Kal Penn on his book: “Maybe I have a story to tell”
How is the book you wrote different from the book you are about to write?
I was sure I wanted to share two stories: one about my parents and their upbringing; and the story of how Josh and I met. He showed up with a pack of 18 Coors and turned my TV from “SpongeBob” to NASCAR. I thought, “This guy is leaving here in 40 minutes with 16 beers.” So the fact that we’re together 11 years later is funny because so many people have dating stories gone wrong but now they’re married and have kids.
Basically, there was no ending. I’ve always struggled with this. I thought it was going to take some sort of positive conclusion, a story of triumph after years of typography and racism. And then “Sunnyside” happened. I sold this show after I had already started writing the book. There’s a chapter I’m writing about how this really is the show of my dreams: a big network [NBC], a diverse patriotic comedy that would hopefully bring people together and make them laugh.
And then it gradually collapsed. With everything else in the book, I have the perspective of time. It was still raw. I ended up putting it as the last real chapter because it’s a perfect example of how much has changed and how much still needs to change.
We often think of goals like this: Everything is set now, so end of story. In reality, everything is a constant jumble of back and forth.
What creative person who isn’t a writer has influenced you and your work?
I always say Mira Nair, and I would have said that years ago, before this book was ever on the table. His second movie, “Mississippi Masala,” came out when I was in eighth grade. It was the first time I saw South Asian characters on screen that weren’t stereotypes or cartoon characters.
They were deeply flawed and deeply interesting humans. They make love, they have financial problems. And that happened around the time that “The Wiz” happened, so she was one of the people who inspired me to pursue a career in the arts.
So when I had the chance to work with her on “The Namesake” it meant a lot to me. And “The Namesake”, the novel – the writing of Jhumpa Lahiri was introduced to me by John Cho, of “Harold & Kumar”. All of these intersecting influences are very meaningful to me.