Kal Penn has trouble seeing through the cycle of online hate these days.
“When you’re scrolling through Twitter and Instagram, it just seems like everything’s vitriolic and you’re not really sure how to trust people,” the Kal Penn Approves This Message host lamented. “I would imagine there’s a fair amount of performance and everything that many of us do.”
Penn has seen a lot of political action in the years since his breakthrough role in Harold and Kumar. In 2009, he joined the Obama administration as an associate director in the White House Office of Public Engagement. Just last year, he spoke at the Global Citizen Festival.
Penn says his new late-night talk show on Freeform is a different take on the political variety show formula (e.g. Daily Show, Last Week Tonight, Full Frontal). His focus is on a younger demographic — Gen Z and Millennials — without a partisan position. He says the show was created in order to inform the younger generation who have yet to develop a political identity.
“Most young people don’t consider themselves Democrats or Republicans, though that loyalty was important to all of us when we were developing the show,” he said. “We wanted to make it about issues and have it appeal to younger folk who are trying to find their place in our crazy civics process.”
With this new series that debuted last week, Penn aims to provide real-world solutions instead of the usual, sardonic criticism night in and night out.
“What if we put the vitriol aside and just focus on those solutions?” he asked. “Where you want to find that common ground — which, unfortunately, I think we’ve lost a lot of times. There’s just such a great opportunity there.”
Joining Penn on today’s ABC’s virtual panel were co-creator Romen Borsellino, executive producers Julia Cassidy and Stuart Miller. The former House star explained that an important way to connect to a younger audience, whether Democrat or Republican, was to lead with comedy first.
“What if we take the best of what we love about [late-night television], which is humor, and combine it with something like CBS Sunday Morning, which is very wholesome and very unifying, and present that as a show, that’s packaged to a younger audience where you talk about one specific issue of the course of the episode?”
The six-episode series was created by Penn and Borsellino, who also serve as executive producers with Dan Spilo as well as Michael Davie and Julia Cassidy of Embassy Row.
The second episode of Kal Penn Approves This Message airs at 10:30 tonight on Freeform with guest Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
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