Singapore Weather Min. 26° | Max. 33°
Kal Penn may be bad at math, but he’s still smarter than you
The actor goes from playing stoner Kumar to cerebral academic with Nat Geo’s The Big Picture With Kal Penn
SINGAPORE — We were on the telephone for only 15 minutes, but I’d like to think that was enough for actor Kal Penn and I to bond instantly over our lack of mathematical skills. “I’m so bad I can’t even split a cheque. How bad are you at maths?” I asked. “On a scale of one to 10, it’s a C,” he answered.
Ah, yes, there’s nothing like a man with a sense of humour (maths skills optional) and there’s no doubt the man famous for his role in the cult comedy series, Harold And Kumar, has that in spades. But when you’re speaking to the actor, it takes some effort to get your head around the fact that in real life, this New Jersey native has also held a government job at the White House and lectured at the University of Pennsylvania.
Despite not being mathematically-inclined, the 38-year-old has a well-developed brainy side that has been put to good use in the National Geographic Channel show The Big Picture With Kal Penn, which he hosts and produces.
“We’re a documentary series that focuses on some really interesting stories of human interest from all over the world,” he explained. “If you’re on Facebook or Buzzfeed and see a map of a country or the world, and it’s shaded not according to where people live, but according to the patterns of what kind of TV they watch or what kind of food they eat — those are interesting things to take a peek at.”
It’s a show that uses “big data and statistics to tell a story about who we are as a planet” in terms of broad topics including crime, drugs, sex and food, so “we want people who have terrible maths skills to be able to enjoy a show about numbers, obviously, but we also want people who may have great maths skills to enjoy it,” Penn said.
The actor, who has had memorable roles in House MD, How I Met Your Mother and Battle Creek, added: “If there’s a way to visualise or tell a story about those numbers, that’s when suddenly it piques my interest ... I like to be creative, but I also like to use that cerebral part of your brain that focuses on some of the more academic things.”
For instance, he said, the show compares the total revenue of crime all over the world with the revenue of companies such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. It also shows a surprising conclusion about which state in America consumes the most pizza, and visits farms in Mexico that harvest insects as food. “It turns out that the easiest source of protein with the lowest environmental yield is grasshoppers,” said Penn.
Would he be tempted to indulge in a little grasshopper fricassee? “I don’t know. It’s not something I thought was appetising, but I always like to say that I would try anything once,” he mused. And if he had to choose between grasshopper and pizza? “I grew up in New Jersey, so I’m always going to have to choose pizza.”
Something he wouldn’t mind trying twice is Singaporean food. Penn, who was here in January to promote his film, Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain, said: “The fans in Singapore are so nice and warm that I definitely want to come back — and not just for chilli crab.”
Maybe, we’ll bring a calculator so we can split the cheque. May Seah
WATCH: Music video for NDP 2015 song Our Singapore unveiled
Jurassic World eyes huge US$100m plus opening
Fox rebooting League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with new movie
Jurassic World’s Chris Pratt: ‘Objectify me all you want!’
Gentle Bones: ‘I am going to be super arrogant!’
‘We survived a war!’: 70 years of The Stage Club
Bryan Wong goes from brains to brawn
Pangdemonium laudable for efforts to raise deaf awareness
20,000 residents evacuated in German city due to WWII bomb
Zanzibar police beef up fight against sexual, physical abuse of women
Philippine, Vietnamese troops play soccer and sing on disputed island
Erdogan aims to turn Turkey into major defense industry power
Amnesty International: Hamas committed war crimes against Gaza civilians
Sony mobile executive: pricing tweaks, cost cuts to cope with dollar's rise
May's market tremors could reflect fear of 'groupthink'
Blocked in China, Twitter still courts Chinese firms for ads
Lafarge, Holcim finalize members of future executive panel
Alleging racism, Palestinians seek to have Israel suspended from world football
FIFA officials arrested on corruption charges; face extradition to US
More common sense needed, says Mercedes F1 boss
Young Lions head to SEA Games on winning note