Chicago Sun-Times
The scoop from Washington

Actor Kal Penn joining Obama administration in Valerie Jarrett's shop. Will work with Asian-American, arts communities


Actor Kal Penn worked as a floor whip during the 2008 Democratic National Convention. (AP Photo)

Audio of Kal Penn presser today:

WASHINGTON--Actor Kal Penn, who stumped around the country for the Obama presidential campaign, is going to leave Hollywood to work in the Obama White House, EW.Com is reporting. The White House confirmed to the Chicago Sun-Times that Penn--whose real name is Kalpen Modi-- is joining the Obama administration.

UPDATES 5:50 eastern
The audio posted is of a conference call with Penn conducted Tuesday to discuss the suicide of his character in Monday night's episode of "House." I can tell from comments on my blog that the suicide is very controversial.

Also, since there is so much interest in this newest White House hire, a bio of Penn is posted at the jump.

UPDATE 1:45 p.m. eastern
Penn is enrolled in a graduate certificate program in International Security at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University.

UPDATE 11:20 p.m. eastern
Penn will be working with the Asian-American and arts communities, said Shin Inouye, a White House spokesman. (Penn's parents are Indian-America.) His start date is not set. (end update)

Penn told EW: "I'm going to be the associate director in the White House office of public liaison. They do outreach with the American public and with different organizations. They're basically the front door of the White House. They take out all of the red tape that falls between the general public and the White House. It's similar to what I was doing on the campaign."

Chicagoans run the OPL: Top advisor Valerie Jarrett oversees the operation, run by Tina Tchen, the chief of the Office of Public Liasion

below, release from Penn's publicist......


Born and raised in New Jersey, Kalpen Modi was a student of the (public) International Studies and Performing Arts High Schools in the Garden State's Freehold Regional High School District. After extensive arts training in the New York City area, and with the NJ Governor's School of the Arts, Modi went on to graduate with a BA in Sociology & Specialization in Theater, Film, and Television from the University of California, Los Angeles.

A product of the public school system on the high school and collegiate levels, Kalpen has experienced first-hand the benefits of an arts education at every level of educational development, and contributes his success in large part to these opportunities during such pivotal years of his life.

His first notable acting roles were in the Lions Gate comedy "National Lampoon's Van Wilder" and New Line Cinema's "Harold and Kumar go to White Castle". After those comedic stints, Kalpen sought to diversify his artistic portfolio, working on the Fox show, "24", the NBC drama, "Law and Order, SVU", the Warner Bros epic, "Superman Returns". He won accolades for playing Gogol Ganguli in Fox Searchlight's critically-acclaimed dramatic adaptation of Pulitzer-winner Jhumpa Lahiri's novel, "The Namesake", for director Mira Nair.

Kalpen most recently played Dr. Lawrence Kutner on the Golden Globe nominated Fox drama, "House".

In addition to his film career, Modi is active in the nonprofit world, producing a documentary on malaria eradication in Ethiopia, and serving on an advocacy Board of the American Red Cross.

Kalpen made more than 175 stops across 26 states as a surrogate for President Barack Obama during the campaign, and also served on the Obama Campaign's Arts Policy Committee.

In 2008, he was an Adjunct Lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught a semester-long interdisciplinary course in Asian American Studies, Film, and Sociology. He is enrolled in a Graduate Certificate Program in International Security at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University.

below from for the full story....

