- In a recent appearance on the Daily Beast podcast, the Indian American actor recalled how he managed to embarrass himself in front of the former President and the former First Lady.
Kal Penn’s early days of transitioning to the White House weren’t easy. In a recent appearance on “The New Abnormal,” a Daily Beast podcast hosted by Molly Jong-Fast and Andy Levy, the Indian American actor who’s promoting his new book “You Can’t Be Serious,” recalled “two incidents where he managed to embarrass himself in front of both the former President and the former First Lady,” as reported by the news website.
The New Jersey native has worked as an associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, where he was President Obama’s Liaison to Young Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and the Arts communities in America.
Penn had been a stoner in the “Harold and Kumar” films and a sports medicine doctor on the hit TV show “House” when his cast-mate Olivia Wilde invited him to be her +1 at a campaign event for then Senator, Barack Obama.
Talking about his first meeting with Obama in 2007, Penn remembered wanting to impress him but ended up being outsmarted. Penn had asked Obama his thoughts on biofuels, paraphrasing an article he’d recently read on how using corn could drive up food prices in developing nations. “He gave me that smirk and he goes, ‘oh yeah, I read that article in Foreign Affairs too,’” Penn told Jong-Fast and Levy. “If you had read my website carefully you would’ve seen that I’m proposing investing in corn-based ethanol as a bridge to cellulosic ethanol so that we can make fuel from things like our grass clippings and the leaves that we rake in our front yards.”
And as he gave the young actor “another smirk and walked away,” Penn looked at Wilde who was “loving every minute” of him “being schooled by Obama.” By the end of the event, Penn was so impressed by Obama that he later joined his campaign and later the White House, taking a year-long hiatus from Hollywood.
But before that, the “Harold and Kumar” actor had entertained the idea of working in the nation’s capital and even applied for a job through change.gov. But he never heard back. Nevertheless, at another Obama event, he decided to tell this story to Michelle Obama, who then told her husband. Obama questioned Penn as to why he didn’t reach out to anybody. But lo and behold, the next day he got a call offering him a job. “My biggest takeaway from that experience was I’m a gigantic idiot,” Kumar told the podcast hosts.
“You Can’t Be Serious” is “a humorous and inspiring memoir-in-essays about ambition, fame, and his unusual career path,” from actor, college instructor, and former White House staffer, as per publishing company Simon & Schuster. “Kal demonstrates by example that no matter who you are and where you come from, you have many more choices than those presented to you,” the publisher says. “It’s a story about struggle, triumph, and learning how to keep your head up.
A few days before the Nov. 2 release of his memoir, Penn announced his engagement to his partner of 11 years. In an interview, Penn told People magazine that he met and fell in love with Josh, his fiancé, when he was living in Washington D.C., and working in the Obama administration.
Apart from his acting career and the White House job, Penn has also served as an Adjunct Lecturer in Sociology and Film Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and in Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Recently, Penn has been roped in as a lead in Jack Burditt’s upcoming Disney+ limited series “The Santa Clause,” and will be seen opposite Tim Allen and Elizabeth Mitchell. He will play Simon Choksi, “an ambitious game inventor and product developer and a devoted single father,” according to an announcement from Disney +.