Kal Penn is well known for his work in the Harold and Kumar films and on such TV series as House and Designated Survivor, but in the late ’90s and early 2000s, he was an unknown trying to break into Hollywood. And as the Indian-American actor recalled Tuesday on Twitter, many of his early auditions featured blatant racial stereotypes.
“Found a bunch of old scripts from some of my first years trying to be an actor,” Penn wrote alongside a photo of a document calling for such characters as Gandhi Lookalike, Snake Charmers, and Fire Eaters.
Subsequent tweets highlighted roles like Parmesh, a “quirky, Indian lab buddy” whose language “is peppered with Indian cultural references,” and a “25 year old Pakistani computer geek who dresses like Beck and is in a perpetual state of perspiration.”
Referring to the latter role, Penn wrote, “This was one of my first commercials. The makeup people would use Vaseline to get the sweaty unwashed look going.”
Penn also pointed out that many roles called for him to speak with an accent for comedic effect, and several scripts included jokes about his characters’ names.
While calling out shows including Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Smart Guy, and The King of Queens, Penn noted that he had some “wonderful” experiences on projects like The Steve Harvey Show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and 24. He also held up House creator David Shore as an example of someone whose casting decisions are “largely color & gender blind” and have contributed to both creative and ratings success.
See the rest of Penn’s thread below.