It’s hard to find a guy with a more eclectic résumé than Kal Penn. His acting credits in House, How I Met Your Mother and the Harold and Kumar movies sit side-by-side with a stint as Barack Obama’s Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and guest lecturing an “Asian-Americans in the Media” course at UPenn, a piece of cake for the UCLA and Stanford-educated 37-year-old.

These days, fans can see him as Det. Fontanelle White in the CBS Sunday night cop drama Battle Creek, and beginning this week, as the host of The Big Picture with Kal Penn on Nat Geo (Mondays, 9/8c). Penn, who previously hosted the Discovery Channel engineering competition The Big Brain Theory, delves into the story behind the data in themed episodes covering everything from crime and sex to treasure hunting, pandemics and natural disasters.

We asked him about the show, his dream role and, of course, being Kumar.

“The most sexually active town in America is a small town in Florida, the center of which is a senior citizens’ home, so we go down there to investigate…”

What’s the focus of The Big Picture?
It’s a show that looks at the human experience or human interest stories through the lens of seemingly random data points. For example, the food segment, the town that consumes the most pizza in the United States is Orlando, Florida, something those of us from New York or New Jersey who are pizza snobs were shocked to hear. It’s a light, fun look at random things like that.

What fact surprised you most?
The most sexually active town in America is a small town in Florida, the center of which is a senior citizens’ home, so we go down there to investigate in the Sex Drive episode.

You’re a producer on the show, too. What do you like about making documentaries?
I’ve probably been a documentary filmmaking fan, honestly, since those little snippets on Sesame Street where they take kids to places that they never get to see otherwise. I like having the chance to help develop the tone for a particular project and make sure it’s what everyone wanted out of it.

And for something completely different, what attracted you to Battle Creek?
I loved that for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s Vince Gilligan and David Shore together and I worked with David on House and I’m a big Breaking Bad fan. And I’d never played a cop before.

Which of your roles do you get recognized for most?
I think it depends where I am. There are a lot of Harold and Kumar fans still. That and House have to be the top two.

Does it bug you when people call you Kumar?
No. Hell, if people are enjoying the movies, I love that. We’re actually working on an animated series. We’ll do the voices. Hopefully, that gets off the ground, we’ll see.

What was it like working at the White House?
I feel really humbled and fortunate to have that opportunity. I was there from 2009 to 2011, two and a half years. To be there for things like the Affordable Care Act and doubling of the Pell Grant, which helps young people who want to go to college, repealing Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell and being in those rooms, those were pretty significant historic achievements that the President got done. There were some pretty powerful moments.

Do you stay in touch with the people there? Would you go back?
I try to stay in touch with as many of the White House folks as possible, on Twitter or when I’m in D.C. Now a lot of them moved back into the private sector. I would love to continue and support the President. I’m a registered Independent so I’m not a Democrat or a Republican so I don’t necessarily have plans to get involved in 2016 or beyond, but I’ve always been kind of secretly involved.

You have some movies coming up.
There’s a movie called Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain that’s been kind of getting a slow release in the U.S. right now. That’s about an industrial accident in India in 1983. There’s another movie called Stereotypically You that I shot over the summer that’s about a bunch of young friends at a wedding, an independent comedy.

Do you have a preference between comedy and drama?
No. If I have the chance to do both, to switch back and forth, I would love that. I haven’t done a play in so long. I’d love to do a proper play in New York. And I really want to play Freddie Mercury.

Can you sing?
Not as well as Freddie Mercury, but I love to…

Photo by Scott Gries/National Geographic Channel