Born: April 23, 1977
Kalpen Suresh Modi (born April 23, 1977) is an American actor, comedian, producer, and former civil servant best known by his stage name Kal Penn. As an actor, he is known for his role portraying Lawrence Kutner on the television program House, as well as the character Kumar Patel in the Harold & Kumar film series. He is also recognized for his performance in the critically acclaimed film The Namesake. Penn has taught at the University of Pennsylvania in the Cinema Studies Program as a visiting lecturer.
In April 2009, Penn joined the Obama administration as an Associate Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement. This necessitated that his TV character, Lawrence Kutner, be written out of House. Penn resigned his post as Barack Obama's Associate Director of Public Engagement on June 1, 2010, for a brief return to his acting career. He filmed the third installment of the Harold & Kumar series, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, and subsequently returned to the White House Office of Public Engagement as an Associate Director. In July 2011, he again left the White House to accept a role in the hit television series How I Met Your Mother.
Currently, he stars in the role of Seth Wright in the ABC political drama Designated Survivor, as well as the current host of the new game show Superhuman.
Penn was born in Montclair, New Jersey, to Gujarati Indian immigrant parents. His mother, Asmita, is a fragrance evaluator for a perfume company, and his father, Suresh Modi, is an engineer. He regularly visited Gujarat as a child during vacations, which he fondly remembers, and he can speak some Gujarati. He has stated that stories of his grandparents marching with Mahatma Gandhi during the Indian independence movement were a significant influence on his interest in politics.
He attended Marlboro Middle School in Marlboro Township, New Jersey, and played baritone saxophone in the jazz band there. Penn attended The Fine and Performing Arts Academy (a magnet program) as a Theater major at Howell High School for freshman year; he transferred to Freehold Township High School for sophomore, junior, and senior years; both schools are part of the Freehold Regional High School District. He was active in the schools' theater productions and competed on the Freehold Township forensics team. He graduated from UCLA in 2000, and double majored in film and sociology.
Penn's feature film debut came in 1998 in Express: Aisle to Glory. He has since appeared in American Desi, Van Wilder, the final episode of The Lonely Island, Malibu's Most Wanted, A Lot Like Love, Dude, Where's the Party?, Love Don't Cost a Thing, Superman Returns, Epic Movie, The Namesake, the Harold & Kumar series, and an uncredited appearance in Deck the Halls.
Penn says that he derived his acting name, Kal Penn, as a lark: "Almost as a joke to prove friends wrong, and half as an attempt to see if what I was told would work (that anglicized names appeal more to a white-dominated industry), I put 'Kal Penn' on my resume and photos." His audition callbacks rose by 50 percent. He has stated that he prefers his birth name and uses "Kal Penn" only for professional purposes.
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:
|“||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?||”|
Also in January 2007, he appeared in the spoof comedy Epic Movie as well as the television show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. In May 2007, Penn received the Asian Excellence Award for Outstanding Actor for his performance in The Namesake.
In fall 2007, Penn joined the cast of the Fox medical drama House as a fellowship applicant. E! reported that Penn had signed on as a regular on the show along with Olivia Wilde and Peter Jacobson and this was confirmed in the plot of the episode "Games". Penn continued with the series through to the episode "Simple Explanation", which aired April 6, 2009. He made an additional appearance as Lawrence Kutner on the fifth-season finale, "Both Sides Now", that aired on May 11, 2009. However, due to his new job at the White House, Penn could not be present for the filming of this episode. The clip of him saying "Too bad it isn't true" was taken from a previous filming. Penn returned to the show for the series finale.
In addition to his role on the TV series House, he is best known from his role in Harold & Kumar, as Kumar Patel, a cannabis smoker who goes with Harold Lee (John Cho) to White Castle for a hamburger. Unlike his character, he does not smoke marijuana, claiming it is not for him, nor does he eat meat.
Penn was recurring on How I Met Your Mother for the seventh season of the show, in which he played Kevin, a therapist and later boyfriend of Robin Scherbatsky. Starting May 1, 2013, Penn hosted Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius on the Discovery Channel. In 2013, Penn joined the cast of We Are Men.
In 2014, he was cast in Ravi Kumar's film Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain, a film about the Bhopal gas tragedy, considered by many to be the world's worst industrial disaster. Penn played Detective Fontanelle White on the CBS comedy-drama Battle Creek, which was cancelled during its first season.
In October 2016, Penn began a regular role in the ABC drama series Designated Survivor as Seth, a White House speech writer who originally worked under the previous president's administration. Penn also serves as a political consultant for the series.
Kal Penn has expressed some interest in working in Indian cinema, particularly in Gujarati cinema.
Penn was an advocate for Barack Obama's presidential campaign in 2007 and 2008 and a member of Obama's National Arts Policy Committee. He appears in the Barack Obama-supporting video "Sí Se Puede Cambiar" by Andres Useche and appeared with comedian George Lopez on January 18, 2009, at "We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial".