Part I: Kal Penn
I understand it was your decision to leave House. True?
KAL PENN: Yes. I was incredibly honored a couple of months ago to get the opportunity to go work in the White House. I got to know the President and some of the staff during the campaign and had expressed interest in working there, so I'm going to be the associate director in the White House office of public liaison. They do outreach with the American public and with different organizations. They're basically the front door of the White House. They take out all of the red tape that falls between the general public and the White House. It's similar to what I was doing on the campaign.
Will you actually be working in the White House?
PENN: This particular office is in the executive building. The White House has two buildings: the actual White House and an old Navy building called the Old Executive Office.
Are you there as long as Obama's in office?
PENN: A lot of that stuff is up in the air. This is a relatively recent development.
Safe to say you're taking a huge pay cut?
PENN: Oh, yeah. There's not a lot of financial reward in these jobs. But, obviously, the opportunity to serve in a capacity like this is an incredible honor.
How long has this been in the works?
PENN: I've been thinking about [moving into politics] for a while. I love what I do as an actor. I couldn't love it more. But probably from the time I was a kid, I really enjoyed that balance between the arts and public service. I went to a performing arts high school, but I still took a bunch of those dorky political science classes. It's probably because of the value system my grandparents instilled in me. They marched with Gandhi in the Indian independence movement, and that was always in the back of my head. So the past couple of years I thought about it a little more. And in '06 I started this international studies program at Stanford, where they actually let you do most of the course work online. So it was something I could do while I was acting. And I thought this might be the right time to go off and do something else. The ultimate irony, of course, is that I love being on House. There's not a smarter group of people that I've been surrounded by in television. So I thought about it for a very long time before I went and talked to David and Katie.
What was that conversation like?
PENN: We had a very long discussion. And I remember David saying, "Are you telling me that you're unhappy with the show and that you want to leave so you can go off and do a different show?" And I was like, "Not at all. I'm actually saying the exact opposite, which is I'm having an incredible time, but there's something aching in me to do something completely different and take a break from the acting thing for a while." And with their blessing, we were able to work it out.
Are you retiring from acting?
PENN: Not necessarily. Who's to say where any path leads? I still have a passion for it. But for the time being, I won't be acting.

If you choose to cover this in any way, please make sure to credit Entertainment Weekly's and link back whenever possible.


Now I understand why Kutner had to die. I absolutely loved him in House - was my favorite character after House and Cuddy, but I admire him greatly for what he's doing, and wish him the very best in his new role in public service.

Thank you Kai Penn for two great years of HOUSE. This is a good thing your for the Obama White House now, congrats. Thank you Chicago put putting this up, I was wondering why they killed him off the show until just now.

What on his resume enabled him to be qualified for this job? His high school experience?

If he wasn't an actor, and well known, would he even have this opportunity? Maybe Obama should give these jobs to those who are highly educated and are regular Americans and not celebrities.

Wow. Probably the single best reason for an actor walking off a show, ever. And in House style, they turn it into a major event, too.

Well, as much as I am saddened to see Kal Penn leave house, I am glad he is doing it for a honourable dream. Good for him.

Good luck, Kal Penn.

Now I understand the suicide.

For your info, he is pretty educated. He was going to go to medical school but pursued acting instead at UCLA. So please refrain from making such ignorant comments.

He is just doing research for his next movie: Harold & Kumar Go to Washington.

When will celebs STOP this nonsensical Obama worship? Was he drawing a parallel between Obama and Ghandi?

Every time an actor puts his or her political views out on display like a Christmas tree it turns me completely off. I can't watch movies with George Clooney, Robert Redford, Angelina Jolie, Sean Penn, etc. It ruins the illusion of their character. All I see on screen is a loudmouth liberal.

Kal Penn is highly educated, he has a double degree from UCLA and has taught classes at the collegiate level about Asian American issues

Never thought I would say this, but good riddance! He looked like a smart guy, but apparently not. By the time he realizes his mistake nobody will want him back in Hollywood.


Kal Penn is currently doing a masters certificate at Sanford in international security and he is a graduate of UCLA.

Not that your point didn't have some validity but you might want to do a little research before running off at the mouth.

Cheers Kal, well done.

Would be great if he can do something positive - maybe a Madonna or Ellen can move us forward on human rights and women's issues!

