Tommy Chong Interview: Cheech & Chong's Pot-Themed "Bud Farm" Takes Gamers on a Trip Back to the Groovy '70s
Written by Marc Parker and Melissa Benefield Parker, Posted in Interviews Comedians
Image attributed to Tommy Chong
Canadian actor, writer, director, musician, comedian and cannabis rights activist Tommy Chong is known for his marijuana-themed Cheech & Chong comedy albums and movies with Cheech Marin, as well as playing the character Leo on the hit sitcom That ‘70s Show. The first ever Cheech & Chong video game, Bud Farm, in which Cheech and Chong take you back to the 1970s, is available for free download on April 20, 2020.
In Bud Farm, Cheech and Chong find themselves stranded in the tiny hamlet of Hierba Verde. With no dope to be found, they start growing their own and stumble ass-backwards into a lucrative business empire. However, Sgt. Stedenko is hell-bent on putting them in jail for life. With the help of a freaky cast of characters, Cheech and Chong will chase their dreams of fame and fortune, while staying one step ahead of the law.
"We’re trying to grow buds. We’re trying to grow pot. We’re doing it illegally, of course. We have our nemesis called Sgt. Stedenko."
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Tommy, how are you coping during the pandemic?
Tommy Chong: Well, it’s rough, you know. I’m stuck here with a gorgeous woman that can cook, and she cooks every night, and I’m forced to eat the gourmet meals. We live in a beautiful neighborhood, so social distancing is not a problem because it’s a neighborhood where they’re so rich, they can’t afford kids (laughs). So there’s no one in the neighborhood, you know.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Are you keeping in contact with other family members?
Tommy Chong: Oh, yeah. We went on Zoom for a birthday shout out. It’s exciting. I love what’s going on. I love the way the earth is sort of taking charge because when you start hurting the earth with climate change, burning fossil fuel and screwing up the atmosphere the way we’ve been doing for the last 50 years, it’s like the earth gave us a timeout. Stop doing everything. I’ve been enjoying the clean air, the water and enjoying my house. I’ve never enjoyed my house like I’ve been doing. It’s been great. I’ve been loving it. But I’m a little selfish.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I know you’re not a fan of Donald Trump!
Tommy Chong: Who is? (laughs)
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What do you think about the way Trump is handling this health crisis?
Tommy Chong: Well, actually, he’s part of the solution. The interracial thing was going nowhere. There were so many things that weren’t going anywhere like universal healthcare. Obama barely made Obamacare the law, and now Trump showed us how badly we need everything. So I look at him as the solution. He’s like the Roto-Rooter man, you know. You only have to deal with him when the shit ain’t working, and once the shit ain’t working, get the hell out of here! (laughs)
Smashing Interviews Magazine: (laughs) The first ever Cheech & Chong video game, Bud Farm, is coming out.
Tommy Chong: Oh, yeah! It’s our answer for the shutdown. It’s Cheech and Chong together in the video game. You get to have fun playing on the phone. I’m not really good at that yet. In fact, I’m at that age where I don’t think we’re allowed to play video games.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: There’s a little Cheech and a little Chong in the game. What are you guys doing?
Tommy Chong: We’re trying to grow buds. We’re trying to grow pot. We’re doing it illegally, of course. We have our nemesis called Sgt. Stedenko. By the way, Sgt. Stedenko is a real person, or was. He died a couple of years ago. He was the narc that was trying to chase us down in Vancouver when Cheech and I first got together. He was Royal Canadian Mounted Police and was a narcotics guy. So he was always trying to catch us smoking dope or buying it or whatever. So when we needed the name of a villain, I immediately thought of him. I made him so famous that he got shipped off to Turkey for the rest of his career because he was too famous (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: (laughs) And the video game is set to be released on weed day, 4/20?
Tommy Chong: Yeah. 4/20. That’s a national holiday. Actually, it’s the opposite. 4/20 is the only day that weed growers go to work. Up until then we’re off until 4/20. We only work one day a year (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: With an exception this year due to a pandemic.
Tommy Chong: Well, I’m working more in the house than I ever did.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Working on projects?
Tommy Chong: Oh, yeah. I’m doing some interviews, especially for the game. I guess the reporters are kind of bored, so they call me up and want to be entertained for a while (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Tommy, you are definitely entertaining! (laughs) Up in Smoke premiered on Netflix this month. It’s a great film to watch while quarantined.
Tommy Chong: Oh, sure, well, it’s educational. So many immigrants learned their English watching our movies.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You and Cheech first met in the late 1960s. Did you know from the very beginning of the partnership that it would be successful?
Tommy Chong: Well, we figured it out. We were a couple of comics from a strip club. We started in a strip club up in Vancouver, so we used to do a lot of T & A jokes, you know, a lot of sex jokes. When we came down to LA, we ended up doing some weed jokes. But it wasn’t until we discovered the characters. We were in LA and needed to come up with something. We came up with the Low Rider and the Stoner. Once we had those guys, then we knew. At least I knew. Yeah, Cheech knew, too. Everywhere we went, we were stars even though sometimes we were getting paid 12 bucks apiece or no money. Everybody treated us special. So we knew. You know, it’s funny, too, Cheech doesn’t like this story, but I was influenced by Frank Zappa. Remember Frank Zappa?
