For two years, Kal Penn shuttled between two worlds that could not have been more different. In 2009, the Montclair native took a sabbatical from his acting career to work for the Obama administration in the Office of Public Engagement, talking to young people about federal college grants, employment and other issues.
Those young people were familiar with Penn from TV shows like House and the 2004 hit film Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, in which he created the pot-puffing character Kumar Patel.
Penn, a graduate of Freehold Township High School, had worked on the Obama campaign in 2007 and was moved to do more in the civic arena. “I felt like I had the opportunity to follow through on some of the campaign promises that people had made,” he says. He intended to stay a year in Washington, but after leaving to shoot A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas, he returned to his government gig for an additional year.
The actor went back to Hollywood in 2011, landing a recurring role on TV’s How I Met Your Mother.
Penn saw other professionals put their careers on hold to serve in the Obama administration, but, he says, “I was the only one who had been in stoner movies.”