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Dino Petrera Is Back as Delightful Gay Jonah on Never Have I Ever

Dino Petrera

In the spring of 2020, I heard all the rave reviews about Mindy Kaling’s new series, Never Have I Ever, and once I saw that it was one of Nexflix’s biggest global hits in history, ranking number 1 in over 10 countries, I gave in to temptation and watched the show.

I’m so glad I did. First, the cast is highly entertaining! And I fell in love with the feisty personality of Jonah, the gay character whose one-liners are scene-stealers. During one of those scenes, I recognized something very familiar in Jonah. He was wearing hearing aids. I never saw that before on an actor, and since I am-hearing impaired and wear them too, I reached out to Dino Petrera, who plays Jonah, and wrote a column about our shared experiences of being gay and not hearing very well.

The series is back on Netflix starting today, and according to early reviews, it’s better than ever. The writing sparkles, and so do the characters. The lead character, Devi, is played brilliantly by Canadian actress Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, who is of Tamilian descent. Her costar is Indian-American actress Richa Moorjani, who shines in the role of Kamala. And then there’s the delightful Jonah.
 
Without giving away any secrets, here’s the storyline in all of its simplicity. The show follows Devi as she works through her romantic feelings for two guys, Paxton and Ben. What made the series really distinctive and surprising was that the lead characters' inner voices are narrated by some unexpected celebrities. Devi’s is by tennis legend John McEnroe, Ben’s is by actor Andy Samberg, and Paxton’s last year wad by supermodel Chrissy Teigen. This year, Teigen is being replaced by another supermodel, Gigi Hadid.
 
I had the chance to catch up with Petrera again, plus Ramakrishnan, to talk about the diversity of the cast, what Petrera and Jonah’s role means to the show, and how important it is to have queer representation among such a varied cast.
 
First, I asked Ramakrishnan what it was like to work with Petrera. “Having Dino on set is honestly the most comforting feeling. And I’m not even trying to just make him feel nice,” she said in jest. “He’s truly one of the most genuine souls, and he is the best person to have a conversation with.”

When I asked what it meant to have such an inclusive cast, particularly one that has such strong LGBTQ+ representation, Ramakrishnan replied with pride. “It’s awesome that the series shows multiple different characters who belong to the LGBTQIA+ community because the community cannot be truly represented with just one character,” she said. “Since the show is all about diversity, it just makes sense that we have diverse LGBTQIQ+ characters, and that includes Dino’s great portrayal of Jonah.”
 
I asked Ramakrishnan about Petrera’s hearing aids and the fact that it surprised me when I saw them for the first time while I was watching one of the later episodes during season one. “I didn’t notice them until much later too! It was like ‘oh, cool’ because that’s normal. Also, Jonah isn’t shy or awkward with his hearing aids. He’s still confident and has a whole personality. He is more than just his hearing aids, which is how life actually is.”
 
Now to Petrera. Full disclosure: Since we discovered our common hearing dilemma, Petrera and I have kept in touch. We basically share stories about the frustration of trying to read lips through face masks during the pandemic, so it’s always a wonderful opportunity to speak with him. I wanted to know how he felt about his character returning for season 2.
 
“I was thrilled,” he said. “They called me during COVID and asked me to return for the second season since my character was important to Devi’s storyline. Jonah really leans in this season to further support Devi even though he’s a bit unassuming and not the most emotionally intelligent character. What’s funny about him is that he is able to help everyone else but not himself. That, and he might be a mess, but he’s never going to show it.”
 
The show began shooting last November, so COVID protocols were still in place. Thus I had to ask Petrera if that meant he had to try to “hear” through masks. “Yes,” he said with a laugh, knowing our history of mask issues. “It was a little difficult to understand my notes from the scene shoots, for example; however, because of the article you wrote last year, people were more understanding this time around. And I could be more straightforward and let them know when I missed something. Before I had to overcompensate.”
 
Petrera said they even wrote in one line about his hearing aids during the last episode. “What was great about it is that it was almost a throwaway line; I say something like ‘my hearing aids are eavesdropping.’ It reminded me of how matter-of-fact gay storylines are now, that it’s not a big deal if someone’s gay, like it used to be. The same thing with the hearing aids. The way it’s presented on-screen just normalizes them.”
 
What is a big deal in this show is the fact that there are multiple gay characters, along with a very diverse cast. How does that feel to work with so many divergent backgrounds and nationalities? “I think it comes with the territory of being a Mindy Kaling project,” Petrera pointed out. “What I think it means to us is that there is so much love and energy, and that each individual is celebrated. It’s almost like because of all the diversity we have a more united front.
 
“One of the hardest things about shooting during COVID was that they kept teams of the cast isolated when other teams weren’t shooting. But that didn’t diminish the bond we all shared. We are like a family, and I think that starts at the top from Mindy.”
 
And for Petrera, the fact that the cast includes several LGBTQ+ characters was personally important. “My nephew just came out as trans a few months ago,” he said. “So for him to see that there’s just not a token gay character in the series sends a very powerful message. He’s at the other end of the country, so sometimes it’s hard for us to stay in touch as much as we’d like. But having him see me and others on-screen gives him great insight and is allowing us to have much stronger conversations.
 
“The show is a perfect catalyst for opening up dialogue and for exhibiting that you can create support systems for someone so that they can make the most out of their time on this planet. I think those are some of the most important messages of this remarkable series.”

John Casey is editor at large for The Advocate.

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