Kal Penn, Fresh Off ‘Daily Show’ Run, Sees New Opportunities in Late Night

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Kal Penn hopes the second time’s the charm.

The actor last week completed his second turn behind the desk of Comedy Central’sThe Daily Show,” which has been seeking a successor to host Trevor Noah for the better part of a year, a process that was delayed by the recent Hollywood labor strikes. Penn joins comedians Sarah Silverman and Leslie Jones as well as Charlamagne Tha God as hosts who were invited to take one more crack at the assignment after doing a previous one.

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“It felt like the perfect merger of both of my worlds,” Penn says during an interview with Variety, referring not only to the comic roles he has played it the “Harold & Kumar” series of movies but his time spent as a public engagement liaison in the Obama administration. He enjoyed a give and take with “Daily Show” writers and producers as they sussed out the issues of the day for late-night fodder.

Penn hopes his intriguing experiences as an actor and an advocate give him an edge as the Paramount Global network tries to find a path forward for the venerable series. He thinks the whichever person gets to host “Daily” has “the opportunity to bring people together through comedy” while pressing to do more than just poke fun at politicians and cable-news outlets. “There is so much despair out there,” he says. “It would be cool if some of the comedy shines a light on some of the good things that are happening.”

Penn’s guests last week included Mike Massimino, the former astronaut, and comedian and actor Vir Das. Filmmaker Zoya Akhtar also joined him one evening. This isn’t his first time leading a talk-comedy hybrid. He hosted the Freeform program “Kal Penn Approves This Message,’ which explored issues of revelance to millenial and Gen Z viewers.

“The Daily Show” has always sought to cultivate the youngest audience among TV’s late-night programs, and Penn thinks those viewers crave both humor as well as knowledge and insight. “This newer generation is so savvy,” he says, noting interest In everything from climate change to human rights. He thinks such an audence wants to know “ a little about how the system works ndsa how we can alwys make it better.”

Such an outlook would add a new stripe to TV’s current set of late-night programs. Some hosts have demonstrated a knack for cutting to the heart of the news of the day, while others like to give viewers a break from the news cycle in favor of games and distractions. “There is such an opportuntiy to reach an audience that first and foremost wants to laugh,” says Penn, “but they are also way more dialed in to wanting to change things.”

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