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November 30, 2022 46 mins

Minnie questions actor, author, and former White House staff member, Kal Penn. Kal shares stories of hearing his grandparents' stories of marching with Ghandi, first-hand experiences of systemic racism in auditions, and the secret ingredient to his favorite vegetarian tacos.

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
I've lived at l A off and on. I went
to undergrad there and then stayed for like ten years.
But this past spring I was working there and it's
the first time I lived by the beach. I grabbed
an Airbnb in Venice, and I will never not live
close to the beach. When I'm back in l A.
It was gorgeous. I was with some Caribbean friends in

(00:21):
New York. You know, We've been walking around and looking
on the things, and it was amazing and the whole thing.
And then we finally got to the Hudson and they
suddenly relaxed and they were like, thank God, like we
didn't know where the city breathed. I was like, I
gotta yeah, hello, I'm Mini driver. Welcome to Many Questions,

(00:45):
Season two. I've always loved Pruce's question. It was originally
a nineteenth century harl game where players would ask each
other thirty five questions aimed at revealing the other players
true nature. It's just scientific method really. In asking different
people the same set of questions, you can make observations

(01:06):
about which truths appeared to be universal. I love this discipline,
and it made me wonder, what if these questions were
just the jumping off point. What greater depths would be
revealed if I asked these questions as conversation starters with
thought leaders and trailblazers across all these different disciplines. So
I adapted prus questionnaire and I wrote my own seven

(01:27):
questions that I personally think a pertinent to a person's story.
They are when and where were you happiest? What is
the quality you like least about yourself? What relationship, real
or fictionalized, defines love for you? What question would you
most like answered, What person, place, or experience has shaped
you the most? What would be your last meal? And

(01:48):
can you tell me something in your life that's grown
out of a personal disaster? And I've gathered a group
of really remarkable people, ones that I am honored and
humbled to have the chance to engage with. You may
not hear their answers to all seven of these questions.
We've whittled it down to which questions felt closest to

(02:08):
their experience or the most surprising, or created the most
fertile ground to connect. My guest today is the actor, author,
and former OBAMA staff member cal pan Cal is an
extraordinary mix of creative talent, and intellectual acuity, which don't
always go hand in hand in my business. A native

(02:30):
of New Jersey and as keenly political as he is creative,
Cal has been a standard bearer for actors of Southeast
Asian heritage, bursting onto our screens with John Show in
the Harold and Kumar series. And his experience of casual,
systemic racism in Hollywood and how that is changing is

(02:50):
so clearly and candidly examined in our interview. Amongst many
other things, I will also forever hold close the idea
that for Cal, when I asked in what relationship, real
or fictionalized, defines love for him, he said the Muppets.
I hope you really enjoy this conversation as much as
I did. So, now, what person, place, or experience most

(03:17):
altered your life? I was gonna say, I will say
my grandparents, And I want to define that altering does
not imply that my life was going in one direction
and then it changed course. So I would say maybe
impacted because they so I got to know all four
grandparents when I was a kid. But the stories they

(03:39):
would they would tell us my grandparents, especially on my
mom's side, would talk about how they marched with Gandhi
and that those were the stories. So it was stories
like about literally, you know, you're they're trying to get
you to eat your vegetables. And so Grandpa's talking about
getting thrown in jail and beaten by British soldiers for
standing up for his human rights. And of course the

(04:00):
eight year old you was like, there he goes again,
Grandpa with another Gandhy story. So rolling eye, rolling story.
I'm this like American kid born and raised in the
suburbs of New York City, and I'm like, here we go.

(04:20):
But of course then when you understand as a kid,
you know, I think for me it was in sixth grade.
There was a very small section in our history book
that tied Gandhi a non violence of the disobedience to
Dr King. So you connected it, you connected it to like, yes,
they were still alive at that point. So I had
the chance to ask my grandparents questions. And my one

(04:42):
grandmother in particular didn't speak any English. So one of
the reasons that I am bilingual and fluently so is
because in order to communicate with her, I had to
learn a language called I wouldn't say it changed the
course of my life, but it offered perspective in a
certain type of grounding where recognizing the things like this
are not things that are in ancient history, but happened

(05:04):
to and have happened to, and involve our relatives, people
we've met and known and loved in our lifetimes, and
then the idea of and folks who are multi lingual
will will know this. I'm so grateful because Lord knows,
my high school French didn't turn out too hot. So
I'm very grateful for my grandparents being multi lingual because
it just offered a perspective on getting to know people

(05:26):
and being able to travel, and being able to travel
in another language that I don't think I would have
had the exposure to otherwise. Is the most spoken language
in India. I think it's something like they're they're sixty
or eighty million speakers. Because there are a billion people,

(05:47):
it makes it. Yeah, it's a it's a minority language. Regionally,
it's a smaller language, but by global standards, it's pretty big. Yeah,
I mean more than more than how many people are
in England. Yeah, I mean, goodness, Wow, I love the
e learned a language to be able to communicate with
your your grandma, Like, that's really, that's really wonderful. When

(06:11):
was the last time, when was the most recent time
that you use your good rat There's a movie on Netflix,
I think it's Netflix called Wrong Side Raju and it's
in good and I was like thumbing through. I was like,
wonder if they have any good language content, and they
did so I watched it and it was wonderful. Oh
my god, how brittains. Then maybe I will go and
check it out. The name again, Wrong Side Raju's okay? Good?

