The United States election is right around the corner and it could not be a more pivotal time for our country. While there is reason for anxiety and distress, there’s an equal opportunity for political education…and comedy. With that in mind, Kal Penn’s new show, Kal Penn Approves This Message, looks to be the remedy that today’s audience desperately needs.
The show features Penn educating audiences each week on topics ranging from healthcare and education to the Supreme Court, in truly entertaining and comedic ways. In addition, the show features celebrity guest stars like Bill Nye, Hilary Clinton, and Kumail Nanjiani, who all help to add new flavor and perspective on the topic of the week.
Along with Penn, the show is co-created and by executive produced by Romen Borsellino, a long-time collaborator with the actor in the political field. Borsellino took the time last week to sit down with The Illuminerdi’s Braxter Timberlake to talk about the Kal Penn Approves This Message‘s mission and the impact that he and Penn hope to have on the next generation of voters.
Kal Penn Approves This Message’s Romen Borsellino
The Illuminerdi: There is no mystery why a show like Kal Penn Approves This Message is needed today. The weird thing about today is that there’s more information accessible than ever, but it still seems like there is a lot for people to learn. Why and how did you get involved in the project with Kal?
Romen Borsellino: Great question. So Kal [Penn] and I have sort of worked together in both campaigns and government, in you know a creative capacity before. We really put our heads together and said, ‘This is a historic moment right now. We have an incredible opportunity to maybe help folks make a difference right here. Not to claim that he and I are anything so special. But more that with the right ingredients we could make sure to activate folks who really have an opportunity to make their voices heard.
That’s interesting because I didn’t realize you that you had history working in government as well, because obviously Kal does as well, in both Hollywood and the White House. How did that skillset and that history help to inform the show in a way that maybe it wouldn’t if somebody else was doing it?
RB: It’s a great question, so I mean look, I’m not going to be so presumptuous that I have an incredible skillset that others may not. But you know, Kal and I met in 2007. It was really one of the first campaign events he was doing for the Iowa caucuses. He was a famous actor and I was a high school student just putting in some volunteer work and we hit it off over our shared love of organizing.
You know, I think over the years getting to see what works and what engages young people on the ground first-hand. Not by looking a polls. Not by reading data. Not by listening to pundits. But having to really be in a state like Iowa with an incredibly diverse array of political opinions and backgrounds, has given both Kal and I, the skills to get a sense of what people are interested in when making decisions like these.
Absolutely. With that in mind. Is this intended to be a long-running program? How would the material differ whether it’s a Trump administration of a Biden administration next year?
RB: That’s an excellent question. It was always intended to be a series that gets people out to vote, but you know, I think that we would love the opportunity to continue this. In my ideal world, the folks watching our show, if their candidate wins on election night or whenever the election is called. We are then able to provide them with sort of a handbook afterwards on how to make sure their involvement goes just beyond just casting a ballot. And how they can stay involved and hold their candidates accountable.
And just like we saw with large marches and protests in 2016. If your candidates lose on Election Day, we don’t want you to check out of the political process. We want our viewers to find a way to turn any unhappiness they have about the process into actionable items to, again continue to have their voices heard regardless what side that they are on.
That makes sense. Kind of on that same line too, the show is presented as, or is intended to be non-partisan it seems like. But at the same time obviously at times you can see the political perspective shine through, but really it’s presented as a non-partisan project. But however, this is a time when the environment is burning. Pandemic is untreated and spreading throughout the administration and the country. Healthcare is on the line soon. Do you think now is the right time to have sort of a non-partisan stance?
RB: It’s a great question and obviously it’s a conversation we’ve had a lot because we wanted to make sure that we got this right. You know, Kal and I and Embassy Row are very closely aligned with Freeform and we are all on the same page with this mission.
What I would say is that, there is certainly a difference between having a point of view and being political. We are not a political show, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t share an array of different viewpoints and have people talking about issues that they care about.
You know, you don’t have to “both sides” every issue. We’re not a show that is going to debate whether or not climate change is real or not. And I could point anyone to a million, ya know, cable news shows that want to have that conversation. We want to talk about where the overlap is and you know?
Why for example in our environmental episode, we’ll get into the fact that a lot of young people on both ends of the political spectrum care deeply about climate change. But this is not so much a question of political affiliation, it’s largely a question of age demographic. And you’re finding that, such as with the evangelical community, you’ve got young folks, again whether they’re Democrat or Republican caring deeply about climate change. And that we are seeing a rift more when it comes to age. So we are happy to have conversations about issues.
Again that’s very different than talking about specific candidates, which would be more of a political thing that we’re seeking to avoid.