Kal Penn
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Kal Penn

Kal Penn
Kal Penn, Office of Public Engagement.jpg
Associate Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement

November 15, 2010 - July 30, 2011
PresidentBarack Obama

April 7, 2009 - June 1, 2010
PresidentBarack Obama
Personal details
Kalpen Suresh Modi

(1977-04-23) April 23, 1977 (age 42)
Montclair, New Jersey, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic[1]
Alma materUniversity of California, Los Angeles
  • Actor
  • comedian
  • political appointee

Kalpen Suresh Modi (born April 23, 1977), known professionally as Kal Penn, is an American actor, comedian, and civil servant. As an actor, he is known for his role portraying Lawrence Kutner on the television program House, as well as the character Kumar Patel in the Harold & Kumar film series. He is also recognized for his performance in the film The Namesake. Penn has taught at the University of Pennsylvania in the Cinema Studies Program as a visiting lecturer.

In April 2009, Penn joined the Obama administration as an Associate Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement.[2] This necessitated that his TV character, Lawrence Kutner, be written out of House.[2][3] Penn briefly left his post in June 2010 to film the third installment of the Harold & Kumar series, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas,[4] returning to his White House job upon the movie's completion.[5] In July 2011, he again left the White House to accept a role in the television series How I Met Your Mother.[6]

From 2016 to 2019, he played Seth Wright in the political drama Designated Survivor[7] and served as host of the game show Superhuman. In 2019, Penn portrayed Garrett Modi in the NBC sitcom series Sunnyside.

Early life

Penn was born in Montclair, New Jersey, to Gujarati Indian immigrant parents.[8] His mother, Asmita (Bhatt), is a fragrance evaluator for a perfume company, and his father, Suresh Modi, is an engineer. His father is from Kaira and his mother was born in Baroda.[9][10][11] He regularly visited Gujarat as a child during vacations, and he can speak some Gujarati.[12] He has stated that stories of his grandparents marching with Mahatma Gandhi during the Indian independence movement were a significant influence on his interest in politics.[13]

He attended Marlboro Middle School in Marlboro Township, New Jersey, and played baritone saxophone in the jazz band there. Penn attended The Fine and Performing Arts Academy (a magnet program) as a Theater major at Howell High School for freshman year; he transferred to Freehold Township High School for sophomore, junior, and senior years; both schools are part of the Freehold Regional High School District. He was active in the schools' theater productions and competed on the Freehold Township forensics team. He graduated from UCLA in 2000, and double majored in film and sociology.[14]


Acting career

Penn's feature film debut came in 1998 in Express: Aisle to Glory. He has since appeared in American Desi, Van Wilder, the final episode of The Lonely Island, Malibu's Most Wanted, A Lot Like Love, Dude, Where's the Party?, Love Don't Cost a Thing, Superman Returns, Epic Movie, The Namesake, the Harold & Kumar series, and an uncredited appearance in Deck the Halls.

Penn says that he derived his acting name, Kal Penn, as a lark: "Almost as a joke to prove friends wrong, and half as an attempt to see if what I was told would work (that anglicized names appeal more to a white-dominated industry), I put 'Kal Penn' on my resume and photos." His audition callbacks rose by 50 percent. He has stated that he prefers his birth name and uses "Kal Penn" only for professional purposes.

In January 2007, Penn appeared in the first four episodes of the sixth season of 24 as Ahmed Amar, a teenage terrorist. Penn says he nearly turned down the role due to personal ethics:

I have a huge political problem with the role. It was essentially accepting a form of racial profiling. I think it's repulsive. But it was the first time I had a chance to blow stuff up and take a family hostage. As an actor, why shouldn't I have that opportunity? Because I'm brown and I should be scared about the connection between media images and people's thought processes?[15]

Also in January 2007, he appeared in the spoof comedy Epic Movie as well as the television show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. In May 2007, Penn received the Asian Excellence Award for Outstanding Actor for his performance in The Namesake.[16]

In fall 2007, Penn joined the cast of the Fox medical drama House as a fellowship applicant.[17]E! reported that Penn had signed on as a regular on the show along with Olivia Wilde and Peter Jacobson and this was confirmed in the plot of the episode "Games". Penn continued with the series through to the episode "Simple Explanation", which aired April 6, 2009. He made an additional appearance as Lawrence Kutner on the fifth-season finale, "Both Sides Now", that aired on May 11, 2009. However, due to his new job at the White House, Penn could not be present for the filming of this episode. The clip of him saying "Too bad it isn't true" was taken from a previous filming. Penn returned to the show for the series finale.[18]

In addition to his role on the TV series House, he is best known from his role in Harold & Kumar, as Kumar Patel, a cannabis smoker who goes with Harold Lee (John Cho) to White Castle for a hamburger. Unlike his character, he does not smoke marijuana, saying it is not for him,[19] nor does he eat meat.

