In The Know

Kal Penn says the Obamas made fun of him for applying to White House job through website

Kal Penn says he didn’t hit up any Hollywood connections to get his gig in the White House, and former President Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama lightly roasted him for applying through the government’s website.

The “Harold and Kumar” star details his transition from a 2008 Obama campaign organizer and “House” actor to Washington in his new memoir released Tuesday titled “You Can’t be Serious.”

“I didn’t want people to perceive me as someone who was leveraging what modest artistic fame he had to get a serious job in the administration by making endless rounds of phone calls,” Penn wrote of his view after Obama’s White House win. “if they were going to hire me, I wanted it to be on merit.”

Instead, Penn said, he headed to his computer.

“I decided that the right thing to do was what I assumed most of the thousands of people who worked on the campaign were doing: I followed the directions on how to apply for a job on change.gov. I filled out a form, attached my résumé, and hit Upload.”

After not getting a call for two months, Penn wrote, “It bummed me out to know I wasn’t qualified for a job in the incoming administration, but I still felt so lucky for the creative career I was passionate about.”

Until the 44-year-old performer’s manager happened to mention the entertainer’s online application to the future first lady when Penn was backstage at Obama’s inaugural concert.

After an embarrassed Penn confirmed his change.gov job attempt, Michelle Obama replied, “ ‘You did what?’ (She was obviously trying to confirm if I was as naive as I looked.)”

“In hearing that I — despite having been with the campaign since before the Iowa caucuses — had anonymously uploaded my résumé to the website, without bothering to follow up in any serious way, the soon-to-be first lady seemed almost… offended,” Penn recalled.

“As someone of exceptional intelligence and honesty, Mrs. Obama has a low threshold for bullshit. Her expression changed. No longer bemused or pleasantly surprised, she gave me the look you’d give someone if they dropped a piece of pizza on the ground and then picked it up and ate it in front of you,” he wrote.

Penn said the president-elect had his own response when his wife called him over to tell him the change.gov saga: “Unlike his wife, he seemed very amused. ‘Man, you applied on change.gov and didn’t tell anyone? Why didn’t you just call me?'”

Penn landed in his new non-Hollywood role, as the White House’s associate director of public engagement, after a phone call with one of Obama’s aides and an interview with adviser Valerie Jarrett.

“As the interview wrapped up, I needed to settle any jitters I had about the reasons for my employment once and for all. ‘Valerie,’ I began, ‘can you assure me I’m not being hired just because I’m a recognizable actor?'”

Penn said that Jarrett looked him in the eye before saying, ” ‘I can assure you’ she smiled politely — ‘that you’re being hired in spite of it.'”

Penn’s personal life also made headlines this week — he revealed in the book that he’s engaged to his partner of 11 years, Josh. The couple met while Penn was working in Washington.

Tags Barack Obama Harold and Kumar House Kal Penn Michelle Obama Obama White House Valerie Jarrett

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