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.
7. There were no White Castles around the movie’s filming location. In the movie, Harold and Kumar are on their way from Hoboken to a White Castle location in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. But at the time there was no White Castle in Cherry Hill. Not that it mattered. The movie was filmed in Canada, which also lacked White Castles. Producers had to convert a fast food restaurant into a temporary White Castle for the movie’s finale, when Harold and Kumar complete their burger quest.
8. Kal Penn had to go to the hospital while filming the jail escape scene. The scene with Kumar falling through the jailhouse air vent while rescuing Harold proved to be dangerous for Kal Penn. Not because of the stunt, but due to a peanut allergy. The crew used peanut dust to create the dust in the air vent, despite allegedly receiving a memo notifying them that Penn was allergic to peanuts. Production shut down for a day because Penn had to go to the hospital for an allergic reaction. When shooting resumed, the peanut dust had been replaced by cocoa powder.
9. Sound engineers staked out a bathroom to capture authentic “battle sh*ts.” On the DVD’s special features menu there’s a chapter called “Art of the Fart,” which is exactly what it sounds like: an inside look at the “battle sh*ts” scene. Sound engineer Jeff Kushner looked for recordings of bowel movements, but couldn’t find the “richness” he wanted, so instead he hid in a truck stop bathroom with a boom mic to capture authentic bowel moments.
10. The movie’s writers would accept nobody but Christopher Meloni for Freakshow. Hurwitz and Schlossberg were fans of Christopher Meloni’s work, and they told him they never thought about anyone but him for the part of Freakshow. Meloni said this puzzled him until he read the character’s description of “the ugliest man on Earth,” at which point he got the joke:
“They said, ‘You know we thought of you from the beginning when we were writing this role for Freakshow.’ I didn’t know how to take that, I was like ‘you did huh?’ I still don’t understand the logic, but whatever.”
11. The film’s director makes a cameo appearance. It’s director Danny Leiner who plays the gunshot victim that is saved by Kumar before giving the guys directions to the nearest White Castle.
12. Harold and Kumar are now heading towards an animated TV series. There have been talks of an animated series since 2012, when Adult Swim announced they were working on an untitled Harold and Kumar project, and it looks like that’s finally coming to fruition. Earlier this month Hurwitz tweeted that the first table read was “insane” and Kal Peen tweeted a photo of himself and John Cho in illustrated form. No word on when we can expect the animated Harold and Kumar to start toking up, but David Krumholtz and Paula Garces are also on board for the series.