Penn had a recurring role on How I Met Your Mother for the seventh season of the show,[20] in which he played Kevin, a therapist and later boyfriend of Robin Scherbatsky. Starting May 1, 2013, Penn hosted Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius on the Discovery Channel.[21] In 2013, Penn joined the cast of We Are Men.[22]

In 2014, he was cast in Ravi Kumar's film Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain, a film about the Bhopal gas tragedy, considered by many to be the world's worst industrial disaster. Penn played Detective Fontanelle White[23] on the CBS comedy-drama Battle Creek, which was canceled during its first season.

In October 2016, Penn began a regular role in the ABC drama series Designated Survivor as Seth, a White House speech writer who originally worked under the previous president's administration.[7] Penn also served as a political consultant for the series. The show was renewed by Netflix for a third season which was released on June 7, 2019.[24]

Penn has expressed some interest in working in Indian cinema, particularly in Gujarati cinema.[12]

On March 7, 2019, Penn was cast in the main role of Garrett Modi on the NBC comedy Sunnyside[25] and the series was ordered on May 6, 2019.[26] The show was cancelled after eight episodes were produced.

Political activities

A man giving a speech. He wears a white blouse with a dark label pin. In front of him, there are two microphones.
Kal Penn speaking at a rally for President Barack Obama at the University of Maryland's Nyumburu Cultural Center.

Penn was an advocate for Barack Obama's presidential campaign in 2007 and 2008 and a member of Obama's National Arts Policy Committee.[27] He appears in the Barack Obama-supporting video "Sí Se Puede Cambiar" by Andres Useche[28] and appeared with comedian George Lopez on January 18, 2009, at "We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial".

In early 2009, Penn was offered the position of Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement in the Obama administration, which he accepted. This necessitated his character Lawrence Kutner being written out of the TV series House.[2][29][30] In his new role with the Obama administration, Penn served as a liaison with the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities.[31] He had gone back to using his birth name, Kalpen Modi.[32]

Having made a commitment before his employment at the White House, Penn left his post as Obama's associate director of public engagement on June 1, 2010, to return to his acting career.[4] He returned to office on November 15, 2010, following completion of A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas.[33]

Penn was a co-chair for the re-election campaign of President Barack Obama.[34] On September 3, 2012, he hosted the September 6 coverage of the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.[35] Penn's speech at the convention encouraged young people to register to vote and defended Obama's record.[36][37]

On November 18, 2013, President Obama appointed Penn to serve on the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities.[38] On February 28, 2014, Penn served as the Master of Ceremonies for the White House Student Film Festival.[39]

Penn publicly supported Bernie Sanders for the 2016 Democratic nomination.[40]

In August 2017, Penn and the other members of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities resigned in response to President Donald Trump's remarks on the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.[41]

Other ventures

In 2008, Penn served as a visiting lecturer in Asian American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.[14][42] His course was titled "Images of Asian Americans in the Media."[43][44]

In 2014, Penn was working on a graduate certificate in international security from Stanford University.[2][14][45][46]

On January 2, 2017, Penn won the "MasterChef Celebrity Showdown" and donated the $25,000 cash prize to UNRWA, a United Nations relief and human development agency which supports Palestinian refugees.[47]

On January 28, 2017, following a racist comment from a user on Penn's Twitter feed, Penn crowd-funded a fundraiser for Syrian refugees and raised $517,646 in less than 24 hours.[48] This occurred during President Donald Trump's Executive Order 13769 which banned immigration to the United States from Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Somalia regardless of visa status.[49]



Year Title Role
1998 Express: Aisle to Glory Jackie Newton
1999 Freshman Ajay
2001 American Desi Ajay Pandya
2002 Hector Kendal Cunningham
Van Wilder Taj Mahal Badalandabad
Badger Sanjay
2003 Cosmopolitan Vandana's Fiancé
Love Don't Cost a Thing Kenneth Warman
Malibu's Most Wanted Hadji
Dude, Where's the Party? Mohan "Mo" Bakshi
2004 Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle Kumar Patel
Ball & Chain Bobby
Homeland Security Harrison
2005 Dancing in Twilight Sam
Son of the Mask Jorge
A Lot like Love Jeeter
Sueño Raj
2006 Man About Town Alan Fineberg
Bachelor Party Vegas Z-Bob
The Namesake Gogol / Nikhil Ganguli
Superman Returns Stanford
Deck The Halls Amit Sayid
Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj Taj Mahal Badalandabad
2007 Epic Movie Edward
2008 Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay Kumar Patel
Harold & Kumar Go to Amsterdam
2011 A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas
2013 Triumph: The Lowell Pomerantz Story Jordan Tichenor
Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain Motwani
Dementamania Christian Van Burden
2014 The Sisterhood of Night Gordy Gambhir
2015 The Girl In The Photographs Peter Hemmings
2016 Better Off Single Brice
2017 Speech & Debate James
Once Upon a Time in Venice Rajeesh
The Layover Anuj
2018 The Ashram Nitin


