Kal Penn

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Actor, Harold & KumarFormer Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement

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Kal Penn: Biography at a Glance

  • Kal Penn is an actor, writer, producer, and former Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.
  • Penn can be seen as the host of Getting Warmer With Kal Penn, a show focused on the intersection of climate, clean energy, and business. 
  • He also can be seen serving as a guest host of The Daily Show and recently interviewed President Biden to discuss Marriage Equality and LGBTQ+ Rights.
  • He is best known for starring roles including the Harold and Kumar franchise, House, Designated Survivor, and most recently the patriotic immigration comedy Sunnyside, which he co-created for NBC and HuluOther credits include roles on Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, New Girl, 24, and Law & Order: SVU.
  • From 2009 to 2011, Penn took a sabbatical from acting when he was appointed by President Obama to serve as an Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. He later served as a national co-chair for President Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012, and on the President’s Committee for the Arts and Humanities.
  • Penn's memoir, You Can't Be Serious, is a humorous and inspiring collection of stories about ambition, fame, and his unusual career path.
  • He has maintained careers in both entertainment and public service, has been an active member of the Council on Foreign Relations and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and most recently completed several global documentary series for Amazon, VICE, and National Geographic.

Videos

Biography

Kal Penn is an actor, writer, producer, and former Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. He is known for his starring roles in Designated SurvivorHouse, Mira Nair’s The Namesake, the Harold & Kumar franchise, and the patriotic immigration sit-com Sunnyside which he co-created for NBC.

From 2009 to 2011, Kal took a sabbatical from acting to serve in the Obama/Biden administration, where he served as the President’s Liaison to Young Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and the Arts community. In these roles, he worked on a range of issues, including the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the Affordable Care Act, Pell Grants, arts and culture programs, the DREAM Act, and rapid response to the BP Oil Spill and earthquake in Haiti.

He was a national co-chair for the Obama/Biden re-election campaign in 2012 and served on the President’s Committee for the Arts and Humanities, focusing on arts education and cultural diplomacy, including the first-ever US Government arts delegation to Cuba. Penn has taught courses at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, Los Angeles. Originally from New Jersey, he received his undergraduate degree in sociology, theater, film, and television at the University of California, Los Angeles, and received a graduate certificate in international security from Stanford University. He has been a term member at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Penn wrapped production on the CBS Drama, Clarice (based on Silence of the Lambs), and Freeform’s late-night youth election format show Kal Penn Approves This Message. He stars in the animated Disney Junior series Mira, Royal Detective, is an Executive Producer on the Viacom/Paramount + comedy, Surina & Mel, and can be heard in Nickelodeon’s It’s Pony.

His culinary competition series Money Hungry airs on Food Network. Penn can also be seen as the host of Getting Warmer With Kal Penn, a show focused on the intersection of climate, clean energy, and business. In the series, he will travel the country looking at businesses, initiatives, researchers, and communities transitioning to clean energy and adapting for the new climate reality.

Kal’s first book You Can’t Be Serious released on November 2nd, 2021 from Simon and Schuster/Gallery Books. He also narrates the audiobook.

Topics

Getting Warmer: The Intersection of Climate, Clean Energy, and Businessarrow-down

Kal Penn has traveled the country reporting on businesses, initiatives, researchers, and communities transitioning to clean energy. He analyzes the full scope of climate solutions from ESG investing and electric vehicles to new forms of energy and “greener living.”

In this talk, he explores the critical topics connected to climate change and gives audiences a better understanding of the ways policymakers, consumers, and businesses can tackle these issues together.

From White Castle to the White Housearrow-down

“What possessed you to go from acting in huge movies to working in the White House?” It’s a valid question Kal gets all the time. As the Harold and Kumar star-turned public servant-turned college professor-turned actor again has learned, life doesn’t have to be a series of mutually exclusive decisions.

In a talk that’s equal parts funny, eye-opening, and inspirational, Kal uses his own groundbreaking experiences and plenty of funny social context to debunk the myth that success requires you to pick one lane and stay in it. He shares his experiences balancing a number of careers with a life in public service, including plenty of behind-the-scenes stories from his time on R-rated movie sets to briefings in the Oval Office.

Hope, Change, and Fist Bumpsarrow-down

President Barack Obama’s historic ascent to the Presidency was marked by record political participation from young people. As an active member of the campaign’s youth outreach team and the Obama White House’s first Liaison to Young Americans, nobody has a better understanding of young activation than Kal Penn.

Kal will discuss his unprecedented role in forever changing the way campaigns and government engage young people and the ways in which important - and sometimes divergent causes and organizations - can and must unify to engage the next generation. In our era of unprecedented polarization and negativity, Kal shares his thoughts on learning to come together again for a hopeful future.

Not White. Not Black. But, Pretty Funny for an Indian Guy...arrow-down

“Gandhi look-alike,” “Snake Charmer,” “Foreign Student” are some of the only roles that actors who looked like Kal could audition for just over a decade ago. That is, until sledgehammers were taken to the walls of an industry that has long struggled with representation and inclusivity.

Kal speaks about some of his own unbelievable experiences with typecasting, taking a funny and biting historic look back at how far we’ve come, as well as a glance forward at the challenges that still lie ahead for performers of all backgrounds.

What will it take to continue breaking down the barriers of discrimination both in and out of Hollywood, and why should we care? (Spoiler: artistic representation, content, comedy, and commerce are all better off!)

 

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Kal Penn was WONDERFUL. He was witty, entertaining, insightful, and overall wonderful.

University of North Carolina
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