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'Kumar' Goes to the White House, Gets a Job

Kal Penn campaigning for Barack Obama at the University of Maryland in February 2008 . . . (Ricky Carioti/Washington Post)

We've had actors-turned-mayors, and actors-turned-governors ... but actors-turned-White House staffers? That's a new one!

"House" star Kal Penn -- whose character was killed off on Monday's episode -- is taking a sabbatical from acting to work for President Obama. The 31-year-old actor, first launched to fame as a stoner student in the "Harold and Kumar" movies, is coming to Washington to be associate director in the White House Office of Public Liaison, Entertainment Weekly first reported yesterday.

Seriously? The former "cynical independent" met Obama at a fundraiser in late 2007 and became a dedicated, high-profile presence in the campaign's youth-outreach efforts. He'll work primarily with the youth, arts and Asian American communities, the White House told us.

. . . and with John Cho, right, in 2004's "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle." (Sophie Giraud/New Line Productions)

"I was having a great time" on the show, Penn said yesterday in a conference call with reporters. "The word I still use to describe it is bittersweet. It's not like I'm retiring from acting. I certainly intend to come back at some point. Right now, I just felt like my calling was in public service."

The New Jersey native said he's always had two passions: acting and politics. His Indian grandparents marched with Gandhi, and he's been studying international security at Stanford University. He spent a lot of time on the campaign trail and got an itch to continue working on the issues.

He mulled it over for months, then broached the idea to Obama during the inauguration. ("We discussed it briefly.") Penn also talked to presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett, who runs the White House public liaison shop, and his agents, managers and accountants. "This is what I really want to do," he told them. "But am I crazy?"

Maybe: "Associate directors" at the White House job earn somewhere in the $60,000-$70,000 range per year; Penn wouldn't say exactly how much he made on "House," but TV actors at his level make around $50,000 per episode. Producers of the Fox drama said they were "thrilled" for him when they found out he was leaving to work for Obama, then pulled off a major surprise by having his character, Dr. Lawrence Kutner, unexpectedly commit suicide.

Penn won't accept any acting jobs during his time in Washington, which he said would last "at least" a year or two. He's not sure when he'll start the new job, but he's coming to D.C. next week to look for an apartment; he already has a lot of college friends and buddies in town. "While I haven't lived here before, I think I have a pretty good sense of what D.C.'s all about," he said. "I'm definitely looking forward to being part of it." He still has to figure out what to do with his L.A. home. Sublet? Refinance? (Stars! Just like us!)

Whatever Penn's future as an actor may hold, there'll be no more "Harold and Kumar" sequels for now. And forget those lame stoner jokes or questions about legalizing marijuana.

"I don't smoke weed in real life," he said, "so it's honestly not something I've given much thought to."

By The Reliable Source  |  April 7, 2009; 9:42 AM ET
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Ladies, can you find out what's going on with the First Puppy? President Obama said that the dog would be "in place" when he returned from Europe.

Posted by: annieb346 | April 7, 2009 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Wow, people still care about the 'first puppy'? Sad.

More relevant, I hope Penn can do a lot for youth outreach. I'd consider him rather well-known among 18-30something age group.

Posted by: Comunista | April 7, 2009 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Just dont get your picture taken doing bong hits

Posted by: bog1 | April 7, 2009 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Good for him! He's willing to put his money where his mouth is, unlike most of the idiots living in Hollywood that think they have a political opinion worth spouting.

Posted by: gm123 | April 7, 2009 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Kai Penn's great oratorical moment:

"Our parents came to this country, escaping persecution, poverty and hunger. Hunger, Harold. They were very, very hungry. They wanted to live in a land that treated them as equals, a land filled with hamburger stands. And not just one type of hamburger, okay? Hundreds of types with different sizes, toppings, and condiments. That land was America! America, Harold! America! Now this is about achieving what our parents set out for. This is about the pursuit of happiness. This night . . . is about the American Dream! Dude, we can stay here, get arrested, and end our hopes of ever going to White Castle. Or, we can take that hang glider and make our leap towards freedom. I leave the decision up to you."

Posted by: bs2004 | April 7, 2009 1:52 PM | Report abuse

And now we know why they killed Kutner off!

Posted by: watsonja | April 7, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Dude, let's get blazed in the Oval Office!

Posted by: KidTJ | April 7, 2009 3:07 PM | Report abuse

Kumar goes to White Castle, oops! White House, I meant!

Posted by: sr_1945 | April 7, 2009 6:11 PM | Report abuse

Awesome. I think he's really a good actor (I liked him in Harold and Kumar and the Namesake) but it's nice to hear that he's a smart, dedicated guy too. The anti-Harold. Now that's acting.

Posted by: msame | April 7, 2009 7:55 PM | Report abuse

Taxpayers are covering this nonsense?

Posted by: Bubbette1 | April 7, 2009 8:09 PM | Report abuse

Wow they are censoring comments on this blog. What a shock.

Posted by: Bubbette1 | April 7, 2009 8:20 PM | Report abuse

You have GOT to be freaking kidding me...

Posted by: pwhited | April 7, 2009 11:43 PM | Report abuse

Kumar!!! Okay....Kal. This is great news! Good for you for getting involved.

A lot more than Toby Keith ever did.
(The Rolling Stone story by Ethan Hawke is TRUE!)

Posted by: gce1356 | April 8, 2009 1:47 AM | Report abuse

I'm not surprised. I saw him on a pre-election panel on CNN or MSNBC, I forget which. He way outshone the other two panelists who were lower level politicians (one was a Mayor if I recall). I was stunned that this "actor" was so well spoken, articulate, and informed especially considering he was clearly speaking off the cuff.

Posted by: ModLib | April 8, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

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