Year Title Role Notes
1999 Brookfield Kumar Zimmerman TV movie
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Hunt Episode: "Beer Bad"
2000 Sabrina the Teenage Witch Prajeeb Episode: "You Can't Twin"
Spin City Buddy Episode: "The Spanish Prisoner"
2001 Angel Fez Boy Episode: "That Vision Thing"
ER Narajan Episode: "The Longer You Stay"
NYPD Blue Solomon Al-Ramahi Episode: "Baby Love"
The Agency Malek Episode: "Rules of the Game"
2003 All About the Andersons Dinesh Episode: "Pilot"
Tru Calling Steven Episode: "Haunted"
The Lonely Island Fred Episode: "Regarding Andy"
2006 The Danny Comden Project Max TV movie
2007 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Henry Chanoor Episode: "Outsider"
24 Ahmed Amar 4 episodes
2007-09, 2012 House Dr. Lawrence Kutner Main role (seasons 4-5); guest (season 8)
2011-12, 2014 How I Met Your Mother Kevin 10 episodes
2013 The Big Brain Theory Host 8 episodes
We Are Men Gil Bartis 7 episodes
2015 Battle Creek Detective Fontanelle White 11 episodes
The Big Picture with Kal Penn Host 12 episodes
2016 New Girl Tripp 2 episodes
Deadbeat Clyde 13 episodes
2016-19 Designated Survivor Seth Wright Main role
2016-17 Superhuman Host
2019 The Big Bang Theory Dr. Campbell Episode: "The Confirmation Polarization"
This Giant Beast That is the Global Economy Host 8 episodes
Sunnyside Garrett Modi Main role
Also executive producer


