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Kalpen Suresh Modi, better known by his screen name Kal Penn (born April 23, 1977 in Montclair, New Jersey) is the actor who portrayed Dr. Lawrence Kutner, one of the three new fellows House keeps on at the beginning of Season 4. His nicknames are "Hollywood" and "K-Kal". Penn left the series in Season 5 to take a staff position at the White House in the Barack Obama administration. However, he returned for the series finale. In total, he has over 40 movie and television credits to his name.


Modi's father was an engineer and his mother was a fragrance evaluator at a perfume company. He has one younger brother. His family originally came from the Gujarat, India and his grandparents were involved with the Indian independence movement. Like most people of Hindu heritage, Modi doesn't smoke, doesn't drink, and is a strict vegetarian.

He attended middle school at the Marlboro Middle School in Marlboro, New Jersey and played baritone saxophone in the school band. He then attended Howell High School's Academy for The Fine and Performing Arts for three years, finishing his senior year at Freehold Township High School, being active in the theatre program at both schools. He then attended university at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) with a double major in film and sociology.

His film career started in 1988 with Express: Aisle to Glory. It was at this time he changed his stage name to "Kal Penn", largely to disprove to his friends that his Indian surname was affecting his ability to obtain acting work. Instead, to his dismay, his callbacks rose 50%. He still prefers to be addressed by his birth name.

However, he was largely cast in roles that relied on his Asian heritage as part of the story line (most notably as "Taj" in Van Wilder and Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj). However, he soon found his signature role as an ordinary American wrapped up in events beyond his control.

Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle

In collaboration with his good friend John Cho, Modi helped develop a movie where two Asians fight against common stereotypes in an attempt to be portrayed as regular Americans. It was perhaps the first American movie to feature a pair of protagonists who were of neither European, African or Native American descent. Modi plays "Kumar Patel" (in truth, one of the most common names among people of Indian heritage - almost the equivalent of "John Smith"), a bright young university graduate who learned calculus at the age of 12 and already knows enough medicine to successfully perform surgery. However, he is rebelling against the expectations of his family, particularly his father and older brother, who are both doctors. As a result, he totally blows off his medical school admissions interview. With his friend and roommate Harold Lee (Cho), the son of Korean immigrants who has an entry position at a merchant bank, they decide to grab some burgers but can't find a local branch of the eponymous chain. They are also sidetracked trying to find a new source of marijuana. During their trip, they are waylaid by a number of people with hostile agendas, including the racist police department, a team of "kayakers" who kayak over non-water obstacles, and Kumar's idol - actor Neil Patrick Harris (who played the title role in the television comedy series Doogie Howser, M.D. about a 16 year old physician).

Harold & Kumar made back about twice its budget of $18 million in theatrical release, but became a big hit on video. This lead to the far more successful sequel Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay which took in over $100 million.

In April, 2010, Penn announced he would be leaving his position at the White House to work on a third installment of Harold & Kumar.


Modi established his range by playing "Ahmed Amar", a teenage terrorist of Islamic extraction who was seemingly living the suburban American dream on the popular Fox series.

He also played a villan, as one of the 3 helpers of Lex Luthor in "Superman Returns". A film directed in 2006 by Bryan Singer -

Lawrence Kutner

Kal Penn as Lawrence Kutner

Modi was cast as Number 6 in Season 4, one of many applicants for the three available fellowship spots on House's team. Like the other actors with speaking parts in the episode The Right Stuff, Modi was aware that the final casting would be decided by the writers and producers as the season unfolded. He turned out to be one of the successful actors along with colleagues Olivia Wilde and Peter Jacobson.

Politics intercede

Largely thanks to the early political involvement of his family, Modi has always been involved in politics and was an early supporter of Barack Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign, serving on Obama's National Arts Policy Committee. As a result, after Obama's election, Modi was asked to serve as Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. He took the position and now acts as a liaison with the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities. However, the change in career resulted in him having to be written out of the series. His character committed suicide in the episode Simple Explanation. Modi's last credit was for the season finale in Season 5 Both Sides Now where he appears as a hallucination. However, he did not actually appear to shoot the scene and the dialog was actually shot for another episode.

Kutner Memorial


Modi has acted as a visiting lecturer in the Asian Studies program and Film Studies program at the University of Pennsylvania, teaching courses on the portrayal of Asians in American Media and Contemporary Teenage Movies. He is also attending Stanford University to obtain a certificate in international security.


Modi won an Asian Excellence Award for Outstanding Actor for his work in the film The Namesake. He was also nominated for an MTV Movie Award (for Harold & Kumar), a Screen Actors Guild Award (as part of the cast of House), and a Teen Choice Award (for Harold & Kumar)

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