04.07.09

The Best-Kept Secret in Hollywood

The suicide of Kal Penn’s character on House was a shocker, but it was nothing compared to the revelation that the Harold and Kumar star was joining the Obama administration. Maybe he should run CIA.

The suicide of Kal Penn’s character on House was a shocker, but it was nothing compared to the revelation that the Harold and Kumar star was joining the Obama administration. Maybe he should run the CIA.

Look out, Bobby Jindal. There’s a new contender for Biggest Asian-American Star in the political firmament. And this one’s pretty good on camera.

In case you somehow missed it, Kal Penn’s character did himself in Monday night on House. Then, in one of the best-kept secrets in Hollywood history, the 31-year-old Penn announced that he’s going to work for the Obama administration as a liaison to the arts world and the Asian and Pacific Islander communities.

When Obama first met him at a fundraiser, the future president said, “What show are you on?” When Penn told him it was House, Obama said, “That’s right. The doctor show.”

Based on that level of success in keeping a secret, Penn should be running the CIA.

It seems the writers’ strike may be to thank or blame for Penn’s job switch. After the writers walked out in November 2007, Penn was freed up to work for Obama. At one point, he moved to Iowa for several weeks.

In a conference call with reporters, Penn addressed both careers. He said that for now, he’s not planning to reprise the role of Kumar in the Harold and Kumar films, even though another installment was in the works. “I don’t want to squash anyone’s hopes or dream on that,” Penn said, “but... I’m certainly not going to be acting while I’m serving the White House. At this point, it’s not on my radar.”

I called Mandate Pictures, the maker of the Harold and Kumar films, to see how the company will manage. In fact, I broke the news about Penn’s new gig to an executive there. A bit later, the Mandate executive sent this email: “I am replying on behalf of all parties that we have no comment.” What, not even, “We wish Kal well” out of patriotic duty?

Harold and Kumar was a nifty little piece of stoner-comedy business. The original, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, cost less than $10 million and pulled in $18 million at the box office. Then it became a cult hit and spawned Harold and Kumar go to Guantanamo Bay. That cost about $17 million and grossed $43 million. And according to Adams Media Research, the two films poured an additional $50 million or so into studio coffers from DVD sales. With those nice margins, the third installment was announced last July, supposedly with the principals on board.

In the conference call today, the Obama administration’s new member added the following facts:

  • “I don’t smoke weed in real life.” (But he says “weed.”)
  • He was a vegetarian when he made the first Harold and Kumar movie and he didn’t go to White Castle, either.
  • He’s not a Democrat. (He’s an independent.)
  • Those were his legs in the House suicide scene.
  • When Obama first met him at a fundraiser, the future president said, “What show are you on?” When Penn told him it was House, Obama said, “That’s right. The doctor show.” However, according to Penn, the president has never brought up Harold and Kumar.
  • Asked whether he plans to run for office, Penn said, "No."

Kim Masters is the host of The Business , public radio's weekly show about the business of show business. She is also the author of The Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everybody Else.