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I certainly do.
Tommy Chong: He influenced Cheech & Chong a lot because Frank, when he did his records, did kind of Cheech & Chong bits on the record. So when we started recording, we kind of copied what he would do because Frank had all these crazy things that he would talk about, and a lot of it dealt with the Chicanos. So when he heard about us, Frank came to see us, and I don’t know whether he was jealous or what, but he wasn’t very nice (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Really?
Tommy Chong: No. In fact, we stopped him on the street. He was walking in front of us with Herbie Cohen, his manager, who was also looking to manage us. So we stopped Herbie, and we got introduced to Frank. He wasn’t that friendly at all. But later on, he and Cheech became pretty good friends. So I kind of know that we affected people in that way, that we had something, that there was something going on.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You and Cheech have had a rocky relationship. Has it mellowed in later years?
Tommy Chong: Oh, yeah. Cheech calls me the humblest megalomaniac he’s every known (laughs). You know, he never admitted he was Mexican when I met him. He wasn’t telling anybody. In fact, right up until we got into a nightclub where we were doing very badly. We did one show, and it didn’t go over very well at all. So I told Cheech, "You’re from here, man. There must be a character that these people can relate to." So then he told me about the Low Rider character, and I said, “Perfect. Let’s do it.”
Cheech was a little hesitant because it was out of character for him. And sure enough, when we got on stage with that character, then I knew right then. We both knew. We said, “We have hit the mother lode.” You know you hit the nerve, and the audience went nuts. Every time we’d do our show, especially in LA or anywhere there’s Mexicans, they just went crazy. So I knew. We knew.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What kind of parents did you have, Tommy?
Tommy Chong: Oh, I had the best parents. My dad was Chinese. He was a truck driver and was in World War II. He never talked because I don’t think his dad talked to him. So he would grunt, but he would never really have a conversation until he found out I could play guitar with a fiddle player. So as a guitar player, he took care of me. But as a son, I don’t think he said five words to me. Ever.
My mother was as sweet as can be. She was really the driving force like most mothers. Like if I wanted to borrow the car, and my dad wouldn’t answer, my mother would say, “Give him the car, for Christ’s sake!” But when we did make it, my dad came and saw the show. After the show, he goes, “You talk pretty rough up there, son.” (laughs). You know how dads hate their kids when they’re pre-teens or teenagers. I started going to the dances where they did the Lindy Hop and Jive and all that, and I learned how to dance. Then I got a black dance partner. She was my girlfriend. I brought her home, and my dad called me in the kitchen and goes, “Son, she’s black!” I said, “Dad, you’re Chinese!” (laughs) Of course, he fell in love with her, and I ended up marrying a black girl. My first wife was black and 19. Of course, they loved her to death after that.
My dad was a typical, old-fashioned Chinese guy. He was a gambler as well as a truck driver. He never said a whole lot, but he was a kind of a lady’s man. He was a very cool guy. He was short. In fact Cheech and him look like brothers now. Cheech looks a lot like my dad. Yeah. It’s quite a trip. But my mom was an angel. Really. My mom’s mom committed suicide, and she was put in as a housekeeper. She was raised in an English family as a housekeeper. She was the help, so she never had an education. She was a domestic until she met my dad, and then she contracted TB, and they took out a loan because they had to get her medicine. TB, at the time, was like the pandemic today. So she was quarantined. I never really hugged her until I was six or seven, I guess. Until then, there were no hugs. I missed that whole part. And I found out just recently that she was a quarter Native. My grandmother was half. My mother was born on a reservation in Saskatchewan. I’m just finding all this out now.
But my dad loved cash, and I would always make sure he had a little pocketful of cash. Then my mother died, and my dad was so sweet. He didn’t know how to cope with it. He’d been with her all his life. So when she passed away, he got in his car. He was in Vancouver Island, and he drove all the way back to Calgary. He just drove around almost like he was looking for her, just going back to where they lived. It was the saddest thing. I was out of town, and they held the services until I got there. When I got there, they had the services. When I came in, my dad was hurting. You could see it. All the family, and everybody was there. He wasn’t in the best of moods, so I took my dad for a ride. I said, “Come on. Let’s go for a drive.” Then when I was driving him, he never talked to me, so I asked him, “How did you and mom meet?” And he told me the prettiest story. It was incredible.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: That’s beautiful, Tommy. And your dad served in World War II?
Tommy Chong: Yeah. My dad was at D-Day. They’re all heroes. You know the King family that owned Wheel of Fortune and all those game shows? Well, they were all brothers. Michael just passed a couple of years ago. Richie’s still alive, and he’s pretty wealthy. He lives in a big house in Beverly Hills. We go to his house once in a while. But we were having dinner with them. Richie and I get along really well. He’s an old Boston gangster (laughs). Anyway, we’re sitting having Sushi with a whole bunch of people. The conversation got around to Vietnam. And it was the first time Richie told everybody that he’d been in the Marines in Vietnam. He was in the worst fighting in Vietnam. He was in the middle of it, and he got shot in the mouth. The bullet went in, took out a molar and went out his cheek. He was back fighting a week later.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Did your parents have a musical influence on you?