(06:47):
Will you tell me where and when you were happiest
in your life? Yes? And I was trying to think
about this. I had wished when I was thinking about
this answer, I was like, so, I'm a big astronomy nerd,
and I was like, I wish I had the hundred
million dollars to go into space talking about talking about
things that are morally questionable. By the way, forty five

(07:09):
minutes and you're not even in space, because he wasn't
in space. He was literally not in space. He was
just up high in the sky the wade. You are.
I annoyed about this, so annoyed by how much weightless
sure space? Not really you weren't really in deep space. Yeah,
so I was gonna I was gonna say I wish

(07:30):
I wish I'd done one of those. It would have
been my easy answer for me. I feel like part
of it in terms of, like, you know, where have
I been happiest. There was a work experience that I
had on a film called The Namesake, which is based
on a novel written by a wonderful author named jimpola
Here she won the Pulletzer for her first book, The

(07:50):
Interpreter of Melodies, and the film I had the chance
to play the one of the leads in the film
was directed by a woman named Mary, and I are
who she's InCred of all. She's amazing and she was
a role model of mine from the time I was
a kid. She's actually one of the reasons I decided
to become an actor because when I was a kid,
she had this movie come out called Mississippi Massala. I remember,

(08:13):
my god, it was incredible, the hottest, most beautiful, amazing movie.
And for folks I don't know Sta Childrey, Denzel Washington
and uh And the first time that you know, the
thirteen or fourteen year old me had seen characters on
screen who looked like me, who weren't played by people
in brown face or cartoon characters. My god, that was

(08:36):
how I wanted to look more than any other. I
mean once when I was a kid, it was Sigourney
Weaver because there was no one else that had the
same hair as I did. But Surrita in that film
was the most my It was my epitome of female beauty.
Oh wow. Basically walking out of that theater, I thought,
oh wow, these are these are families or characters that
that are like mine. And they're in addition to just

(08:59):
the the feeling of like why do I feel this way?
And and the characters also weren't one note right. They
were flawed, and they made mistakes, and they were racist,
and they had sex, and they all of the beautiful
and tragic things that happen in life were happening to
these characters. So it was one of those things where
I thought, well, if if this, if these women can

(09:20):
do it, then maybe it's something I can do as well.
And then in college, I remember waiting for hours there
was an announcement that Mire and I are was going
to speak on campus, and I went. It was I
think it was like a seven pm start time, and
I must have showed up at like three pm, and
I waited in line with my head shot. I was like, Okay,

(09:41):
I feel like if I sit in the front row
it's too eager. But if I sit like two rows back,
then I can get her my head shot at the end.
And I loved, you know, I loved her her conversation.
And at the very end I managed to kind of
get up to her and handed her my head shot
and she was very polite. She said, oh, how how lovely,
and that was obviously you don't from people when you
bombard them that way. Um. But that was in college,

(10:03):
and then two thousand and five or six, I had
the chance to work on the namesake. And I will
tell you I only had the chance to work on
the namesake because Mira's then fourteen year old son, Zaran,
was a huge fan of the Harold and Kamar Go
to White Castle film, and he apparently had shown her

(10:24):
the a trailer or a couple of clips from the
movie to say, hey, cal Penn would be perfect as
go Gol, the title character or the lead character in
the film, and Mira apparently saw this like silly stoner
movie and was like, this is obviously not the guy.
But I had written her a letter asking to audition

(10:45):
for the film because I heard she was casting it,
and I never heard back, and so I found out
that the reason that I was finally allowed audition was
because of her son. So basically he convinced her to
let me audition. Now, Harold and Kumar, I think one
of the reasons that I had tipped my myself or
the edge was I was one of the few South
Asian actors in those days who had a film credit

(11:05):
on his resume because of a comedy I did in
like two thousand and two thousand and one called Van
Wilder with Ryan Reynolds. His first was his first big thing,
and the name of the character was taj Mahal that
I played like it was this it was I had
a great I mean I I have a book that

(11:26):
recently came out where I talked about the whole story
about getting cast in it and and how gracious by
the way both Ryan and Terry Reid were. But to
go from like that first job where you're an actor,
you take what you're gonna get right and you build
your resume from it. But the problematic nature of playing
a guy named taj Mahal, to that leading to the
Harold and Kumar movies, to that then leading to the Namesake,
where I get to work with a woman who is

