‘Maybe I Do Have a Story to Tell’: Kal Penn on His Memoir

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  • Nov. 1, 2021, 9:30 p.m. ET

Starring successful the buddy stoner drama “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” is bully worldly for a memoir. One mightiness deliberation that serving arsenic a staffer successful Barack Obama’s White House is bully worldly for different memoir, by a antithetic person. But the histrion Kal Penn writes astir some experiences successful “You Can’t Be Serious,” which Gallery Books volition people connected Tuesday.

The publication has attracted aboriginal attraction for its astir idiosyncratic detail: Penn is gay, and engaged to Josh, his spouse of 11 years. Their narration is conveyed successful 1 section that is mostly astir their earliest dates, during which they seemed comically mismatched.

Penn besides writes astir increasing up successful suburban New Jersey and afloat catching the acting bug portion performing successful a middle-school staging of “The Wiz.” He is candid astir his combat against the amusement industry’s inclination to formed actors of colour successful stereotypical roles. And helium recounts the “sabbatical” helium took aft establishing a Hollywood vocation to run for Obama and past service successful the nationalist engagement limb of his administration.

Below, Penn talks astir uncovering the communicative helium wanted to tell, the self-loathing helium archetypal felt portion penning it and the filmmaker who inspired his career.

When did you archetypal get the thought to constitute this book?

The archetypal idea, which I rejected, came the time I near the White House. My manager called me. I picture him successful the publication arsenic similar each quality from the TV amusement “Entourage” successful 1 person. Heart of golden but besides a lion.

And helium said, “You request to constitute a book. I’ll acceptable you up with meetings.” I said, “Dan, what americium I going to constitute a publication about?” He said, “There aren’t galore actors who person been successful politics.” I said, “The politician is virtually Arnold Schwarzenegger.” And the crushed I took the sabbatical was not to constitute a book. I don’t similar the optics of that and, much importantly, I don’t person a communicative to tell.

Later I thought, possibly I bash person a communicative to tell: I’d emotion to constitute a publication for the 20-year-old mentation of me. There was ne'er a publication that said, “This is however you navigate the amusement manufacture arsenic a young antheral of color.” And I’ve met a batch of radical who were told they’re brainsick for having aggregate passions. We’re successful a nine that conscionable doesn’t promote that benignant of thing. So I thought possibly my experiences mightiness marque idiosyncratic grin oregon consciousness a small much connected, and I had a accidental to enactment it unneurotic and constitute it during the pandemic.

What’s the astir astonishing happening you learned portion penning it?

There was a constituent 3 months into penning it erstwhile I felt the benignant of self-loathing that I haven’t felt since mediate school. I texted a clump of my writer friends, and they each either said, “Yeah, buddy, invited to being an author,” oregon “Why bash you deliberation truthful galore of america portion truthful overmuch Scotch?” Just a oversea of those types of responses.

Up until that point, I’d written fiction, fundamentally scripts and characters. It’s precise antithetic erstwhile you’re creating a quality oregon a plotline: That’s not you, you tin instrumentality a interruption from it. With this process, it’s “Oh my God, there’s nary escaping my ain brain.” I was not prepared for it.

In what mode is the publication you wrote antithetic from the publication you acceptable retired to write?

I was definite that I wanted to stock 2 stories: 1 astir my parents and their upbringing; and the communicative of however Josh and I met. He showed up with an 18-pack of Coors and turned my TV from “SpongeBob” to NASCAR. I thought, “This guy’s leaving present successful 40 minutes with 16 beers.” So the information that we’re unneurotic 11 years aboriginal is comic due to the fact that truthful galore radical person stories of dates that went awry but present they’re joined and person kids.

In the book’s outline, determination was nary ending. I ever struggled with that. I thought determination was going to person to beryllium immoderate benignant of a affirmative wrap-up, a communicative of triumph aft years of typecasting and racism. And past “Sunnyside” happened. I sold this amusement aft I had already started penning the book. There’s a section I constitute astir however it’s genuinely my imagination show: a large web [NBC], a diverse, patriotic drama that would hopefully bring radical unneurotic and marque them laugh.

And past it dilatory unraveled. With everything other successful the book, I person the position of time. This was inactive raw. I ended up putting it arsenic the past existent section due to the fact that it’s a cleanable illustration of however overmuch has changed and however overmuch has yet to change.

We often deliberation of goals as: Everything has present been fixed, truthful extremity of story. In reality, everything is simply a changeless messiness of backmost and forth.

What originative idiosyncratic who isn’t a writer has influenced you and your work?

I ever accidental Mira Nair, and I would person said this years ago, earlier this publication was ever connected the table. Her 2nd film, “Mississippi Masala,” came retired erstwhile I was successful eighth grade. It was the archetypal clip I’d seen South Asian characters onscreen that weren’t stereotypes oregon cartoon characters.

They were profoundly flawed, profoundly absorbing humans. They marque love, they person fiscal problems. And that happened astir the clip “The Wiz” happened, truthful she was 1 of the radical who inspired maine to prosecute a vocation successful the arts.

So erstwhile I got a accidental to enactment with her connected “The Namesake,” it meant a batch to me. And “The Namesake,” the caller — Jhumpa Lahiri’s penning was introduced to maine by John Cho, from “Harold & Kumar.” All of those influences intersecting are precise meaningful to me.

Persuade idiosyncratic to work “You Can’t Be Serious” successful 50 words oregon fewer.

If you privation to consciousness similar you’re having a brew with idiosyncratic who smoked weed with a fake president and served a existent one, whose grandparents marched with Gandhi and whose parents surely didn’t determination to America for him to descent disconnected a bare woman’s backmost successful his archetypal film.

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