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Kal Penn takes bus to first day at the White House

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Kal Penn the actor -- and the screen name -- is on a sabbatical.

Kalpen Modi, 32, is best known as Kumar in the "Harold and Kumar" movies. Now he's an associate director in the White House Office of Public Engagement. He finally reported for work on Monday, in a suit and tie.

The high-profile Obama presidential campaign volunteer is a liaison between the Asian-American and arts communities and the White House.

During the campaign, Modi -- according to his publicist -- made more than 175 stops across 26 states and also was on the Obama campaign's Arts Policy Committee. His involvement got him thinking about a career shift.

Back in April, Modi (he never legally changed his name) and the White House announced he was joining the Obama administration, just as his character on the TV show "House" committed suicide, with the plot twist upsetting some fans.

Modi moved from Los Angeles to an apartment in Washington, unpacking boxes over the July 4 weekend, he told reporters on Monday. And while he said he expects "to be treated like any staff member," most don't debut with a conference call to oblige inquiring reporters.

Under sharp questioning about his routine to prepare for this first day at the new job, Modi revealed, "I brushed my teeth, I did floss, used mouthwash . . . took the bus to work, the same thing everybody does."

I asked Modi about how he is handling the culture switch from acting in Hollywood to joining up with the Obama White House.

"I think they are completely different careers," Modi told me. "In my past life I was playing a fictitious character and while I think that is enjoyable, I think that the lifestyle here is going to be a lot different. We are doing some very serious work and I am certainly very eager to get started on all that."

Modi is a UCLA grad and son of Indian immigrants. Last year he was an adjunct lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia where he taught a course in Asian-American studies, film and sociology.

He said he was not sure how long he would stay in the White House: "I don't have a specific timetable in mind for this particular job." He said he does not have plans to run for public office.

Modi was asked about reports that another "Harold and Kumar" movie would be shot in 2010. It seems unlikely from his answer: "I hope the folks [making those films] will respect my decision to take a sabbatical from acting."

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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 July 7, 2009 10:02 AM.

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