Kal Penn (full name Kalpen Modi, born April 23, 1977 in Montclair, New Jersey) is an Indian-American film actor well-known for playing Kumar in the Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle movies, Taj in the Van Wilder movies and Dr. Kutner in House.
In January 2007, Penn appeared in the first four episodes of the sixth season of 24 as Ahmed Amar, a teenage terrorist. Penn says he nearly turned down the role due to personal ethics, stating, "I have a huge political problem with the role. It was essentially accepting a form of racial profiling. I think it's repulsive. But it was the first time I had a chance to blow stuff up and take a family hostage. As an actor, why shouldn't I have that opportunity? Because I'm brown and I should be scared about the connection between media images and people's thought processes?"
In Fall 2007, Penn joined the cast of the Fox medical drama House as fellowship applicant Lawrence Kutner.
On April 8, 2009, it was announced that he would join the Barack Obama White House as Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. This caused mixed reactions from fans as this necessitated that his character be written out of the show, as well as controversy from opponents of Obama who thought that the President hired some pot-smoking goof-off to be on his staff. He took a break from this post from June to November 2010 to film A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas.
Prior to his political engagement, Penn taught at the University of Pennsylvania as an adjunct member in the Cinema Studies Program.
From November 2013 to August 2017, he served on the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. He came out as gay in 2021, and has been living with his partner Josh since 2010.
- Funny Character, Boring Actor: Kal has said that his real-life persona is the opposite of the loose, freewheeling stoner Kumar. He does not smoke marijuana as he has not expressed interest in it, although he advocates its legalization. Hes a vegetarian, so the crew in the first Harold and Kumar Film made his sliders vegetarian. He is also gay, although he did not publicly come out until 2021.
- It's Personal: He devoured the book The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, and immediately set about acquiring the film rights so that Indian-American director Mira Nair could make it. He was devastated to learn that someone else had already bought the film rights. Until he learned that it was Mira Nair. He then begged to be part of the production and was given the lead role.
- Stage Name: His screen name is basically his first name, Kalpen, separated. He decided to make this his stage name as casting agents responded to this more than his birth name.