When I watched the show, I was saddened and truly devastated that Kutner was killed off, from suicide or whatever. He was the best character of the team, outside of House himself.I was so glad to be able to find this site, and realize why what happened, had to happen. I knew damn well the writers of the show are too good to have just done this for any other reason, but I still stuggled to realize what the reason was. An then I read this. I know as good and as prominent of an actor Kall Penn became, he will be just as great in his new endeavor he wishes to accomplish. A good man working for another good man. How great is that??? God Bless

Kal Penn - you owe us for this one. All the best to you in your new job. The arts need you!
But I'm mad they wrote you out of House through suicide. Suicide usually is a permanent solution to a temporary problem and this was the writers' temporary problem. I am reminded of Cyrano de Bergerac describing the 10 ways he could have fallen from the moon. They could have had you join Doctors without Borders, always in need of sports medicine specialists; they could have had you travel with a team; they could have had you join the CIA; they could have had you discover long lost family in India; you could have joined the Peace Corps; you could have fallen in love with someone in Paris; you could have decided to become an actor; need one go on. This was a bummer and life is certainly hard enough. Plenty of good people die. They don't need to kill off the really fun characters in fiction. I am not pleased and will now take that Mon. night class I've always put off so I wouldn't miss the new House episodes. Keep the public posted on what you're doing. And for heavens' sake, come back sometime to House as Kutner's twin or cousin who ends up in Princeton Plainsboro with leprosy or lupus or some genetic thing they are able to find from Kutner's DNA found in the hair from a hairbrush in his old locker....there is a way.

Good for Kal Penn!
At least he is doing something good for the country. He is a smart man and deserves to work for our wonderful President. Just because he is a celebrity doesn't mean he can't do good for the country. Leave him alone...who are you to judge him? You don't even know him. So if you think that Kal Penn shouldn't be working in the White House, let's see you do better than him. He is passionate about politics and he can be if he wants to. It was sad to see him go on House, but there was a reason for his suicide.

Kal likes Obama. Must not enjoy anything associated with Obama using zero basis for my hate. must live in fear. Hannity is my god. Liberals! help, too many! Worlds going to end!

lol are you saying actors are not americans you are so ignorant and that was a dumb comment. do you actually think that the obama admin would even think of hiring a non-qualified candidate to join their team lol! he could have sat on millions in hollywood but he chose to do something worth while.

I am so sad and upset that Kal Penn left house. He's such a great actor, and so funny. Although in my mind a more pressing concern is: No More Harold and Kumar movies???? :'( So sad!

I totally agree that celebrities talking about politics is a big turn off - but I've got to say, Penn isn't "talking" he's "doing." In another article I saw where he worked at the Democratic National Convention as well so I highly doubt that it's another case of Obama-mania - he was getting involved before the election. I gotta give some respect to Penn for going out on a limb, leaving a popular show and doing a public service act like this. Other actors blab their support on cameras and in interviews, it's nice to see someone really put their money where their mouth is!

Whole lot of foolishness on the Internet today…

Have you seen his resume? Probably not. You look foolish. Life lesson: know what you’re talking about before opening your trap. How do you know he wouldn’t have had this opportunity? He worked for Obama all through the primaries and general.

So… if you’re an actor, you’re not a “regular American?” Are these “regular Americans” found in McCain/Palin’s “real America?” Oh… you meant “white.” Got it.

No, he wasn’t drawing a line between Gandhi and Obama. Please reading carefully, as reading is fundamental. He said the political actions of his grandparents inspired him to study politics and become politically involved.

So… liberal actors turn you off… but I bet conservative actors do it for you. Ronald Reagan’s economic disasters. Ohhhh. That does it for me. Schwarzenegger digging California 42 billion in the red. Oh….. that ‘s it. Chuck Norris calling for a “revolution.” Ohhh… yes! Funny, but when conservative actors run for office, the RW is celebrity worshipping. But a liberal actor is politically active and now they’re a loudmouth. Thanks for playing Wheel of Right Wing Hypocrisy.

No one will want Penn back in Hollywood? Why? Because he has a variety of interests? Grow up. People leave television shows for a myriad of reasons all the time. If you can’t emotionally handle it, don’t watch tv.