(11:48):
one of the reasons that I decided to be an
actor to begin with, and then starting on that project
and realizing it was, especially in two thousand five, guys
who look like me don't get to do literary adaptations
that are that are beautiful dramas. You're right, because now
you know, I look at I don't know, Depitel, that's
like just total movie stars. But in two thousand five,

(12:11):
you're right, Yeah, you were so for all those reasons.
When you say when were you most happiest? I was like,
isn't a cop out to mention something work related? And
I thought, you know, it's not, because the whole reason
we love art and storytelling sometimes it's tied into so
much more, including the fourteen year old me and the
twenty six year old me and then the twenty eight

(12:31):
year old me, and you know, it's just at every
iteration when there's something like that that inspires you, and
then you have the chance to work with those people.
I can't even describe how content I was and how
much I felt like I was able to excel in
my craft during that period of time. I completely understand that,
and I think it's so connected. And also, your desire
was the straight shot. Everything else was just constantly bisecting

(12:55):
the straight shot of your kind of intention. But the
fact that it does, it doesn't necessarily come in the
way that you thought it should. It didn't. You know,
maybe you thought that you would hand her your head
shot and it would all sort of happen then, and
it's like, no, and actually it's still not going to
happen in a super competitive audition process. But then a
fourteen year old kid who's seen this movie, I love

(13:17):
it when happiness is genuinely in the gray areas. It's
not in the it's often not in the way in
which we divine it should be. Yeah, yeah, that's right.
How amazing. Also, the fact that Mirror and I would
be this continuous creative punctuation through your story, I think

(13:37):
that's really I think that's really amazing. I'm also I
cannot believe that the character in Van Wilder was called
I don't. I don't think I'm ever going to get
over that. It's shocking. It is absolutely shocking that that
was only that was that was two thousand five, Like,
it's not that, I mean, that's not that long ago.
Two thou Well, I'll one up you if you're if

(13:57):
you're surprised by that, because you're ready. It wasn't that
long ago. I think every actor goes through this in
the appropriate comparison. But you know, sometimes you audition for
stuff and you you want to know if you're gonna
get it, and you're not sure if you're gonna take it,
and so this was one of those things where I
was like, let me just see because I know I'm
a I'm a I'm an aspiring actor. At that point,
I was like, let me see if I get this job,
because I need a credit on my resume. In the realities,

(14:20):
I know, I know what people think I look like,
and so if I'm going to get credits on my resume,
I'm gonna probably have to do some of these types
of of parts. And so I remember going back for
callbacks and I knew what the last callback. I was
told it's between you and another guy, and I didn't
know who he was. And the issue with diversities, of course,
it's never a question of there aren't enough actors. It's

(14:42):
you know, everybody, there's so many talented actors to choose from.
And so I walk into the room and the other
guy had arrived before me, and it was a white
dude in brown face. I'm not kidding, and any any um,
any question that I had about whether I was going

(15:04):
to take the part if I got it, all went
out the window because I saw this dude sitting there
and I was like, oh, yeah, no, you're not allowed
to play this. You can play Brandon from Iowa all
you want, because you're gonna get tons of aliens or
stuff like that. And it made the decision a lot
easier because I thought, no, so the choices like this
dude gets a credit on his resume or I do.
And I don't know how your approaches, but I rarely

(15:26):
have beef with other actors in any situation, especially even
a situation like this, because I understand the desperation of
wanting a job and how competitive the field is. So
I was more curious. I was like, Okay, here's the deal.
My god, did this guy he like, did his agent
tell him to paint his face or did he decide
to do that on his own. Number two, it's a callback.

(15:49):
Had he painted his face before and everyone was cool
with that? Number Three? Where did he do it? Did
he paint his face at home? If so, did it
increase his chances of getting pulled over by the car?
Or did he come to the audition and then paying
his face in the bathroom? That was all the stuff.
I was so fascinated. I'm just I know, and I
know that you're you're laughing and you're brilliant and you

(16:11):
have long metabolized this. But it's like the awful sort
of passive sexual assaults that happen on female actors all
the time, and how one just sort of metabolized and
it becomes part of your narrative. But it's only like
when I tell that story people, I think they're going
to laugh or they're like, oh my goodness, they don't,
and like hearing you, hearing you tell that story, like

(16:33):
of what of what that must have been like like
walking into I just I'm I'm I'm so, I'm so shocked.
And I'm also it makes where we are now in
terms of this business that we're in, because I know
it is really local to what is happening in Hollywood,
where we are seeing significant change and inclusion is actively

(16:54):
being pursued, that I sort of feel like perhaps the
boat is turning, but still you you're so good humored
about something that is I thought that didn't happen after
Fisher Stevens like brown based in Short Search, which is
still one of the most insane things I've ever seen
in my life. Like now to watch that film, it's yeah, no,

(17:16):
it still happens. I mean, look, the reason I laugh
about it, the reason that I in in the book
and especially in the audiobook because I read it myself
for this particular reason is like, you know, the the
one of the many reasons that I laugh about things
like that, not that it doesn't happen. It happened. As
recently is the live action Aladdin, where a lot of
extras were painted apparently, and Disney, who I happily have

