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Kal Penn opens up about his memoir and engagement to longtime partner Josh

The actor shared about his relationship and other details from his new memoir, “You Can’t Be Serious,” during a visit to TODAY.
/ Source: TODAY

Fans of Kal Penn have been congratulating him on social media since revealing in his new memoir he and his partner of 11 years, Josh, are engaged.

But as the 44-year-old former White House staffer and actor revealed during a sit down on TODAY Monday morning, while their betrothal is fresh for those fans, it’s old news for the husbands-to-be.

“Actually, I have to say, we got engaged like two years ago,” he shared with a laugh.

Penn hadn’t publicly shared his romance with Josh, whose last name is kept private, until Penn opened up about their love story in a chapter of his memoir, “You Can’t Be Serious,” out Tuesday.

“I tell the story about how we met, how we fell in love through NASCAR, which is another unlikely story,” he said of the details he covers in the book.

But no matter how unlikely, it’s all true.

Kal Penn and guest attend Los Angeles Clippers v New York Knicks game at Madison Square Garden on March 24, 2019.
Kal Penn and fiancé Josh attend Los Angeles Clippers v New York Knicks game at Madison Square Garden on March 24, 2019.James Devaney / Getty Images

“I went camping as a kid a lot; Josh went camping, too, even though we have two totally different upbringings — he’s from Mississippi,” Penn noted. “And I realized A, I never thought I’d enjoyed NASCAR as much as I do, and B, that story of meeting people from a totally different world through a shared experience, like camping or spending time with family.”

He added that he’s “very excited” about their romance, and he seems just as passionate about other topics he writes about in his memoir, including topics that focus on his own upbringing, as the son of Gujarati immigrant parents who wanted to make his way in Tinseltown.

"You Can't Be Serious," by Kal Penn
"You Can't Be Serious" is the new memoir from actor Kal Penn.

“I’ve had the privilege of this crazy, weird journey,” he told TODAY’s Al Roker and Sheinelle Jones. “I’ve struggled and triumphed in my favorite line of work, which is acting in Hollywood and making people laugh.”

Part of his inspiration to work in acting came down to a need for representation.

“I had not seen people who looked like me on screen growing up,” Penn continued. “It’s tough to explain to folks who’ve seen people who look like (them) on TV, what it feels like. When it’s absent, it feels like maybe your possibilities in our amazing country are limited somehow. And that shouldn’t be true.”

So he set out to broaden horizons in Hollywood. Not that it was easy.

“Just like anybody in any profession, you’re aware of your barriers to entry and you just want your résumé to be the best it can be,” he said, noting that in the early days, that meant trying out and taking roles that gave him pause.

“Auditioning for shows like ‘Sabrina the Teenage Witch,’ really fun show for kids, but I remember having an argument with one of the directors who said, ‘I want you to have an accent,’” he recalled. “And I said, ‘Well, I’d love to do it without an accent because I never got to grow up watching people who look and sound like me.’ ... And he goes, ‘Well, you should feel lucky that you’re allowed to be on the show to begin with. You’re doing the accent.’”

But it wasn’t long until the struggles gave way to opportunities.

“The silver lining to that was getting to work with John Cho making the ‘Harold & Kumar’ movies,” he said.

And in time, Penn went from “White Castle” all the way to the White House, becoming principal associate director of the public engagement during Barack Obama’s administration, which was another full-circle moment that tied back to his upbringing.

"My grandparents marched with Gandhi in the Indian independence movement," he said, tracing back his interests in activism and politics. "But when I was 7 years old, like grandma trying to coerce me into eating my vegetables was telling me stories of marching with Gandhi, the 7-year-old me is like, ‘OK grandma, here we go again, another story ...'"

But as he got older, he was inspired to get involved with endeavors outside of his acting work.

Penn covers all of that and more in the book he says he wrote for the "20-year-old version of me and for anybody out there who felt like that thing that they wanted to do was too crazy." He added, "If I succeed this book is like having a beer with me. Maybe four beers."

“You Can’t Be Serious” hits bookstores Tuesday, Nov. 2.