Congratulations, Kal.

I'm a little surprised at some of the comments here. This is not an actor using his celebrity to rant and rave about his political beliefs. Rather, it is someone giving up a high-profile, extremely well-paid job to take a relatively anonymous government job for much less pay because he wants to make a difference. Please note that Kal says that he'll be doing similar work to what he was doing during the campaign.

I am a theater actress who makes very little money, but I have a passion for what I do. I am absolutely disgusted with people who say that actors and actresses are not regular Americans. Your profession, or the place that you live do not make you less of an American and therefore less entitled to having an opinion, any more than the color of your skin or the amount of money you have.

Beyond that I have two words...Ronald Reagan.

Wow, sounds like a few of you are either jealous of what this guys is doing or just selfish or both. Remember he is leaving a hugely successful TV show to do something he believes in and taking a big cut in pay. Can any of you naysayers say you could do the same thing??? Probably not... Are you the same type of people that sit at home watching reality TV and wondering why your life sucks and have to put down people who are doing a good thing??? Please do something worthwhile with your time than insulting people who are trying to make the world a better place.

Good luck Kal, you were great on House and may your journey be filled with victories.

As a conservative who's been aware of Kal Penn's views for some time, I understand that he and I agree on very little, but I salute his choice. He's taking a serious financial hit to pursue something he thinks is right. I may oppose much of what he believes, but I respect his commitment just the same.

My only advice to him (or anybody who goes to work in DC) is this - resist the temptation to view the other side as intrinsically 'bad'. You're going to find that honesty and decency are not the exclusive hold of either party.

For the guy that said Kal Penn is not qualified because his only an actor. Kal Penn for his undergrad degree from UCLA and currently a graduate student from Stanform. Not because a person is an actor doaent mean they are not educated.

I think this is great to cut out all the barriers (red tape) from the whitehouse to the general public.


I feel so much better today after learning the reason for Kutner's "suicide." I was really devastated and couldn't figure out why they would kill off such a nice person. I'm sure he will do a superb job in the Obama administration.

All i have to say is that i truly thought that the actor was dead for a hot second. i was really sad the way they killed him off because i work with a suicide prevention project. it doesnt matter how they killed him off it was sad to see him go and now that i kno that the actor is alive and well and persuing a better opportunity for himself i say gud for him. he was great on house but life goes on as you saw in the episode. its hard at first but we must continue for the sake of ourselves and those that love us. im glad ur alright Kal!!!! good luck in your endeavors!


He didn't compare Obama to Gandhi, so please quit being so reactionary. All he said was, his grandparents were involved in public service so he felt he should do the same.

Pretty noble, no matter which side of the aisle you're from. And I'm a conservative.

A. Hamilton, while I generally agree with your comments, I should note that Kal Penn has a Bachelor's degree and is currently attending Stanford. He also has taught a credited course at the University of Pennsylvania; I think he has the academic capacity for this role. Also, he's often been involved in public service but unfortunately that was not often advertised (I guess society was happier profiling him as a girl-crazy pothead). In any event, celebrities should not get jobs for being celebrities, but if a person who happens to be a celebrity exhibits an aptitude for something else, they should not be penalized for being famous first. It's not like they announced Lindsay Lohan had just been hired by the Administration; THAT would be frightening.

I was so devastated by them killing Dr. Kutner of. I felt that the House writers had perhaps "jumped" the proverbial "shark". After learning of Kal's decision to join the Obama administration, I must admit to being very envious of his passion. Not many people would take the kind of pay cut he's about to take in order to follow through with something they believe in.

Kudos to Kal... and to the House writers, you're off the hook.... for now.

I'm with the rest of the people on here pointing out Reagan and Arnold. Really, if there's anyone out there leveraging their star power to rise in politics, those are the TOP examples. Clooney, Sean Penn, etc. just voice their opinion through the arts, but Kal is leaving the arts to become a civil servant. He BELIEVES in the Obama Administration and already has been involved with his campaign.