(17:39):
worked for and hope to continue to work for, I
think their their statement was something like, well, it wasn't
possible to hire enough brown background actors, and they were
they were shooting in fucking London. I mean, come on, really,
that's not what the real answer to that is. We
didn't want to invest the financial resources in getting them all.
It's not that they don't exist. Are you gonna have

(18:00):
to work a tiny bit harder to find them? Maybe?
And there were there were some lively conversations about it
where I think, thankfully, like you had mentioned, people within
the industry, we're like, oh, yeah, that's not a thing.
That's cool. We shouldn't. We shouldn't. We can we can
do better, right collect, we can better. But the biggest
reason I laugh about telling those stories is I'm so
happy with being able to turn on the TV today
and just seeing so much diversity in terms of content.

(18:23):
And I don't even just mean the ethnic or gender diversity.
I'm talking like you turn on some of these shows
and it's stuff that I couldn't have conceived of, would
would even be a show ten years ago, or something,
you know, something like never have I ever write so
many South Asian characters of a different generation like two
below mine. I never would have thought that we'd ever

(18:44):
see something like that. So it's I tell those stories
in a good natured way, I think, because I'm so
happy with how much our industry has progressed, And to
your point, there's obviously so much more work that still
needs to be done. But it's a nice I think
it's a nice moment in the last few years. Yeah,
I also think that I've realized that the way in
which people metabolize hard conversations is often when there is

(19:08):
and even though it seems to fall on the shoulder
of the person to whom that bad ship has happened,
but when you being able to tell it, tell that
story in such an erudite, funny, clever way. It's like,
but again, I find that awful because I'm like, oh, well,
you know, Cal's giving me permission to laugh and be

(19:29):
okay with this. You should laugh. Yeah, I feel like
it is it is better to laugh than to feel
still in a ditch around that stuff. And I laugh
telling the stories of being aggressed upon by revolting casting directors,
directors and whomever it was. Yeah, your point is so
well taken because it reminds me of I think it's
it's difficult if if these conversations are overly sanitized, it's

(19:53):
difficult to explain, Like I remember Twitter, By the way,
Twitter mentions obviously are not a good barometer on taking
the temperature on anything, but but whether it's whether it's
Twitter or people who will actually have conversations with you.
I remember a couple of people said, why are you
whining about something like like a Laddin brown face when
you played that that character in Van Wilder, And I

(20:17):
realized that if these conversations are overly sanitized, and you
don't have any experience with the story that somebody is
telling you, and if you've always grown up seeing characters
who look like you on screen, it's very difficult to
succinctly explain to somebody when you're absent from what you
see every day, from every cultural reference point, you feel

(20:38):
as a kid like your your options are limited in life.
You just feel that way. It just is I'm not
I'm not I'm not telling you that you should feel
differently because your experience isn't that. But your point I
think that you made about about casting directors and about
being pitted against each other is there's so much nuance
to these conversations and in order to actually tell those

(20:59):
stories again, which is why I try to use humor,
because I think it draws people into curiosity. Is then
I think it sets the tone for the complexity of
what that is and ultimately what we all want, which
is to move beyond that and celebrate what is possible
instead of just looking backwards. Absolutely, there is simply no
way of me, a white person, knowing what it is

(21:21):
like to not grow up seeing myself represented because it's
all I've I've ever known. And I think that, like
you said, what's happening now where you just turn on
the television and it's across the board. It's not just
about color or gender. It's about it's about everything that
has been marginalized and turned into fringe that is now
being pulled into this crucible of like cultural awareness, which
is that's how we change. It's where it's where change,

(21:45):
meaningful change happens. I think what relationship, real or fictionalized,
defines love? For you, the Muppets, I can tell from

(22:12):
the look on your face that nobody has said this before,
And I'm not sure if that's a good thing, But
I'm not now that you say it, I'm not sure
why no one has said it before, because of course
they define love, please please continue. Just it's love for
each other, obviously with all of the complexities that come
along with that. And I'm not just talking about Kermit

(22:33):
and Ms Piggy and a love for what they do,
because there's such an obvious love for the audience as
the the extension of that fourth wall, that it's all
a celebration of what they're doing. All of it is
based in the love of this collective thing. And I
just think it's the coolest thing. It's so true. What

(22:54):
was it? It's time to put on makeup, It's time
to like the whole thing is about the show. I
love that you chose the Muppets, and also that it's fictional,
because I often all my great loves have been fictional.
Did you watch a lot of Muppets when you were
a child? I did, and still Who is Your Well?
I was called animal at school. That was one of

(23:15):
my nicknames that people called me because I had crazy
hair and I was really sort of tall and thin
with had like the top of a palm tree. Who
is who is your most beloved Muppet? I have always
been gravitated towards Kermit. But I will tell you why.
I know that you assume it's because, okay, well, he's

