Kal Penn: You Can’t Be Serious 

Kal Penn is one of the most interesting American actors of the past two decades. Or maybe it’s that Kal Penn has had one of the most interesting past two decades of any American actor. In 2004 Penn co-stared in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle alongside current sex symbol/future Cowboy Bebop star John Cho, and the most successful, openly gay sitcom actor/magician of all time Neal Patrick Harris. (Perhaps it’s worth noting that Penn, too, just came out and is engaged to his partner of 11 years.) Penn followed that now iconic role to a new gig on the TV drama, House, but eventually left the medical procedural to work in President Barack Obama’s White House. Penn was the principal associate director in the White House Office of Public Engagement and worked as a liaison to young Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and the arts community. He spent roughly two years at the White House (he took a few months off to film A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas), before returning to Hollywood to become a cast member on How I Met Your Mother in 2011. Penn’s life reads as fiction. Going from an intentional cult comedy centered around weed and fast food to a job working under the first Black president of the United States and back to comedy does not sound reasonable or realistic, but it happened. Penn will be speaking about his unpredictable life—which is also the topic of his recently released memoir, You Can’t Be Serious—as part of the Smithsonian Associates streaming series on Nov. 3. Unfortunately, this series exists due to a global pandemic—one that racism and xenophobia have incorrectly and unfairly pinned on Asian communities. Penn’s work in the White House as a liaison to the very communities targeted through no fault of their own gives his perspective even more relevance. Kal Penn’s lecture starts at 6:45 p.m. on Nov. 3 via Smithsonian Associates streaming services. smithsonianassociates.org. $20–$25.