We got a lot of comments in other threads about this story, and when a successful actor decides to go to the real West Wing, it’s worth a comment or two. Kal Penn, best known for the Harold and Kumar series of movies, left the TV series House to take another gig — as a White House staffer for Barack Obama:
We’ve had actors-turned-mayors, and actors-turned-governors . . . but actors-turned-White House staffers? That’s a new one!
“House” star Kal Penn — whose character was killed off on Monday’s episode — is taking a sabbatical from acting to work for President Obama. The 31-year-old actor, first launched to fame as a stoner student in the “Harold and Kumar” movies, is coming to Washington to be associate director in the White House Office of Public Liaison, Entertainment Weekly first reported yesterday. …
“Associate directors” at the White House job earn somewhere in the $60,000-$70,000 range per year; Penn wouldn’t say exactly how much he made on “House,” but TV actors at his level make around $50,000 per episode. Producers of the Fox drama said they were “thrilled” for him when they found out he was leaving to work for Obama, then pulled off a major surprise by having his character, Dr. Lawrence Kutner, unexpectedly commit suicide.
Actually, I found the suicide to be the most objectionable part of the story, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because the series treated suicide as an easy way out of a staffing jam rather than a serious subject. It seems almost grotesque to concoct a character’s suicide just to get the actor a gig in politics. Why not just give the character a job somewhere else?
I give kudos to Penn for pursuing public service at a large personal cost, at least financially. Public service can be honorable, and Penn deserves credit for choosing to work in that arena, even if I don’t necessarily agree with Penn on politics. I felt the same way when Tony Snow gave up his financially lucrative talk-show career to bring order back to the Bush press office, giving service to his country.
At least this celebrity appointment has a job well within his competency. Unlike the Treasury Secretary who couldn’t do his taxes, the Commerce Secretary appointment who never worked in the private sector (and was under investigation for corruption in his home state), and the Secretary of State whose most notable item on her diplomatic resumé was the Tuzla Dash, Penn has a job he can handle.