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From TV's House to the White House


By Jesy Odio '15

Published Mar 5, 2014 8:00 AM

Bruin Kal Penn can't stop juggling acting, politics and education.


Photo by USAG Yongsan via Flickr

As an undergrad, Kal Penn ‘00 studied both sociology and film. Turns out his choice to double major foreshadowed what his lifestyle would be like today—almost a decade later—as he balances acting with participating in the Obama Administration. Now, he is testing his multitasking skills even further as he prepares to star in the new TV detective drama, Battle Creek, while also serving on the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities to foster national investment in education for the arts and humanities, and cultural issues.

After college and a couple of acting gigs, the New Jersey native decided to change his name from Kalpen Suresh Modi to Kal Penn in hopes that a more American name would help him get more callbacks from auditions. Since then, Kal Penn has appeared in such big-time shows as ER, 24, Law & Order, How I Met Your Mother, and House and starred in the film series, Harold & Kumar.


Photo by omTVserier via Flickr

But it was during his recurring role as Dr. Lawrence Kutner in House that he took on a job at another House—the White House—as associate director at the Office of Public Engagement. During a two-year sabbatical from Hollywood, Penn worked as a public liaison with the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

This is not the first time he has juggled acting with politics. In 2007, he was heavily involved in Barack Obama’s presidential campaign as a surrogate around the country, and in 2008 became a member of Obama’s National Arts Policy Committee.

But Penn still did not leave the academic world behind. In 2007, he added another hyphenate to his profession when he became a visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania in the Asian American Studies department. And as if that weren’t enough, he is now working toward a graduate certificate in international security at Stanford.

All this as he joins the creator of House, David Shore, and the creator of the recent Emmy award-winner Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan, to star as a local detective from Battle Creek, Michigan.

Either this alumnus just can’t get enough of several worlds, or he has found the ideal balance between entertainment, politics and education.



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