(23:37):
like the leader, and you're you know, and the poet.
It's it is all of those things. But the real reason,
the real reason is that he is the only one
who appears on both The Muppet Show and Sesame Street.
He does both, and so I was always very very

(23:57):
in all of the fact that that dude had two jobs.
I could watch him in the morning on Sesame Street
and then he was also on The Muppet Show in
the evening. By the way, that is also a really
South Asian work ethic coming out right there. That is
fully cultural of Absolutely, that's one in the morning and

(24:20):
one in the evening. That's something that nineteen uncles would
probably point out. Yes, that's fantastic. I've never thought about that,
and you're absolutely right. I love Kermit. I love him. Also,
the Willie Nelson version of Rainbow Connection is honestly, I
don't think I've ever not cried listening to that song.

(24:45):
What question would you most like answered? Oh boy, I
was about to say, what happens after you die? But
the answer is nothing. Well, you don't know that. You
definitely don't know that that is the us. That's true,
that's true, that's true. I mean there's nothing, there's nothing

(25:05):
for your body. But I don't know who knows that
that that that the kinetic doesn't kicker carry on? Yeah,
I guess I would like answered where where specifically the
the closest civilization is outside of out Oh that's good.

(25:27):
And now you see I'm really thinking about that because
I've had all kinds of aliens and after we die answers,
which are always fun to think about, but actually thinking
where geographically or where whatever the word can you use
geographical if it's not pertaining like to the Earth surface,
that can you use that in the universe? Is should
there be a word we can We've just decided that

(25:48):
that's acceptable. Great. I'm so glad that the King and Queen.
What's the new telescope? What's the good the web? The
James Web telescope, which, by the way, someone wrote something
so funny. They were like the day after they showed
those pictures, they were like Hubble's waken up today, like
the before picture in a boat dogs had bless Hubble.

(26:14):
Do you think, though, that that exponential development of our
ability to go and do you think that's what will
help us answer questions like the one that you've just
I think so, yeah, I think so, I hope. So
how far off do you think we are? Do you
know you like astronomy? What do you somebody was saying
that the hope was in our lifetime. My god. I

(26:36):
was having this conversation with this man called David Eagleman,
who is this this neuroscientist, brilliant scientist person who teaches
at Stanford, And he was talking about the vastness of
our ignorance, the complexity and vasts of our ignorance, But
not in a way like ignorance has such a kind
of pejorative flavor, but in the like excited the vastness

(26:57):
of our ignorance, like within that is all of these answers,
and that if we keep exploring the varses of arguments,
that we will come across it. And I love that.
I love that idea because it's sort of becoming pioneers
of the unknown, like I mean, and and being excited
and curious about that as opposed to feeling bewildered and
and hopeless, which is how I often feel when I

(27:20):
think about the unknown, like where's my next job coming from?
What would be your last meal? Tackles? I love tackles.
They're really good tacos in New York. I don't think
anything compares obviously to Mexico, but l a Mexican food

(27:45):
in l A compared to New York, there's no there's
no comparison. California and Mexico are just that. There's there's
nowhere I've eaten. I've eaten tacos everywhere, and there's nowhere
like l A in Mexico. Yeah, my favorite taco spot
is still place called Los Tacos on Santa Monica. Bouli
are just west of Fairfax. It's in a strip mall

(28:08):
next to its sandwich, between a seven eleven and laundromat.
I used to live in the neighborhood fifteen years ago,
and that laundromat is where I used to do my laundry.
And so early in the morning you would see these
lines of construction workers getting their breakfast. At night you
would see a whole bunch of drunk people getting their
munkey food. So one day, while I was doing laundry,

(28:30):
I was like, let me see what the hype is
about here, and it was so delicious. It's open, and
I have been known to stop there to and or
from l A X. So like the plane lands and
I'm like, hey, can you guys give me an extra
forty minutes before the first meeting because I need to
hit up Los Tacos roll. Oh my god, I can't

(28:51):
wait to go that. I'm literally going up in town
on Monday. I'm going to Los Tacos. Okay, what do
you get number two? Which is, uh, two tacos rice
and beans? But what, senor are you I've done. Their
chicken and their veg their veggie are going to be
soft tacos and their chicken. You can get either soft

(29:13):
or hard. I'm really hungry now. Yeah, it's really good.
There's nothing father I would are you? Are you vegetarian? No?
I don't eat red, mate, but I eat I eat
a bit of chicken, and I eat fish. So a
funny story about that place. When I first started going there,
I was strictly a vegetarian, and I remember I remember
asking the guy. I was like, hey, man, I'd like

(29:35):
to try your number two. But are the beans and
rice vegetarian two? Or is there like lard in the
beans and chicken stock in the rice? And he goes, no, no,
no vegetarianos. And I was like, cool, awesome, I'll do that.
And it was so good that I've then been going
there for like eight years. My vegan brother came to
visit and I was like, I'm taking you to the spot, man,
the spot. We go to those tacos and he's like, well,

