Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Harold, Kumar take on politics

Since 2004’s underground hit “Harold and Kumar Go to
White Castle,” one could argue that the title characters have become
household names among teenage and college crowds. Perhaps this is because
Harold and Kumar are reminiscent of your stoner roommates from freshman year,
or that their bout of munchies — which led to a series of nonsensical
adventures in search of a single White Castle establishment — told an
endearing, albeit silly, story.

Whatever the reason for their popularity, in a recent phone
interview with The Badger Herald the real individuals behind the characters
proved something of a surprise.

First, John Cho (Harold) and Kal Penn (Kumar) don’t get high
and search out cheap burger joints. In fact, Penn (“The Namesake”)
specifically said, “I know this is so disappointing to the audience, which
is why I don’t talk about it a lot, but I don’t smoke weed. I don’t eat fast
food… And John Cho is more of a Kumar in real life and I am more of a Harold.
The roles are definitely switched.”


A further diversion from their cinematic counterparts is
that these guys love books. They particularly enjoy Jhumpa Lahiri, author of
“The Namesake”; Cho first introduced Lahiri to Penn, thus leading him
to take the main role in the film version. Chatting about her latest novella,
Penn delightedly said, “Oh my God, I’m so relishing picking it up,”
and Cho admitted to buying three copies, though he said he doesn’t know why.

However, don’t be fooled into thinking Cho and Penn are
staunch academic types. They are still insanely hilarious, often bantering with
each other and finding comedy in nearly any situation. Sure, the conversation
sometimes veered toward the serious, like when we discussed the societal
effects of racial typecasting and the personal advantages of taking roles in
film versus television. But, most importantly, we discussed their upcoming
sequel, “Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay,” a worthy
follow-up which Cho promises will, “like any good sequel should, ramp up
everything.” Just considering the plot’s grandiosity, one could only
attest that this is likely to be true.

Picking up right where the first left off, the film takes
Harold and Kumar out of the country, following their exploits as they are
caught in an international airport with a bong. Transported to the U.S.
military prison at Guantanamo Bay as suspected terrorists, the duo escape and
must travel across the South to get their names cleared by President Bush.

Cho said the biggest difference between the two films is
that “Guantanamo Bay” has a plot and that it trades in some of the
racial themes of “White Castle” for higher stakes with blatant
political humor — something the actor saw as a welcome change.

“I think the political premise is a way to make fart
and poo jokes funnier,” he said, and Penn concurred.

While the films certainly make full use of their R-ratings
as borderline gross-out comedies, Penn said that that doesn’t mean he’s
entirely comfortable playing the part — which is why he does it as an actor.

“If you played characters that were similar to you all
the time it would be pretty boring, I think,” Penn said.

And surely, “boring” would be an exceptionally
poor adjective to describe this film, with all its absurdities and raunchy
humor. Take, for example, the return of Christopher Meloni, who played
Freakshow in “White Castle.” This time around, Meloni plays the Grand
Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Additionally, Neil Patrick Harris returns to play
himself, and Cho and Penn were quick to take credit for the resurrection of the
man’s career.

“I believe he has said, ‘I don’t think I’d be on ‘How I
Met Your Mother’ without ‘Harold and Kumar,”” Cho said. Penn added,
“I think he said, ‘I owe everything to Kal Penn.'” Of course, they
were only kidding.

All jokes aside, the actors are confident audiences will
enjoy the sequel.

“My hope is that the fun that we had translates onto
the screen,” Penn said. “It seems like the audience likes relating to
the characters of Harold and Kumar, and so if they can have half as much fun as
we had making it, then I think we did our jobs.”

Cho and Penn don’t pretend “White Castle” or
“Guantanamo Bay” present any lasting insight or powerful moral
message to their audiences. Rather, the films are purely outrageous Hollywood
creations, and the actors know it and love them for that fact.

Unsurprisingly, Harold and Kumar have been hailed by critics
as the next Cheech and Chong, while others may simply see them as familiar
all-American guys. Either way, they’re back when “Harold and Kumar Escape
from Guantanamo Bay” opens Friday.

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