Tommy Chong: It was actually my mother. When she was pregnant with me, she used to strum a guitar against her tummy. She was like a hippie. The same guitar was always in the house. Somehow, I had musical ability. I had a cousin who had a little accordion, and I used to go and sit in his room and just play the accordion. I picked up the guitar, and I had talent! So next thing you know, the fiddle player from across the field needed a guitar player, and I was the only one around, so I ended up with the job. I ended up playing with them at parties (laughs). I was eight or nine years old. Hey, give the kid a beer (laughs). They gave me a beer, and I put it under my chair. I hated the taste (laughs). But I played dances at nine years old, and he taught me, too. In between songs, he’d help me. That’s why to this day, I’m a millionaire backup guitar player.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You were with the band Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers?
Tommy Chong: Yeah. My whole life has been just one thing after another. I met Bobby when he was looking for a drummer. I had a partner, Tommie Milton, who was a comedian, a black guy from the ex-slaves who came up from Texas. He was an offspring there. He never had the best voice, but he had a beautiful body. He was very athletic, and we did a lot of athletic stuff on stage. The drummer was actually my brother-in-law who went on to play with Three Dog Night. He was one of the originals of Three Dog Night. But anyway, we needed a drummer.
We knew Bobby from Big Al’s in San Francisco, and Bobby said, “I can play drums.” So Bobby came down to play drums, but he was such a phenomenal singer, he became the singer and the drummer. Tommie quit, and that was the end of that partnership, and that was the beginning of Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers. That wasn’t our name though. We never had a name. We were a bar band. So when we got signed and discovered by Motown, they wanted to know the name of our group. Bobby was crazy. We had a bass player named Wes Henderson, a very funny black guy and myself. And we had one more black guy, so that was four and me. So we called ourselves Four Niggers and a Chink (laughs). That was the name of our band. We put the sign up on the marquee, and it caused a big uproar.
That night, we had nobody in the club. Nobody wanted to see Four Niggers and a Chink except one very angry black lady wrestler named Lottie the Body. She sat in the front row, and we played a couple of songs, then she goes, “I see the Niggers! But where’s the Chink?” So my dad comes in from the door and says, “Hey, lady, we don’t like that kind of talk around here.” She stood up and grabbed my dad and body slammed him on the dance floor. So I jumped off the stage, and she grabbed me and body slammed my ass (laughs). Then we changed the band name to Four Colored Guys and a Chinese Lad. Then Motown named us Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Motown’s Berry Gordy.
Tommy Chong: Yep. He’s still going, too. I talk to Suzanne de Passe, who worked with him, once in a while, and his biggest problem is what girl he wants to be with. He’s 90.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What are you doing now in your fight to have marijuana legalized in every state?
Tommy Chong: The thing is that we’re trying to get it so we can have our banking. You know, get it federally legalized. Once it’s legalized federally, then the banking industry will accept it. But what I want to do is, I’m going to start a movement to make all marijuana use medical because it is a medicine, and it’s a very effective medicine. If you go medical, you’re assured of the quality so you’re not getting anything bogus because it has to be medically approved. Also the price will drop because you can’t tax medicine the way you tax beer or cigarettes because it’s not a harmful substance like beer or cigarettes. It’s medicine. In fact, there’s no negative effect other than you’ll sit there in a stupor for a few hours or days. But that’s all good for you, you know. So that’s what I’m trying to do now.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Do you have any upcoming films?
Tommy Chong: We’ve got a documentary that’s kind of in the can. They’re kind of waiting for two more things. I’ve got some projects in mind, social projects to help the homeless. I’m working on a project called Hippie Land. It’s really a campground amusement park with a drive-in movie theater with permanent cars, cars that don’t move. You come to a parking lot, you walk up or take a bus, then you go to your private car and sit through a drive-in movie experience. I was working on that before all this stuff happened. So, yeah, I’ve got some great ideas. I made a lot of billionaire friends. They’re not all supporters, but still, their money’s good. That’s all I care about.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How’s your health, Tommy?
Tommy Chong: My health is incredible. It’s really good. Marijuana helped. I had two cancers. I had prostate and rectal. I had both. The body is actually in one of the best shapes I’ve ever been in now. I beat all the cancers. I’m not on any medicines except my own toke a day. It keeps the doctor away.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: And your secret to a long life?
Tommy Chong: Exercise. You’ve got to keep moving because the body’s like a river. If it stops moving, it gets stagnant, so you’ve got to keep everything flowing, which is why I’m studying Argentine tango. That’s what I do in the lockup when I’m not sleeping. I get up and practice my tango moves.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You and your wife stay safe and well.
Tommy Chong: Thanks, and nice talking to you, my dear. You’ve got my number if you need anything else.
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