It’s hard to believe that it’s been a full decade since Harold & Kumar went on their all-night quest for hamburgers, but a lot has happened since then. Actor Kal Penn went on to work for the White House and Neil Patrick Harris became the toast of the Tony Awards, for starters.
On the surface, Harold and Kumar seems like just another generic stoner comedy with your standard jokes about the munchies and cop paranoia, and it is all of that. But the movie also had a big impact, for several reasons.
First, let’s talk about its cameos. Because it has some great ones, with Ryan Reynolds and especially Christopher Meloni putting in memorable performances. Neither benefited from this movie as much as Neil Patrick Harris, though. As we discussed in The Lost Decade of NPH, this is the movie that catapulted him back into the spotlight and allowed him to enter the zone he’s been in ever since.
Harold and Kumar was also the first American R-rated comedy to have two lead actors of Asian-American ethnicity. This was an intentional move by co-writer Jon Hurwitz, who wasn’t seeing Asian characters in movies like the ones he knew in high school, as he told the New York Times: “Whenever we saw Asian or Indian characters on-screen, they were nothing like our friends, so we thought we would write characters like them.”
The film’s final destination was also of importance. White Castle essentially helped bring White Castle to the masses. Before the movie’s release, the burger joint was really only known to those who were fortunate enough to have one in their area. Director Danny Leiner said that White Castle was chosen specifically over a national chain like McDonald’s because of its cult following.
To celebrate those unique traits — along with the film’s 10th anniversary — here are 12 facts you might not know about the cult classic.
1. Goldstein and Rosenberg were partially based on Shakespeare characters. Harold and Kumar’s best friends — Goldstein and Rosenberg — were partially based on Shakespeare’s characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from Hamlet and partially on Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, who went to school together in Randolph, New Jersey and wanted the movie to reflect where they grew up.
“We just knew Harold and Kumar had to have Jewish friends,” Hurwitz told the New York Times, “to complete the multiracial circle we had in school.”
2. White Castle promoted the movie with collectible cups. Harold & Kumar was the first time an R-rated comedy had been promoted by a fast food restaurant. White Castle didn’t pay anything for the film’s product placement and celebrated the movie’s release with specialty — and now incredibly hard to find — collectible cups. They also inducted John Cho and Kal Penn into the prestigious White Castle Hall of Fame, whose other celebrity members include Smithereens guitarist Jim Babjak and Alice Cooper.
3. Krispy Kreme turned down a role in the movie. The Krispy Kreme “Hot Doughnuts Now” sign has long been a beacon of glazed hope for weary travelers, and producers wanted to feature the doughnut chain in the movie. The company was leery about being so closely related to a crass comedy full of illegal drug use, nudity, and a raging NPH, and turned down the offer.
4. White Castle made Kal Penn special veggie burgers. Kal Penn is a vegetarian, so during the ending when he and Kumar finally reach White Castle those are specially made veggie burgers he’s chowing down on.
5. It could have been Ralph Macchio that stole Harold’s car. Hurwitz told the New York Times that Neil Patrick Harris was always their first choice because of his clean-cut TV persona, but if he declined they were going to reach out to the Karate Kid, Ralph Macchio.
6. There’s an actual Hot Dog Heaven. Two, in fact. Hot Dog Heaven, the crave destination of Harold and Kumar’s friends Goldstein and Rosenberg, actually exists and has two locations, both in Ohio. Hurwitz and Schlossberg once ate at the Amherst location and loved it so much they decided to work it into the movie.