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Transition of Star Power: Modi Is in Like Penn


You can call him Kal: Kalpen Modi, the White House staffer a.k.a. Kal Penn. (Reuters/Jason Reed)

When does a White House staffer's first day on the job turn into a full-blown media event? When the staffer is Kalpen Modi, better known as Kal Penn.

After months of faux sightings and anticipatory Twittering, the "House" and "Harold & Kumar" star finally started his gig as associate director in the White House's Office of Public Engagement -- and is reverting to his real, legal name while working there.

But before settling in, he held a conference call yesterday with reporters begging for every detail of his new life. The once-and-future actor, 31, was a much-traveled campaigner for Barack Obama last year but surprised everyone when he announced he was joining the administration to work with the youth, arts and Asian American communities. The newbie was humble. "I expect to be treated like any other staff member," said Modi. (See? We're going along with the name thing!)

He spent the past few months squeezing in all the stuff you do when moving cross-country for a new job: arranged for someone to take care of his L.A. home, moved into a "huge, enormous, sprawling mansion" ... ha, ha. Little joke there. He actually rented an apartment in the District and unpacked boxes all last weekend. On Monday morning, he donned a suit and tie and took the bus to work. "My life is much like that of my colleagues, as far as I can tell."

Except, um, that he's rich and famous. Modi wouldn't say how much he's making -- and (darn!) the release of White House salaries came out just before his first day. Suffice it to say, it's a big pay cut: White House associate directors make $45,000 to $85,000 per year; no staffer makes more than $172K.

How long will he stick around? He originally said a year or two; yesterday he offered no "specific timetable" and danced around rumors of a "Harold & Kumar" Christmas movie due late next year. The films, he said, are "a lot of fun" and that he hopes the folks making them "will respect my decision to take a sabbatical from acting."

By The Reliable Source  |  July 6, 2009; 11:47 AM ET
 
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Comments

Two words:

"White Castle!"

Posted by: bs2004 | July 6, 2009 12:24 PM | Report abuse

He moved into his place last Wednesday evening. It was reported here:
http://borderstan.com/2009/07/01/welcome-to-borderstan-kal-penn/

Posted by: matthewrhoades | July 6, 2009 12:50 PM | Report abuse

When are Quinn and Weymouth resigning?

Posted by: SoCali | July 6, 2009 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Barack just LOVES to hire unqualified people doesn't he?

Posted by: indep2 | July 6, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Underqualified perhaps, but not unqualified. He taught two courses in Asian American studies at UPenn. His job will be as liason to the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. Between his celebrity status, and his familiarity with Asian American studies, he will probably be a good liason for those communities. But then, I'm sure he'll have much more press coverage of his activities than any other associate director of the OPL so we'll know pretty quickly how he is shaping up in his job.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | July 6, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

So you are saying that anyone who teaches a class is qualified?

I think I will stick to my initial impression based on logic... HE IS TOTALLY UNQUALIFIED.

I think you need to put the Kool-Aid down...

Posted by: indep2 | July 7, 2009 10:18 AM | Report abuse

He's 32, not 31.

Posted by: georgejones5 | July 7, 2009 11:31 AM | Report abuse

Unqualified? Well, at least he's not head of FEMA. The kool-aid went out with the last administration.

Posted by: pippsk | July 7, 2009 12:12 PM | Report abuse

He's unqualified, yet another campaigner who gets rewarded with a do-nothing job. And somebody tell him that he's being paid with TAX DOLLARS and his salary is a matter of public record, so he needs to stop being coy about it. Let him learn what it's like to be a federal worker whose salary is subject to FOIA.

I give him six months, tops.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | July 8, 2009 1:20 PM | Report abuse

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