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Kalpen Suresh Modi ( , born April 23, 1977), best-known by his stage name Kal Penn, is an Indian American film actor and politician who is serving as the Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement in the Barack Obama administration.

On April 8, 2009, it was announced that he would join the Obama White House as Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. This necessitated that his character Lawrence Kutner be written out of the TV series House.

Prior to his political engagement, Modi taught at the University of Pennsylvaniamarker as an adjunct member in the Cinema Studies Program.

Early life

Modi was born as Kalpen Suresh Modi in Montclair, New Jerseymarker, to a father who worked as an engineer and a mother who worked as a fragrance evaluator for a perfume company. Both of his parents are Gujarati immigrants from India. He has stated that stories of his grandparents marching with Mohandas Gandhi for Indianmarker independence were a significant influence on his interest in politics.


He attended middle school at Marlboro Middle School in Marlboro, NJmarker and played baritone saxophone in the jazz band there. Modi attended The Fine and Performing Arts Academy (a magnet program) at Howell High Schoolmarker for freshman, sophomore, and junior years; he transferred to Freehold Township High Schoolmarker for senior year; both schools are part of the Freehold Regional High School District. He was active in the schools' theater productions. He attended UCLAmarker, where he double majored in film and sociology.

Acting career

Modi's feature film debut came in 1998 in Express: Aisle to Glory. He has since appeared inAmerican Desi, National Lampoon's Van Wilder, Malibu's Most Wanted, A Lot Like Love, Dude, Where's the Party?, Love Don't Cost a Thing,Superman Returns, National Lampoon's Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj, Epic Movie,The Namesake, and theHarold and Kumar series, and an uncredited appearance in Deck the Halls. Penn was featured in the The Lonely Island's rejected MTV comedy pilot for Awesometown.

Modi 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. Modi has stated that he prefers his birth name and uses "Kal Penn" only for professional purposes.

In January 2007, Modi appeared in the first four episodes of the sixth season of 24 as Ahmed Amar, a teenage terrorist. Modi says he nearly turned down the role due to personal ethics, stating, "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, Modi received the Asian Excellence Award for Outstanding Actor for his performance in The Namesake.

In fall 2007, Modi 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". Modi continued with the series through to the episode "Simple Explanation", which aired April 6, 2009. He made an additional appearance as 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, Kal Modi could not be present for the filming of this episode. The clip of him saying "Too bad it wasn't true" was taken from a previous filming.

Political interests

Modi was an advocate for Barack Obama's presidential campaign in 2008 and a member of Obama's National Arts Policy Committee. He appears in the Barack Obama 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, Modi 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 serves as a liaison with the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities. He has gone back to using his birth name, Kalpen Modi.

Personal life

In spring 2008, Modi served as a visiting lecturer in Asian American Studies at the University of Pennsylvaniamarker. He taught two courses, "Images of Asian Americans in the Media" and "Contemporary American Teen Films."

Modi is currently working on a graduate certificate in international security from Stanford Universitymarker.



Year Title Role Notes
1998 Express: Aisle to Glory Jackie Newton
1999 Freshman Ajay
2001 American Desi Ajay Pandya
2002 Hector Kendal Cunningham
National Lampoon's Van Wilder Taj Badalandabad
Badger Sanjay
2003 Cosmopolitan Vandana's fiancé
Love Don't Cost a Thing Kenneth Warman
Malibu's Most Wanted Hadji
Dude, Where's the Party? Mo (Mohan Bakshi)
2004 Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle Kumar Patel
Ball & Chain Bobby
2005 Dancing in Twilight Sam
Son of the Mask Jorge
A Lot Like Love Jeeter
Sueño Raj
2006 Man About Town Alan Fineberg
Bachelor Party Vegas Z-Bob
Superman Returns Stanford
Deck The Halls Amit Sayid
National Lampoon's Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj Taj Badalandabad
2007 The Namesake Gogol/Nikhil Ganguli
Epic Movie Edward
2008 Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay Kumar Patel
Under New Management Wheeler in production
2009 Bhopal: Prayer for Rain TBA completed
2009 A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas Kumar Patel In Production

Television roles

Year Title Role
1999 Brookfield Kumar Zimmerman
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Hunt
2000 Sabrina, the Teenage Witch Prajeeb
Spin City Buddy
2001 Angel Fez Boy
ER Narajan
NYPD Blue Solomon Al-Ramai
The Agency Malek
2003 All About the Andersons George
Tru Calling Steven
2004 Homeland Security Harrison
2006 The Danny Comden Project Max
2007 Law and Order: Special Victims Unit Henry Chanoor
24 Ahmed Amar
2007-2009 House, M.D. Dr. Lawrence Kutner


  1. Ausiello, Michael. "'House' exclusive: The shocking story behind last night's big death", Entertainment Weekly, 2009-04-07. Retrieved 2009-04-07.
  2. It'll be the White House for Kal Penn now., 2009-04-07. Retrieved 2009-04-07.
  3. Chhabra, Aseem. Kal Penn: Hollywood's Desi No1!., 2005-04-22. Retrieved 2009-04-07.
  4. Kal Penn's The Rachel Maddow Show appearance (airdate April 10, 2009)
  5. Ahmad, Nakasha. "Kal Penn Goes To Hollywood". Nirali Magazine, 2004-09-01. Retrieved 2009-04-07.
  6. Yuan, Jada. "The White-Castle Ceiling". New York, 2007-03-04. Retrieved 2009-04-07.
  7. Asian Excellence Awards - Winners (archive)
  8. Penn, Kal. "Open Letter to Two Undeclared College Superdelegates". The Huffington Post, 2008-05-11. Retrieved 2009-04-07.
  9. Joshi, Monika. "Actor Kal Penn roots for Obama"., 2008-02-04. Retrieved 2009-04-07.
  10. "It'll be the White House for Kal Penn now"., 2009-04-07. Retrieved 2009-04-07.
  12. "New role in Obama White House"
  13. Choudhury, Uttara. "You can call me Kalpen Modi". DNA (Daily News & Analysis), 2009-07-08. Retrieved 2009-08-18.
  14. Actor Kal Penn to Teach at the University of Pennsylvania. University of Pennsylvania Office of University Communications, 2007-03-26. Retrieved 2009-04-07.
  15. Schwedel, Heather. "Kal Penn to teach at Penn". The Daily Pennsylvanian, 2007-03-26. Retrieved 2009-04-07.
  16. Asian American Studies Program at University of Pennsylvania

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