Actor Kal Penn, who worked in the White House in the Office of Public Engagement under President Barack Obama, told Kelly Clarkson in a recent interview that he nearly accepted an invitation to bring the then-president along to a ladies topless club during his first weeks on the job.
According to the Toronto Sun, the Designated Survivor and Harold and Kumar series star said he heard about the bar while he was getting a haircut at a barbershop near the White House.
Penn said he thought the owner invited him to a “tapas” bar and suggested he should bring the president with him.
“Imagine the TMZ story”
When he looked on the guy’s business card, it had the name of a topless bar instead, Penn recalled. He apparently told the White House about the mistake, and said Obama was “cool” about his grave error.
“I had to go in the next day and tell my boss what I did because I could only imagine the TMZ story: ‘Kumar promises strip club experience for White House staff,’” he laughed, according to the Sun.
Penn was hired to work at the White House in 2009 while still playing Dr. Lawrence Kutner on the TV medical drama, House, so the showrunners killed off his character by having him die by suicide, Screen Rant reported.
Penn reportedly stayed in government employment until 2013 and was part of Obama’s re-election committee, but eventually went back to acting.
The strip club incident wasn’t the only time the actor was embarrassed in front of Obama and then-First Lady Michelle. According to The Hill, Penn applied for the White House job on the website after volunteering in the first Obama presidential campaign, not wanting to leverage his acting experience to land the role.
He got no response to his application and was disappointed. In fact, his agent had to tell the Obamas at an event that he had applied, and he said they laughed at him for applying on the website instead of letting former campaign colleagues go to bat for him with the administration.
“Man, you applied on change.gov and didn’t tell anyone?” Penn remembered President Obama telling him, according to The Hill.
“Why didn’t you just call me?” the then-president reportedly added.
Penn finally interviewed for the position with Valerie Jarrett, who assured him that he was being hired “in spite of” his acting background, not because of it.