I salute him for this. There's not a lot of people out there who would do what he's doing (stepping away from the hollywood limelight to get behind a true movement).

Oh well... If Kumar wants a political career, good for him; whatever. I can't wait till people figure out that Obama is a politician, not the messiah, but cool. Do what you believe in. Sucker.

As for his suicide being a "major event" on House, as one other poster put it.


To me he was just one of those guys who never belonged there in the first place. I mean none of the "new team" has a name in the opening credits which tells me they aren't meant to last anyway, thank goodness. I'm sorry that the first to go is Kumar though, he was worth keeping around unlike the others.

But if they really wanted a "major event" he should have come to work with that gun, shot Taub first, then 13, then Foreman (yes Foreman), maybe put one in House's good leg, and gone to White Castle before being gunned down by police. That's I'd have reacted to, but just a dead Kumar... meh.

I man's got to do what a man's got to do... Good luck with the new job! Hopefully it will make a difference in the real world, which, unfortunatelly is not so peaceful and happy right about now. Also, hope that the new Obama administration will change in a positive way the influence USA has upon the global economies, which, unfortunatelly, was't so positive in the past years. Really, USA has to wake up and realize that the world is about the PEOPLE inhabitting it and NOT about THE MONEY they make on other's expense. So, think about that too, Kal, when you begin "taking out the red tape that falls between the GENERAL public and the White House". Good luck!

Wow, this is the greatest news I have heard all day. You want to no why? This means no more Harold and Kumara movies. THANK YOU GOD

sam-NJ; Please, man, get a grip... Just because you cannot turn off the TV and deal with reality, does not mean that Actors and Actresses cannot.
These people have real identities and lives after they leave the stage or screenings. The dedicate their time and efforts toward making this a better world in whatever form they can. And, here you are stating that you can only see them as actors.... Too bad! Maybe if people like you came out of their little personal nut-shells and volunteered some of YOUR time, then it make also help this world to be a better place for us all.

Apparently, there are some sorry people out there who still repeat what Fox News tells them.

Let me help you. No one thinks President Obama is the Messiah. (Well... I guess if you compare him to the previous occupant, he may seem like the Messiah...) We are simply happy that there is someone in the White House who follows basic laws and shows respect all people, even those who openly oppose him

I know, I know. It's hard for those still gaa-gaa over Bush to understand how so many more people in American- heck, all over the globe, are so much more happy now that President Obama is in charge. It is the respect thing that is throwing you all off...

Wow, people are such haters. He's doing a great thing, he's a smart guy, and he obviously stands up for what he believes in. He's taking a pay cut, he's walking off a show where he has family (come on, I was in musicals and plays in high school and those people are like FAMILY if they weren't already after just a month), and I'm sure he knew many people would make such comments about him.

In the end, the suicide made sense. With the amount House characters go back and forth, they didn't want the viewers left with any confusion about Kutner coming back. In addition, they wanted to make it a campaign about keeping an eye out on friends and even the seemingly happiest people can be depressed and feel lonely, and yes, possibly kill themselves. Good for David Shore and the rest of them for making Americans more aware of such things.

I also like how they kept this mostly quiet. Things with Grey's Anatomy seem to be released so much easier. =\ There was -one- rumor about someone getting killed off, but as far as I know, no more details.

As someone who put in a lot of time on Obama's campaign and ran into Kal in a few different states, I can tell you this guy is legit. Other celebrities whho "volunteered" for the campaign would do pretty much only do events to get big crowds so that we could get people's names and numbers and then bug them to volunteer. The first time I met Kal I was phone banking. He came into the room sat down next to me and banged out calls for three hours straight. He used a pseudonym so that he wouldn't get in too long of conversations and could make more dials. I wish him all the best.

I think Obama is not doing what is best for America, but I respect your decision to pursue something that you feel is important, especially since it is a drastic paycut. You were my favorite character on House, I'm sad to see you go. Good luck in your new career!

