These are just two of the fascinating tidbits presented in the March 30 premiere episode of "The Big Picture with Kal Penn." Covering topics such as modern-day treasure hunters, global pandemics, sports fans, natural disasters, food, sex and trash in 13 half-hour episodes, the Nat Geo series uses maps, charts, infographics and on-location interviews to explain surprising statistics and explore what they mean to us in our daily lives.
Penn's TV and film background includes roles in "House," "How I Met Your Mother," "The Namesake," the "Harold and Kumar" franchise, as well as the new CBS Sunday procedural "Battle Creek" and hosting Discovery’s "The Big Brain Theory" engineering competition. Penn served as the associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement from 2009-2011. And the UCLA and Stanford grad taught "Images of Asian Americans in the Media" at the University of Pennsylvania as a visiting lecturer.
"The Big Picture" is a unique way of kind of looking at the human experience, Penn says.
"We took random facts that we thought were particularly interesting and then we researched them, put them on a map, such as the places in the country with the most sports fans," he says.
"In our research about crime, we found that the place that has the most per capita involvement in cybercrime is a small village in Romania, and the entire village is set up to scam people. It’s how the village stays alive. Why there? We went there to get to the bottom of it."
Penn says two of the most surprising discoveries were learning that Orlando is the pizza consumption capital of America, and that another Florida community is the most sexually active spot, owing to its large senior citizen population.
"What I love about this was that our show doesn’t take an angle of judgment on anything," says Penn, a producer on the series. "We wanted to do a show that was going to be informational, but also develop it to be something that was really funny."
Penn got involved when Nat Geo approached him to see if there was a show that they could work on together.
"I had the chance to produce and develop this with them, which was fantastic," he says. "Nat Geo is a brand that we absolutely don’t want to change, but within that we have fun with really interesting stories that should appeal to the universal human experience."
He says he’s gratified that he’s so busy with his current projects, considering that he took a two and a half year sabbatical to work at the White House.
"When I came back from D.C., the concern was, ‘Am I going to work? Am I going to get the kind of stuff I want to get?’ But it’s almost an embarrassment of riches," he says. "I hope that that is sustainable to be able to do both the acting things that I love and then something like this that fulfills my love of documentary filmmaking. I feel really blessed."
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