Kal Penn talks about taking a break from his acting career to work for President Obama.

Kam Williams | 11/22/2011, 8:01 a.m.
(Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.) Kal Penn talks about taking a break from his acting...

Has President Obama measured up to your expectations and hopes for the country?

He has exceeded my expectations.

How so?

The media are mostly interested in generating ad revenue, so they focus on the more divisive and more titillating stories. But the reality is that, behind the scenes, I’ve watched the president fight day-in and day-out for the things that matter to most folks, like jobs, education reform, the needs of returning war veterans, investment capital for entrepreneurs, support for Historically-Black Colleges and Universities, etcetera. That’s been my experience. He’s had some huge successes with much of that agenda, but it’s rarely, if ever, mentioned in the mainstream news. So, I’m actually very proud of the work that he’s done so far, and I believe that he’s going to achieve a lot more, if we elect him to a second term.     

What do you think about Occupy Wall Street?

I feel that the sentiment is something that many of us agree with, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the “asks” are from the good folks that are down there.

Which do you find more challenging: acting or politics?

They’re totally different. You can’t really compare the two. Each is challenging in its own way.

Do you see yourself ever running for political office someday?

I don’t have any plans to run for office. What I love about L.A. and Washington, D.C. is that they’re almost the opposite of each other. L.A. is a very creative space while D.C. is a very cerebral space. So, they’re the ying and the yang in my world. I like them both for their own reasons.  

How did acting prepare you for working in the Obama administration and how did that prepare you to return to acting? In other words, how different is representing and presenting?

The two are completely different. What prepared me for working in the White House were my graduate program in International Security and my time spent teaching at the University of Pennsylvania. They didn’t have much to do with acting per se.

Why do you think the Harold and Kumar franchise has been so successful?

Because of the fans. I think everyone loves to laugh. The characters are good-natured and have a positive outlook on life. So much comedy nowadays is cynical and based on cutting other people down.

What I love about the “Harold and Kumar” movies is that they are more about raising people up. I think the audience appreciates that.   

When was the last time you treated yourself to a day off just to pamper yourself?

I don’t really do that. When I’m able to take a day off, I’ll spend it with friends and family, or maybe hiking or something like that.

When was the last time you had a good laugh?

This morning with John Cho. He’s a hilarious guy who always makes me laugh.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Oh man, the TV show “Jerseylicious.”

The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

“The Heart and the Fist” by Eric Greitens.

What was the last song you listened to?  

“Galaxies” by Owl City.

What is your favorite dish to cook?

Grapefruit salad.

Do you eat White Castle hamburgers?

What excites you?

What doesn’t! [Laughs]

When you look in the mirror, what do you see?


If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?

World peace.

What is your earliest childhood memory?


How do you define success?

By happiness, not by what other people say.

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

Don’t follow in anyone’s footsteps. Definitely create your own. Hopefully, that’s how you define your happiness.

How do you want to be remembered?

I want to be forgotten. [Laughs]