In early 2009, Penn was offered the position of Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement in the Obama administration, which he accepted. This necessitated his character Lawrence Kutner being written out of the TV series House. In his new role with the Obama administration, Penn served as a liaison with the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities. He had gone back to using his birth name, Kalpen Modi.
Having made a commitment before his employment at the White House, Penn amicably left his post as President Barack Obama's associate director of public engagement on June 1, 2010, to return to his acting career. He returned to office on November 15, 2010, following completion of A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas.
Penn was a co-chair for the re-election campaign of President Barack Obama. On September 3, 2012, he hosted the September 6 coverage of the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. Penn's speech at the convention encouraged young people to register to vote and defended Obama's record.
On November 18, 2013, President Obama appointed Penn to serve on the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. On February 28, 2014, Penn served as the Master of Ceremonies for the White House Student Film Festival.
Penn publicly supported Bernie Sanders for the 2016 Democratic nomination.
In August 2017, Penn and the other members of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities resigned in response to President Donald Trump's remarks on the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
In 2008, Penn served as a visiting lecturer in Asian American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. His course was titled "Images of Asian Americans in the Media."
In 2014, Penn was working on a graduate certificate in international security from Stanford University.
On January 2, 2017, Penn won the "MasterChef Celebrity Showdown" and donated the entire $25,000 cash prize to UNRWA, a United Nations relief and human development agency which supports Palestinian refugees.
On January 28, 2017, following a racist comment from a user on Penn's Instagram, Penn crowd-funded a fundraiser for Syrian refugees and raised $517,646 in less than 24 hours. This occurred during President Donald Trump's Executive Order 13769 which banned immigration to the United States from Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Somalia regardless of visa status.
|1998||Express: Aisle to Glory||Jackie Newton|
|2001||American Desi||Ajay Pandya|
|2002||Van Wilder||Taj Mahal Badalandabad|
|2003||Love Don't Cost a Thing||Kenneth Warman|
|2003||Malibu's Most Wanted||Hadji|
|2003||Dude, Where's the Party?||Mohan "Mo" Bakshi|
|2004||Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle||Kumar Patel|
|2004||Ball & Chain||Bobby|
|2005||Dancing in Twilight||Sam|
|2005||Son of the Mask||Jorge|
|2005||A Lot like Love||Jeeter|
|2006||Man About Town||Alan Fineberg|
|2006||Bachelor Party Vegas||Z-Bob|
|2006||The Namesake||Gogol / Nikhil Ganguli|
|2006||Deck The Halls||Amit Sayid|
|2006||Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj||Taj Mahal Badalandabad|
|2008||Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay||Kumar Patel|
|2008||Harold & Kumar Go to Amsterdam||Kumar Patel|
|2011||A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas||Kumar Patel|
|2013||Triumph: The Lowell Pomerantz Story||Jordan Tichenor|
|2013||Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain||Motwani|
|2013||Dementamania||Christian Van Burden|
|2014||The Sisterhood of Night||Gordy Gambhir|
|2015||The Girl In The Photographs||Peter Hemmings|
|2016||Better Off Single||Brice|
|2017||Speech & Debate||James|
|2017||Once Upon a Time in Venice||Rajeesh|
|1999||Brookfield||Kumar Zimmerman||TV movie|
|1999||Buffy the Vampire Slayer||Hunt||Episode: "Beer Bad"|
|2000||Sabrina, the Teenage Witch||Prajeeb||Episode: "You Can't Twin"|
|2000||Spin City||Buddy||Episode: "The Spanish Prisoner"|
|2001||Angel||Fez Boy||Episode: "That Vision Thing"|
|2001||ER||Narajan||Episode: "The Longer You Stay"|
|2001||NYPD Blue||Solomon Al-Ramahi||Episode: "Baby Love"|
|2001||The Agency||Malek||Episode: "Rules of the Game"|
|2003||All About the Andersons||Dinesh||Episode: "Pilot"|
|2003||Tru Calling||Steven||Episode: "Haunted"|
|2003||The Lonely Island||Fred||Episode: "Regarding Andy"|
|2006||The Danny Comden Project||Max||TV movie|
|2007||Law & Order: Special Victims Unit||Henry Chanoor||Episode: "Outsider"|
|2007||24||Ahmed Amar||4 episodes|
|2007-2009, 2012||House||Dr. Lawrence Kutner||37 episodes|
|2011-2012, 2014||How I Met Your Mother||Kevin||10 episodes|
|2013||The Big Brain Theory||Host||8 episodes|
|2013||We Are Men||Gil Bartis||7 episodes|
|2015||Battle Creek||Detective Fontanelle||13 episodes|
|2015||The Big Picture With Kal Penn||Host||12 episodes|
|2016||New Girl||Tripp||2 episodes|
|2016-present||Designated Survivor||Seth Wright||Series regular|
|2016-2017||Superhuman||Host||Pilot; 8 episodes|