For a couple years in the early stretch of the Obama administration, Kal Penn quit acting for politics. It wasn’t exactly a smooth transition. During an appearance on the podcast The New Abnormal, the actor — who’s promoting his new book You Can’t Be Serious (and still awaiting Cardi B to officiate his wedding) — opened up about how he managed to embarrass himself in front of both the former president and the former First Lady.
First there was Barack. Penn had been invited by his House co-star Olivia Wilde to an event for the him in 2007. He wanted to impress the then-presidential candidate, so he asked him about his thoughts on biofuels, paraphrasing an article he’d recently read on how using corn could drive up food prices in developing nations.
“He gave me that smirk and he goes, ‘oh yeah, I read that article in Foreign Affairs too,’” Penn recalled. “If you had read my website carefully you would’ve seen that I’m proposing investing in corn-based ethanol as a bridge to cellulosic ethanol so that we can make fuel from things like our grass clippings and the leaves that we rake in our front yards. And he gives me another smirk and walks off and Olivia is loving every f*cking minute of this. She’s like, ‘you just got schooled by Barack Obama.’”
Penn left the event so impressed with Obama that he joined his campaign and, late, his administration, ditching acting for about a year to become the associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. But before he landed that gig, he tried to get another D.C. job…by applying through change.gov like everyone else. He never heard back, of course.
At another Obama event, he wound up speaking with Michelle Obama, and he decided to tell her about his blunder.
“I told her I put my résumé on change.gov like the email said and she looked at me like I was the biggest idiot in the whole world and I realized probably how ridiculous it sounded,” Penn remembered. “She was so weirded out by this she called the president-elect over… and then looks at me and says, ‘Tell him what you just told me.’
“I said, ‘Well, sir, you know, I did apply for a job at the White House in case there was anything that I would be qualified doing.’ And he looks at me and says, ‘Who did you apply with?’ And then I was like oh God, this again. I said ‘I applied on change.gov.’ And unlike his wife he smirked at me and it was the same idea though, the smirk was like, ‘God, you idiot’ and he said something like, ‘Why didn’t you reach out to anybody?’”
The next day he got a call offering him the gig that would briefly take him away from Hollywood. But the experience of humiliating himself in front of both Barack and Michelle taught him a lesson: “My biggest takeaway from that experience was I’m a gigantic idiot.”
(Via The Daily Beast)