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Kal Penn visits Ohio State, profiles acting career, stint at White House under Barack Obama

Courtesy of MCT

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For an Ohio State crowd, Kal Penn illustrated his progression from only eating Ramen Noodles and beans from a can to having to lose “White House weight” following his stint as an associate director in the White House Office of Public Engagement under the President Barack Obama administration.
Penn visited OSU Sunday as part of an event sponsored by the National Society of Leadership and Success and the Ohio Union Activities Board, held in the Ohio Union’s Archie M. Griffin Grand Ballroom.

He lectured about racial profiling within the entertainment industry, his thoughts on the media and its role in today’s youth and the first White House binder he received (“which was not full of women”) to assemble a department while working for the Obama administration.

Penn kicked the talk off acknowledging his opposite roles as a comedian and political figure, asking students which they wanted to hear about. The crowd seemed split between the two choices, so Penn discussed both.

He first touched on his break into the acting business and the realization that every actor receives a typecast role from the get-go. Penn also cited his experience auditioning for the character Taj Mahal in the movie “Van Wilder” and his competition in the casting call.

“I go in and look into the waiting room, and there was a guy in brown face,” Penn said. “I was like, ‘Oh man, when did you acquire this makeup? Did you do it at home and drive here? Did you do it in the bathroom somewhere?'”

Some members of the audience let out gasps of bewilderment when Penn noted other incidents of prejudice throughout his career, including an audition in which the director questioned why Penn was not wearing a turban and a studio director being puzzled as to why Penn and his co-star John Cho did not hold accents in “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.”

He went on to cite a statistic he once read that by the time teenagers graduate high school, they will have spent more time watching TV than in class. Listing the five media outlets left in the U.S. (The Walt Disney Company, News Corporation, Time Warner Inc., Viacom and General Electric), Penn then divulged on how his friends Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone and Andy Samberg, who make up The Lonely Island, somewhat got caught up in a lawsuit with one of the outlets.

“After they got on ‘SNL,’ they produced digital shorts, and they would be on the ‘SNL’ website, but fans would also rip them and put them on YouTube, and there became this lawsuit between NBC and YouTube,” Penn said. “It was interesting to see Andy Samberg, one of my friends, representing this change in technology, these emerging technologies, and seeing his face on the second page of the ‘Wall Street Journal.'”

Discussing his transition from acting to politics, he said that Olivia Wilde, one of his co-stars from the series “House,” introduced him to the Obama campaign. As an independent voter, he was inspired by Obama and followed the campaign to 25 states to rally in support of the president. After Obama was elected, Penn applied for a job as a presidential aide, worked 16- to 18-hour days for two years and still catered to his acting audience, returning to Los Angeles to act in the series “How I Met Your Mother.” Although his job in the White House was a far cry from his role as Sunil Malhortra in “Dude, Where’s the Party?” Penn said he still wondered if other employees in the White House saw his movies.

“I always wondered when was the best time to ask White House employees if they’ve seen your stoner movies. After the ‘Kill Osama bin Laden’ meeting?” Penn questioned.

The audience was able to participate in a Q-and-A session following the lecture. Questions ranged from asking for advice on breaking into the business side of the entertainment industry to ways for the U.S. to return to its roots of immigration.

Penn’s balance of discussing his dual careers was intriguing to some students.

“I’m a fan of the ‘Harold & Kumar’ movies. I was really big into that. I also wanted to hear what his transition was into the White House,” said Musab Imam, a third-year in computer science.

Jennifer Drue, a fourth-year in psychology, was also impressed by Penn’s lecture.

“I assumed he was going to be smart, but he was very well-spoken,” Drue said.

OUAB could not disclose how much it cost to bring Penn to campus for the event.

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