  1. ^ "Why do Indian-Americans flock to the Democratic Party?". BBC News. September 6, 2012. Retrieved 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d Ausiello, Michael (April 7, 2009). "'House' exclusive: The shocking story behind last night's big death". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved April 7, 2009.
  3. ^ "It'll be the White House for Kal Penn now". Rediff.com, April 7, 2009. Retrieved April 7, 2009.
  4. ^ a b Roberts, Roxanne; Argetsinger, Amy (June 22, 2010). "Kalpen Modi, aka Kal Penn, aka Kumar, leaves the White House, returns to showbiz". WashingtonPost.com. The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010.
  5. ^ "Kalpen Modi Returns To White House Job After Leaving To Film 'Harold & Kumar' Sequel". The Note blog. ABC News. November 15, 2010. Retrieved 2010.
  6. ^ "Kal Penn to leave White House again". Click blog. Politico.com. July 14, 2011. Retrieved 2013.
  7. ^ a b Andreeva, Nellie (February 5, 2016). "'Designated Survivor' Casts Kal Penn, Maggie Q, Natascha McElhone, Italia Ricci". Deadline Hollywood.
  8. ^ Chhabra, Aseem (April 22, 2005). Kal Penn: Hollywood's Desi No1!. Rediff.com. Retrieved April 7, 2009.
  9. ^ Chivukula, Som (April 12, 2002). "Article: Kal Penn's do's and don'ts". India Abroad. Archived from the original on November 6, 2012. Retrieved 2010 – via HighBeam.
  10. ^ Chan, Yuan-Kwan (October 16, 2007). "Happy Birthday, Asian American Arts Alliance". Meniscuszine.com. Archived from the original on March 20, 2012. Retrieved 2011.
  11. ^ Stated on Finding Your Roots, January 29, 2019, PBS
  12. ^ a b Mishra, Abhimanyu (January 13, 2017). [1]. The Times of India.
  13. ^ "LOHANA HISTORY". Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Lohana Community. LCND. Retrieved 2011.
  14. ^ a b c Actor Kal Penn to Teach at the University of Pennsylvania Archived August 10, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. University of Pennsylvania Office of University Communications, March 26, 2007. Retrieved 2009-04-07.
  15. ^ Yuan, Jada (2007-03-04). "The White-Castle Ceiling". New York magazine. Retrieved 2009-04-07.
  16. ^ "Asian Excellence Awards - Winners (archive)". azntv.com. May 2007. Archived from the original on February 13, 2008. Retrieved 2011.
  17. ^ "'House' gets a new group of trainees". CNN. Archived from the original on August 16, 2007. Retrieved 2007.
  18. ^ Hibberd, James (March 22, 2012). "'House' finale scoop: Kal Penn in talks to return". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2012.
  19. ^ "Kal Penn Does Not Smoke Marijuana". The Insider. showbiznews.info. April 26, 2008. Archived from the original on July 14, 2008. Retrieved 2010.
  20. ^ "THIS JUST IN: Kal Penn joining How I Met Your Mother". How I Met Your Mother. CBS official Facebook page. July 13, 2011. Retrieved 2011.
  21. ^ "Kal Penn, host of the Discovery Channel's The Big Brain Theory : Discovery Channel". Discovery.com. March 13, 2013. Retrieved 2013.
  22. ^ Ausiello, Michael (May 10, 2013). "Fall TV Scoop: CBS Picks Up 8 Series, Including Sarah Michelle Gellar's Crazy Comedy, Josh Holloway's Intelligence and Chuck Lorre's Mom". Fall TV Scoop. TVline.com. Retrieved 2013.
  23. ^ "Interview: Interview: 'Battle Creek' star Kal Penn on 'House' reunions and pot differentiation". HitFix.com. February 27, 2015. Retrieved 2016.
  24. ^ Nellie, Andreeva; Petski, Denise (October 18, 2018). "'Designated Survivor': Anthony Edwards & Julie White Cast In Season 3 On Netflix". Deadline. Retrieved 2018.
  25. ^ Andreeva, Nellie; Andreeva, Nellie (March 7, 2019). "NBC Assembles Cast Of Mostly Immigrant Actors For Kal Penn Pilot 'Sunnyside'".
  26. ^ Andreeva, Nellie; Andreeva, Nellie (May 7, 2019). "Drama 'Bluff City Law' Starring Jimmy Smits & Kal Penn Comedy 'Sunnyside' Picked Up To Series By NBC".
  27. ^ Penn, Kal. "Open Letter to Two Undeclared College Superdelegates". The Huffington Post, May 11, 2008. Retrieved April 7, 2009.
  28. ^ Joshi, Monika (February 4, 2008). "Actor Kal Penn roots for Obama". Rediff.com. Retrieved April 7, 2009.
  29. ^ "It'll be the White House for Kal Penn now". Rediff.com. April 7, 2009. Retrieved April 7, 2009.
  30. ^ "Kal Penn Leaves House for the White House". Tvguide.com. April 7, 2009. Retrieved 2011.
  31. ^ "'House' actor Kal Penn joins White House team". news.yahoo.com. AP. April 7, 2009. Retrieved 2013.
  32. ^ Choudhury, Uttara (July 8, 2009). "You can call me Kalpen Modi". DNA (Daily News & Analysis). Retrieved August 18, 2009.
  33. ^ "Kalpen Modi Returns To White House Job After Leaving To Film 'Harold & Kumar' Sequel". Blogs.abcnews.com. November 15, 2010. Retrieved 2011.
  34. ^ "Obama campaign announces co-chairs". Politico.Com. February 22, 2012. Retrieved 2013.
  35. ^ "Watch the 2012 Democratic National Convention Live on BarackObama.com". BarackObama.com YouTube channel. September 3, 2012. Retrieved 2013.
  36. ^ Wing, Nick (September 4, 2012). "Kal Penn Speech At Democratic Convention: My Four-Letter Word Is 'Vote'". huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2012.
  37. ^ "Kal Penn's DNC Speech". The Daily Conversation's YouTube Channel. September 4, 2012. Retrieved 2013.
  38. ^ "Kal Penn appointed to rejoin Obama team". TheHill. November 18, 2013. Retrieved 2015.
  39. ^ "Students Are Stars at White House Film Festival". NBC News. Retrieved 2015.
  40. ^ "Quirky caucuses pose organizational challenge for Sanders". Business Insider. Retrieved 2016.
  41. ^ O'Keefe, Ed (August 18, 2017). "Members of White House presidential arts commission resigning to protest Trump's comments". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2017.
  42. ^ Schwedel, Heather (March 26, 2007)."Kal Penn to teach at Penn" Archived November 14, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. The Daily Pennsylvanian. Retrieved 2009-04-07.
  43. ^ "Asian American Studies Program at University of Pennsylvania". Asam.sas.upenn.edu. Retrieved 2011.
  44. ^ Penn, Kal (July 2, 2010). "The 'Hilarious' Xenophobia of Time's Joel Stein". Huffington Post.
  45. ^ "Kal Penn to Address Class of 2014 at May's 175th Annual Commencement". DePauw University. Retrieved 2015.
  46. ^ Kal Penn '00 | UCLA Alumni
  47. ^ "Kal Penn Wins 'MasterChef Celebrity Showdown', Prize Money to Support Palestinian Refugees through the UN". unrwa.org. United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. January 3, 2017. Retrieved 2018.
  48. ^ "Kal Penn Raises Over $360,000 for Refugees in Response to Racist Tweet". EW.com. January 29, 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  49. ^ Danner, Chas. "Judge Blocks Part of Trump's Ban on Citizens From 7 Muslim Nations and Refugees". Daily Intelligencer. Retrieved 2017.

External links

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