Kal Penn of 'Harold & Kumar' at convention: killing it or buzzkill?

Actor Kal Penn – stoner Kumar in the 'Harold & Kumar' movies – will host the livestreaming of Obama's speech on Thursday night. His appearance at the DNC on Tuesday was well-received.

Scott Applewhite/AP
Actor Kal Penn addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday.

Is Kal Penn – the actor who plays Kumar in the "Harold & Kumar" movies – a breakout star of the Democratic National Convention?

His speech to delegates Tuesday was very well received, a fact that got swamped by all the attention devoted to Michelle Obama after she appeared later in the day. Of course, Mr. Penn’s a professional, so it should not be a surprise that he was fairly smooth. In the address he noted that besides making movies he has worked in the White House Office of Public Engagement under President Obama.

“My favorite job was having a boss who gave the order to take out bin Laden – and who’s cool with all of us getting gay-married. Thank you, invisible man in the chair for that.”

You understand the “invisible man” reference, right? He’s taking a dig there at Clint Eastwood, whose speech to an invisible Mr. Obama was one of the highlights of the Republican National Convention. Or lowlights, depending on whether you thought it was odd.

Anyway, the partisan Democratic crowd loved it, and now he’s a Twitter star, with everybody discussing his speech under the hashtag he asked them to use, #sexyface.

He also made fun of the profanity-prone Rahm Emmanuel, a former Obama chief and current mayor of Chicago, who also spoke Tuesday.

“I really enjoyed listening to Rahm’s speech. But he’s a mayor now, so he can’t use four-letter words,” said Penn.

OK, maybe that’s funnier if you’ve heard Emmanuel swear, because it is terrifying when he’s on a roll.

Penn’s getting highlighted at the DNC in part because he’s hosting the livestream of Obama’s speech on Thursday night, and they’re trying to build traffic. In that sense his appearance was like a network TV ad for an upcoming show. The Obama campaign Tuesday released an ad in which Obama places a phone call to tell someone he’s counting on them. Cut to Harold and Kumar, aka actors John Cho and Penn, in character.

“Who was that?” asks Harold.

“The president,” says Kumar.

“Sweet,” says Harold. Then they both laugh at a cartoon they’re watching, and the ad cuts again, to a promotion of the livestream.

We’ve noted this is pretty edgy, in that Harold and Kumar are stoners in their movies, and they’re acting pretty, uh, out of it in the ad. Didn’t Obama used to belong to a “Choom gang” that smoked a lot of pot? Do they care if that comes up again?

Apparently not, because Penn’s back with another video released Wednesday. OK, it’s more of a clip, and he’s not pretending to be stoned. He’s interviewing VP Joe Biden, and he says to Joe, “There are a lot of pictures of you with your aviators on, and people love them. Do you have them on you right now?

Biden then pulls a pair of aviator-style sunglasses out from under his suit jacket.

“I tell you what, I’ve been wearing these since I was 17 years old,” says the Veep.

“I have mine,” replies Penn. “So for our friends on the Internet, thank you very much.”

They both put on their sunglasses, then they fist bump. Cut to an ad for a full-length interview between the pair that’s set to air prior to Obama’s Thursday acceptance speech.

OK, first Penn pretended to be a stoner, now he’s yucking it up with a VP who gets criticized for being a bit of a loose cannon – what’s going on here? The Obama team needs all the youth vote it can get, obviously, and they’re doing all they can to get the under-30 crowd energized. Still, it’s edgy, at least by the old standards of presidential campaigning.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.