jonathan in 30 Rock, as “classic underachiever” drug dealer Sanjay in Weeds, and as Baljeet in Phineas and Ferb. But in 2019, Pancholy found himself in middle schools across the U.S. as part of his book tour for his first novel, The Best At It, about a gay Indian American boy learning to embrace his identity and work through his mental health challenges. During a presentation at a school in Ohio, Pancholy shared a photo of himself with his husband. The auditorium, filled with hundreds of middle school kids, erupted in cheers. It wasn’t until later in the tour that he learned that not everyone was thrilled with his message.
“A group of parents was very upset that an openly gay author had spoken to their kids, and they lobbied to change school policies on assemblies,” said Pancholy. “Reading those words alone in a hotel room in Denver, [I remember] feeling a lot of feelings that I felt in middle school…just for existing: am I wrong because I’m so different?”
As an anti-bullying advocate and proud member of the LGBTQ community, Pancholy knew the answer. Pancholy has acted in 66 TV shows and films, ranging from a bit part as Will Smith’s doorman Raoul in Hitch to a series regular as bike shop owner Ranjeet on Mira, Royal Detective. Yet, Pancholy said writing is “one of the hardest” and “most rewarding things” he does. Rather than brush off the backlash, the actor-turned-author used the experience in Ohio as inspiration for his second young adult novel, Nikhil Out Loud, this time about an Indian American boy who learns to use his voice to take a stand.