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Darren Michaels/Mandate Pictures

Fresh off a stint in politics, Kal Penn is back with a pair of new projects.

Not everyone can transition with ease from the Hollywood Hills to the halls of the White House, but Kal Penn can — and has. Perhaps best known as the Indian-American half of big-screen boneheads Harold and Kumar, the 34-year-old Penn bailed on a booming acting career to spend two years in Washington, D.C., working on arts policy and youth outreach.

“That’s how change happens in America: People have convictions at dinner tables and watercoolers, and eventually some of them pack a bag and decide to serve in Washington,” he says.

Those concerned that Penn had permanently penned his perversive proclivities worried for naught; he’s back in action on both the small and big screens, inking a long-term deal as a morally bankrupt psychoanalyst on CBS’s How I Met Your Mother, while bringing dope and dopiness back to life in this month’s extravaganza A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas.
In the new film, uptight Harold and loosey-goosey Kumar must save the yuletide season after accidentally offing Santa Claus. Fans of the two predecessor films can expect more of the same hijinks — including another? hilarious cameo from Neil ?Patrick Harris — only this time, in wild, three-?dimensional abundance.

“It’s hilarious and wholly inappropriate,” Penn laughs. “But fundamentally it’s a buddy movie — two guys who really love each other.”

Penn, whose political activism was born of his grandfather’s mealtime soliloquies about marching for Indian independence with Mahatma Gandhi and who developed the acting bug after watching Denzel Washington’s stirring performance in Mississippi Masala, believes — with tongue planted firmly in cheek — that Harold and Kumar perfectly merge his twin aspirations of entertaining and healing a diverse, wounded humanity.

“In some small way, as silly as those movies are, Harold and Kumar have done their part as cultural diplomats,” he playfully politics. “These movies are spreading joy in places like Iceland and Singapore. I don’t know if we’re changing the world, but it is harder to destroy the planet when you’re rolling in the aisles.”