Kal Penn

Actor and Ex-Associate Director at the White House Office


Kal Penn has been described as "the world's most famous Indian actor" by New York magazine, Kal Penn is a rising actor in Hollywood. What sets Penn apart is his off-screen eloquence, his passion for the intersection of pop culture, politics and race—and the fact that he stopped his career midstream to work full time for the White House.

Penn is known for his starring roles in House, 24 and, of course, the Harold and Kumar franchise. Though there is a tradition of Hollywood stars campaigning for politicians, Penn may be the only one in recent memory to stop his career midstream to work full time in politics.

From 2009 to 2011, he was the Associate Director at the White House Office of Public Engagement, where he focused on work related to "don't ask, don't tell," increasing financial aid, and bringing Americans back from Iraq.

During his years at The Office of Public Engagement, Penn served as a liaison with Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities, helping engage them in a variety of social initiatives. "I had friends who were over in Iraq and Afghanistan," Penn has said to convey his reasons for joining the Obama administration. "I had buddies who had huge student debt, people who got kicked off their health insurance plans for one reason or another, and so that was my decision to get involved on a personal level."

Kal Penn returns to television in 2011 with a new role on the hit sitcom How I Met Your Mother. On the big screen, Penn has starred in various independent films and blockbusters, including two Harold and Kumar movies and Superman Returns. The New York Times called his lead role in Mira Nair's The Namesake a "crackling, star-making performance."

Named one of People Magazine's Top 50 Bachelors, Penn has also taught two courses at the University of Pennsylvania, on Asian-Americans in pop culture, and on the history of teen movies. Recently he was profiled in the New York Times.

Kal Penn was a Counsellor at One Young World Summits: 2012 in Pittsburgh.