Kal Penn is taking over “The Daily Show” as guest host on Monday in a big way: a sit-down interview with President Joe Biden, marking the president’s first-ever interview on the Comedy Central program since taking office in 2020.
Penn, the actor known for starring in the “Harold and Kumar” film series, “House” and “Getting Warmer With Kal Penn,” memorably took a step back from Hollywood to become an Obama administration White House staffer in 2009.
He recently spoke to TheWrap about his high-profile interview with Biden, why he embraced the opportunity to merge his backgrounds in comedy and politics and living out a “dream come true” on “The Daily Show.”
“I’m very honored that the President of the United States is joining me as my first guest for my first night of hosting ‘The Daily Show,'” Penn said. “He was incredibly gracious.”
According to Penn, the interview with Biden will focus on the United States’ current “decision point.”
“The entire basis of our democracy is sort of – I don’t want to say up in the air because that sounds a little dramatic. But really the nature of what we know in terms of our decency, our unity, our democracy – those are all things that feel like they’re at risk, especially after the last two election cycles,” Penn explained. “I wanted to have a conversation with [President Biden] that kind of focused around hope and solutions as opposed to the just the doom and gloom stuff.”
Penn also recalled feeling frustrated during his time as a White House aide, noting that “people who were responsible for creating the political space for a head of state to act often didn’t feel rewarded for that work” – specifically citing young people who helped repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and who supported The Dream Act.
“There are all these young activists and advocates who never got the attention in the press that I thought not only they deserved, but that would be really helpful if other young people could hear about it,” he added.
Penn teased that the interview would cover a wide range of topics, from Biden’s climate legislation, the Stop Willow Project and the Inflation Reduction Act to the president’s journey to support marriage equality and how transgender kids are being impacted by legislation in Florida.
“None of his answers were like talking-points answers,” Penn said. “He really shared a lot about what goes into his decision making, which I’m hoping we can share with an audience that may not have gotten that exposure before.”
Penn revealed that he is most excited for “making an audience laugh in a way that also provides some sort of hope about what’s possible when we actually get involved in a civic process.” He added that his goal for the upcoming week is to transport viewers back to when “The Daily Show” first aired in 1996.
“To me, the Jon Stewart years were the pinnacle in the sense that it really combined my love for totally absurd sophomoric comedy with really high-level political chops,” Penn said. “The kind of conversations that he would have with people were interviews that you couldn’t really get on a CNN and obviously not on cable news – that’s the whole point of the satire of the show. The level of intimacy in those interviews, I always really appreciated. And the comedy, that translated through Trevor, who’s put his own spin on the show,” he said. “I’m hoping to kind of take you back to the 19-year-old me who would tune into Jon Stewart to laugh at a satirical take on the news but then also to see some in-depth interviews that I know I couldn’t see anywhere else.”
In addition to Penn, “The Daily Show” rotation of guest hosts has included Leslie Jones, Wanda Sykes, DL Hughley, Chelsea Hadler, Sarah Silverman, Hasan Minhaj and Marlon Wayans. Other upcoming guest hosts include Al Franken and John Leguizamo
“I’m such a huge fan of the people who have hosted so far, really the whole guest host lineup,” Penn said. “I just couldn’t believe that I was included in the company of these incredible people, and it’s also just awesome to see how they each brought their own thing to it.”
If given the opportunity, Penn said he would “love” to take over as host of “The Daily Show” permanently.
“I’ve had the chance to pre-tape a couple of sketches and my [interview with President Biden]. I can make as many dumb jokes as I want and they’re not gonna laugh at the ones that they don’t find funny, so it’s not a yes man situation,” he said. “But I can say whatever I want and we can have high-level political conversations in the same place. Usually, I had to go to two separate jobs to have those things happen. So the idea that this is all in one job, yeah, I would absolutely love to host … I hope I’m the person who gets the permanent gig. Absolutely.”
“The Daily Show” airs weeknights at 11 p.m. ET on Comedy Central. Watch a preview of Penn’s interview with Biden in the video above.