(29:57):
I'm gonna ask if everything's vegan. I was like, it's
vege gitarian. What else are they going to put in it?
I'm gonna ask anyway. So he asks and they go, oh,
it's a different person. And the person goes, oh, no,
it's not vegan. In fact, there's lard in the beans
and there's chicken stock in the rights. And I was like,
what wha time out? You told me no? And then
I was replaying it back in my head and so

(30:19):
clearly what the guy said was no vegetarian. Nos not
no comma veg know that there isn't anything that's vegetarian.
And I was so excited about these tacos that I
ate them anyway, thinking that he meant it's vegetaran. My
lovely yeah, yeah, who has helped me take care of

(30:39):
my son. When I asked her how she would make
her beans, I was like, I remember saying exactly the
same thing. I was like, are they are they vegetarian?
And she was like yes, And then she was like
except for the polk knuckle. It's all vegetarian except for
the pool knuckle that you cook in with the beans
to make them taste delicious. Yes, yes, exactly. Was I

(31:01):
loved that though, Oh my gosh, your poor brother in
your life. Can you tell me about something that has
grown out of a personal disaster? Yes, so, you know,

(31:25):
we've talked briefly about the brown face of it all
that I was laughing about. But experiences like that, we're
going on auditions where I would be for non actors. Here,
I'll give you the full disclaimer of every actor. When
you start out, the only thing you're allowed audition for
is what producers and casting directors think you look like, exactly. So,

(31:47):
so my version of that obviously has ethnic and racial undertones,
because the late nineties and early two thousand's for somebody
who looked like me, we're a lot more about that
than anything else. So I would go on auditions and
it seemed like I was only getting auditions for parts
that were already written to be Saltatian or or Latin
X frankly, or like you could pass. And a lot
of those are are the you know, sort of one

(32:09):
dimensional stereotypes. And I had always sort of said to myself,
you know, an accent alone does not make a stereotype.
Plenty of people have accents, and the stereotype comes from
accents that are added in a reductionist way, meaning the
producers know the writing sucks, therefore covered up with an
accent and people will laugh. Right. And I realized that

(32:31):
early on on on, you know, audition for things like
Sabrina the Teenage, which which you know, a sweet show
and it's for kids. And I remember going on this
audition and the audition was three lines, and I was
so excited that idea. I was like, you know, I'm
going to create a backstory for my character. So I
was like, it's three lines. I don't care. Okay, this
guy is from the Pacific Northwest. He's maybe grow up

(32:52):
outside of Seattle, and he wears a lot of flannels,
and he loves small batch organic coffee and like maybe
he tried to brew beer once in his bad tub
and it didn't go well, like things like I think
it had nothing to do with the stupid three lines
about the study group, right, But I went into this
audition confident and with all this backstory and uh, the
cashing new corector. I remember ran out as I was

(33:12):
getting to my car and he said, hey, the producers
would love for you to do it again. And I
was like, oh, this is awesome. And so as I'm
about to walk back in the room, he goes, this
time with an accent, and I was like, okay, there
is a bit of coercion, as you mentioned that, the
things that you're made to feel like you have to withstand.
But ultimately I could have said no, I could have

(33:33):
walked out of there. But the thing that went through
my head was, Okay, this job pays about seven bucks
my rent is month, and this is going to be
a credit on a resume that's currently non existent. So
I should probably do this because that's what happened hundreds
of times, right. And so the thing that I would
always say when they would say we'd like you to
do with an accent, is sure, what kind of accent
would you like? I can do Scottish, Irish, Southern Italian.

(33:55):
You know. I would just go off and they were
never amused, but they in this case, the director, who's
a real prick, leaned in and he goes, uh, why
don't we just stick to Indian? So I said, Okay,
I did the audition and I walked out of there
not feeling great, and so I went back to my apartment.
I called my agent to tell her what had happened,

(34:15):
and she she picked up the phone ands at congratulations,
They called you got the part. I felt so disappointed,
like I was almost hoping I wasn't going to get
the part because I didn't want to have to deal
with what this was going to be. And I immediately
felt like, the hell is this? This sucks. When my
friends get their first few roles, we all go out
for drinks and we celebrate and we encourage each other

(34:36):
and they're excited that they're playing the frat boy from
Indiana or whatever. How Come I don't get to be happy.
I don't get to celebrate because I I don't want
to do the stereotypical thing. So I said to the agent,
is there any what you could call them and say
that I'll only do it if if I can just
play it the way I did before, like the dude
from the Pacific Northwest, And she goes my experiences that

(34:58):
generally agents are the worst people to have this conversation.
What you should do is like, so if you know
you're taking anyway, why don't you go early, Go in
a half hour early, talk to the director and see
if you can make your case. So I went in
a half hour early. I found the director and he
was very nice to me, unlike at the audition, and
I said, hey, man, thank you. You buttered him up.
Thank you so much for having me. What a fun
script um I was. I was hoping that I could

