Kal Penn may be known best for playing a stoner with a taste for bite-sized burgers—but the actor has made the leap to pop culture pundit as the host of National Geographic’s newest science series, The Big Picture.
“I think there’s an opportunity to create content that’s amusing, entertaining, engaging and educational all at the same time,” Penn says about the data-driven show, which presents subjects ranging from sports (the location in Louisiana that’s yielded the most NFL players) to crime (how D.C.-area gangs use social media to fight for their territory). “We get to really look at the humor of the human experience.”
His favorite episode features a statistical look at a neighborhood with the highest rate of STDs in the country. (It just happens to be a Florida retirement community.) “It would have been very easy to run a segment about old people having sex, like ‘That’s crazy or gross,’” the 37-year-old notes. “But we didn’t want to focus on their age as much as the beauty of finding love at a certain age… Basically, you have these 90 year olds behaving like they’re 16, and it’s really cute and funny.”
The case study calls into question the lack of sex education in older populations, which is just one of the human interest topics Penn says he looks forward to tackling in the show’s inaugural season. And though the series definitely has a family-friendly bent, the Battle Creek star says he hasn’t forgotten about his original fans: “This is a show that stoned college kids would enjoy,” he says with a laugh.
But on to more serious topics. Does Penn—who served a two-year stint as President Obama’s associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement before returning to acting full-time with roles in How I Met Your Mother and House—plan to return to politics in the upcoming election season?
“I haven’t really thought about the 2016 election just yet. I think it’s still pretty far out there,” says Penn, who currently serves on the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. “I haven’t really decided.”
While we think that leaves plenty of time for Penn to reunite with Jon Cho on a millennial voter engagement campaign titled Harold & Kumar Go to the White House, Penn has other ideas. “Or maybe just another Harold & Kumar,” he says, chuckling.
The Big Picture with Kal Penn premieres March 30 at 9 p.m. ET.