I was stunned in the last episode of House, now that I know he is working for the worst president of all time killing him off was best.

At first i was furious they gave his character the axe.And as a suicide.Yeah i was angry.But im glad to know your doing what you want Kal I support you!Your a huge inspiration and it shows how "real" you truly are.Good luck on your new journey~

...I came here for the news, not for spoilers.
Thanks for ruining that one, Sun Times.

How interesting that the CROOK COUNTY Dems/Blago/Jackson etc INDIAN-AMERICAN machine and their money base appears to have followed the OBAMASSIAH to Washington...

Oh! that's great, at least more Indian Americans in the white house and American politics can mean a change for the various stereotypes that prevail against Asians and Indians. Obama is truly taking diversity to higher levels while reminding America of American values. Thank you.

wow...all these comments! is it because he was gonna play rezko in the movie? is that why they keep him close to 'val'?

I also thought for a second before I started reading, that Kal Penn had actually died. It is apparent that republicans do not take the time to read the facts and just make comments about how they feel or what they WANT to read. Everytime I pick up a paper or read political comments, The republicans are always cutting down the liberals and the libs are trying to move forward with what is happening now, not in the past. History has proven what works best and it seems to me the Democrats did better. If you think Obama is not doing the job, at least he is better than our last one.

@Arthur Hamilton Research before you speak boy. Kal Penn attended UCLA, where he double majored in film and sociology, served as a visiting lecturer in Asian American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, taught a course titled “Images of Asian Americans in the Media, and he was active in The Fine and Performing Arts Specialized Learning Center for three years. I believe he's qualified.

Mickys, it's pretty hypocritical for you to say how the liberals are moving forward and not living in the past and then go on to state how Obama "is better than our last one." Judging his success on your opinion on the performance of the previous president IS living in the past. Living in the past is the same exact platform Obama ran on in the election. He ran on "Change" and "the last 8 years," so to paint liberals as this moving forward party while the republicans are holding America back with stubbornness wouldn't be entirely fair. Maybe there's a reason republicans "are always cutting down the liberals?" Nope. It's probably not because we have diametrically opposed ideologies. We're probably just all heartless middle aged rich white men.

yeh boy...
Seriously, I mean Kal Penn is indeed a highly intelligent person, but I have to ask, waht real political experience does he have? Look at how Obama's messed up the nation so far with his mere 2 years in Senator, imagine what an actor can do with NO experience whatsoever? Go watch some Hannity, channel 5, 9:00 pm eastern on fox, you Lib-er-als.

The illegally "elected" african-arab crossbreed terrorist Obama, Americas first fraudulently elected dictator, wants to dictate BOTH "Asian AND Pacific Island" politics where a negro-arab crossbreed terrorist is not wanted. Obama needs a history and cultural lesson. Americans need to get him out of The White House he and his cell broke into and occupy right NOW, or else America will rightfully rise to get this done the militaristic way and he and his gruesome family of crooked terrorist homeless will perish before they can flee back overseas to their true and beloved homeland.

Hopefully Kal Penn can help Obama in his goal to end global poverty.

You can too by calling your Senator and telling them to support the Global Food Security Act. It gives $500 million in food aid where it's needed most.

Tell them all the money that just got saved on military cuts can now go towards saving the world.

See more at the Borgen Project

Your the best god damn actor in the world...

Harold and Kumar was the best...

Lol i would love to see Harold and Kumar 3, but i guess it was not to be..

All the best for your future.


I was searching for a website that would assist me in AVOIDING "Hollywood's Liberal Movies". I thought that the way to search ...was simply to Google "Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay". I'm sick and tired of America being the brunt of sick-joke movies coming out of "Hollywood's" Liberal Producers, Actors, Writers, etc. My "avoidance" list is so long, I think I'll just stick to the Classics.

Modi and Obama... This is a perfect union to cause further damage to a country that was once a Great Nation.

There SHALL be a Harold and Kumar 3!

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on April 7, 2009 9:45 AM.

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