(35:22):
play him the way I did it in the first
round of my audition, without an accent. And he goes, oh, no,
that accents hilarious. You're you're going to do it. That's
why we hired you. And and so then again in
my head, I'm like, ah, because you know, the writing
was subpar. There we go, and then I this voice
came into my head that was like, you know, they
say that racism comes from ignorance, so perhaps he doesn't
even know, you know, And and I don't want to

(35:42):
presume the guy knows or feels things that he doesn't.
So I said, I gotta be honest. My little cousin's
love this show and they're you know, they're like in
fourth grade. I just thought it would be so cool
if they could watch a character and experience something that
I never got to experience, and like see themselves in
a way that that I never got to see myself
and laugh with the character instead of being laughed at.

(36:06):
And he looks at me and he goes, uh, well,
your cousins should feel lucky that you're allowed to be
on TV to begin with, and so should you. And
he walks off. So my first thought was, oh, okay,
so it's not that ignorance sequels racism sometimes like there's
a prick who knows exactly what he's doing and he
just doesn't give a shit. But then the second part

(36:28):
was again, could I have left? Of course today? Was
anybody forcing me to do anything? No? I was the
one who decided that this is what I wanted to
do to get a credit on my resume. But the
big takeaway from me was that and it is a
story that I tell him the audiobook in the book,
not because I want somebody to IMDb this guy, although
you're certainly welcome to, but them the idea that it's

(36:52):
but truly, I mean, it's like this is uh, these
things are all systemic, right, It's not about this one
guy or this girl show. It's a out the things
that thankfully we have slowly but surely moved on from
so so that story that I just told you, there
were like probably stories like that over a period of
five or six years. And there was a point where

(37:13):
I basically was like I would see audition sides and
I would know exactly what they wanted, and I wouldn't
prepare at all because I saw, you know, okay, it's
a guy named Abduel from Pakistan. I know exactly what
they're gonna ask for. Do I even want to bother?
And then on the rare occasion when I was like, oh,
it's a guy named Justin from Milwaukee. While I'm obviously
not going to get that part, So the same thing

(37:34):
I wouldn't prepare, I wouldn't come up with the backstory.
I would sometimes go on the audition and and so
there was a moment after a long time of doing
this where I just realized, what the funk are you doing? Man?
Like you've already decided before you audition that you're not
getting this part. You've just decided that, so you're not
putting any work in, You're just showing up. Why are
you even showing up for this? If this isn't something

(37:56):
you're passionate about, or that you want to figure out
strategically how to build career and what sacrifices a you're
gonna have to make before you have the chance to
call it a career then do something else. And so
I was like, Okay, I'm gonna take the l's at,
I'm gonna take you know, I'm gonna go to law school.
I'm gonna do something else. And that from that darkness,
that realization that I know a lot of artists, period
musicians say this stuff a lot, athletes say this a

(38:18):
lot where it's the difference between it like, it's not
a choice, right, you have to do it. So when
I when I had made the decision that maybe this
isn't what I want to do, immediately I was like, no,
that's wrong. This is what I have to do. This
is what I am passionate about, this form of storytelling.
And so that means so I reevaluated everything. From that point,

(38:39):
I was like, I'm going to have to start saying
no to certain auditions. There's nothing wrong with saying no
to them, and I shouldn't consider it a personal assault.
Every time I see audition sides that are boring and
racist and understand that the reason that I find them
so abhorrent, aside from obviously racist, sit is really bad.
But but a lot of the reason creatively that I

(39:01):
find it so exhausting is that it's boring. I wish
there was a word could talk about this without it
drawing equivalency, because there is not equivalency. Racism is racism,
and sexism is sexism. That they're they're different, their systemic problems,
but they're different. But I cannot tell you the familiarity
of what you're saying, of the sensation of looking at
something of a woman being an adjunct to a man

(39:26):
perpetually through a career, that if you're lucky, you can
massage it, if you're clever and you're smart, and you
make it seem like it was all the guys in
the room's idea for this woman to become more interesting
and more intelligent, then you can up the experience. But
I actually did leave Hollywood. I actually left and went
to Hawaii. And when I can't, I can't do this anymore.

