In a political season stocked with unusual events—presidential candidates and their spouses visiting the state more often than Elton John, for instance—another unexpected turn occurred Sunday morning when stoner icon Kal Penn, aka Kumar from the cannabis-fueled cult favorite Harold and Kumar film franchise, stopped in western Montana to stump for Sen. Barack Obama.
Dressed in jeans and an un-tucked button-down shirt, the recognizable Indian-American actor—he also starred in 2006’s critically acclaimed The Namesake—rallied a crowd of approximately 75 mostly young supporters at Obama’s campaign office on Front Street before joining them in a door-to-door canvassing effort.
“Volunteering for Senator Obama and helping him in the race to the White House is much more exciting than any late-night run to White Castle,” said Penn, 31, referencing Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle in an interview with the Indy. “The thing is, I couldn’t be more unlike my character. When I got that role all my friends were like, ‘You mean you’re actually going to play someone cool?’ I’m not very cool. I don’t smoke weed. And when we filmed that first movie I was a vegetarian. Trust me when I say these are two totally different worlds.”
Indeed. In the real world, Penn, who also teaches two media classes at the University of Pennsylvania, has spent the past six months volunteering for Obama. His first visit to Montana marked the 15th state he’s visited in support of the candidate. At the Missoula event, Penn explained how he got involved in the campaign—idle time during the recent Hollywood writers’ strike allowed him to volunteer in Iowa—and answered questions from the audience. For the record, he believes Guantanamo Bay should be closed (a question in reference to his latest movie, Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay). The rest of the queries related to the campaign.
“It’s always journalists who seem to ask about Harold and Kumar, which is fine,” said Penn. “I understand that. Honestly, and I think you saw it in there, when I speak to volunteers they want to know about what it’s like to go door-to-door or work a phone bank. Most of these people are volunteering for the first time and, like me, just want to do whatever they can for Senator Obama.”