(39:46):
I can't. I can't keep fighting for and and be
told that I should be grateful for the mediocrity that
I'm being offered, how do you continue to believe that
you're good at something if that is perpetually you're perpetually
being told this is a good part and you read
it and you go it isn't It is an overly
sexualized adjunct to this dude story. So that recognition of

(40:08):
either I do this and I figure out a way
of staying connected to what I want to do and
say no to those things and maybe have some leaner
years because I just go, no, I'm not going to
do that shitty fucking movie, even though it's big, because
it's dumb and it's stupid and it's perpetuating an idea
about women. But you're absolutely right, like there's enormous freedom

(40:29):
in reaching that moment, but it's also pretty terrifying. I
am really I understand. I understand that choice that I
think those comparisons, while you're right, they are, they are different,
But I think it's it's it's a very fair more
than a fair comparison, because that's the systemic stuff that
I think we're talking about, right, And that idea that
when when I was at that low point of saying
I'm going to say no to certain things and I'm

(40:50):
going to recognize that one of the reasons I felt
so disappointed that I wasn't able to go out and
celebrate with friends when I would get these small jobs.
I was trying to figure out what, what what did
I actually have a problem with him? Like I said,
it's not that it's just an accent, it's recognizing that
an accent is is a reductionist way of covering up
shitty writing or that you know this idea that you

(41:10):
hear people say this a lot. Unfortunately, things like he
had to play a seven eleven owner. I'm sorry, is
a seven eleven store clerk somehow a less than noble profession?
Are these guys not working sixteen hours a day? What
people mean to say is that that reductionism of a profession,
especially a working class profession, tied to a character that
has no other merit or actionable agency in a piece

(41:34):
except for their profession and their ethnicity, is by definition
what creates a stereotype. So the kind of analyzing all
that and then being like and basically I'm like in
my early twenties at this point, I want to play cool, fun,
interesting characters. I don't want to play characters that we're
already played eighteen times on The Simpsons. But like we've

(41:55):
we've seen it all before, you know what I mean,
We don't have to the definition, especially they who loves
comedy like comedy continues to evolve in great ways when
you have great writers. It's lazy if you always look
backwards for what worked before, because that's already been done
exactly to do. So that whole conversation was part of
what came out of that. For me, Where were you
at mentally when Lawrence what was his last name on House? Cutner? When? When? When?

(42:23):
When that character came along? Where were you at in
terms of of your career and how you were seeing
it and how engaged you were with the kind of
work that you wanted to do. Yeah, thank you for
asking me that question, because that is one of one
of the thankfully many, because I feel like we've only
talked about the problematic one so far. Wonderful audition process.

(42:46):
So David Shore, who created House, I love him. I'm
honestly a devoted David Shaw fan for the rest of
my life. Yeah. When I was on House, they were
adding I think six or six or nine characters. We
had to compete our characters were competing for permanent slots.
First of all, it was men and women alike, and

(43:06):
the age range of those characters was like, you know,
twenty two to seventy. And I remember going in for
the audition and I was given sides of a Mormon
doctor and I thought, somebody has made a terrible mistake,
or they seriously think that I could play a Mormon doctor,
whichever it is. That's crazy. And then I walked into

(43:26):
the audition and it's men and women twenty two to
seventy in the same waiting room, with the same sets
of such amazing, amazing and I'm like, what is this?
Surely is this what color blind casting looks like? Uh?
And even gender blind casting to some extent. And so I,
you know, callback after callback we're realizing they're whittling things down.

(43:47):
And they must have been two years later when I
had really gotten to know David that I had the
guts to ask him, hey, man, what was the deal
with that audition? Why was it like that? And I
described it exactly as I just did with you, and
David goes, what are you talking about? And I said,
come on, David, that is how you ran that audition,
And he goes, no, No, I know that's how I
run all my auditions. What do you what's your actual question?

(44:09):
I said, well, why do it that way? You know?
Usually if I'm reading for something, it's either people who
sort of look like me or I feel like I'm
never going to get the part. And he goes, oh,
I just do it that way because I want to
hire the best actors. How are you going to find
the best actors if you don't open it up like that?
And I'm like, this is why you're so good at
what you do, you know, So I like that that
is going that's happening at the same time as the

(44:31):
other shitty stuff that you're talking about. No, there was
a lot of there's a lot of great stuff. I
definitely don't want to make it sound like it's a
it's a ship fest. No, it's part of it that
two things can be true at once, more than two things.
Because it must have been amazing with hald and Kuma,
like fat incredible. I loved it. To an Asian actor,
a south as An actor running that movie, yeah, and

(44:54):
it was all it was a happy experience. Loved it.
Oh yeah, and John Show and I are clothed the
whole team. You guys are both just assompletely hilarious. Oh Cal,
It's been such a pleasure talking to you. Likewise, Thank you.
Cal's new memoir, You Can't Be Serious, is out now

(45:16):
in paperback and audiobook. You can also see Cal in
the Santa Clauses on Disney Plus. Mini Questions is hosted
and written by Me Mini Driver, supervising producer Aaron Kaufman,
Producer Morgan Levoy, Research assistant Marissa Brown. Original music Sorry

(45:39):
Baby by Mini Driver, Additional music by Aaron Kaufman, executive
produced by Me Mini Driver. Special thanks to Jim Nikolay,
Will Pearson, Addison No Day, Lisa Castella and Nique Oppenheim
at w kPr, de La Pescador, Kateree Driver and Jason Weinberg,

(46:02):
and for constantly solicited tech support Henry Driver h
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