Tommy Chong Interview: "If We Didn't Have Trump, My Life Would Be Perfect"
Written by Marc Parker and Melissa Benefield Parker, Posted in Interviews Comedians
Image attributed to Tommy Chong
Tommy Chong is perhaps best known as one-half of the legendary cannabis-fueled comedy duo Cheech & Chong, which minted six gold records and released eight films during their reign, for which Chong also co-wrote and directed. Up in Smoke (1978), the highest grossing comedy of the time, topped $100 million at the box office. Chong is also highly recognizable from his role as the aging hippie photo store worker Leo on That 70s Show, which aired on television from 1998 to 2006 in its original run.
After a nine-month prison sentence in 2004 for shipping bongs to Pennsylvania, the comic became a passionate advocate for cannabis freedom and fairness. Chong is bringing the Blazers Cup, a two-day celebration of the best medical marijuana in California, to San Bernardino on December 2-3, 2017. The event recognizes the premier medical marijuana growers, breeders, edible chefs and extract artists.
"When Cheech went off and did all sorts of movie roles, I just waited until I got the one role that fit, and that’s all I needed."
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tommy, what kind of preparation and work goes into putting on a marijuana festival?
Tommy Chong: Well, we have a guy, Tony, that puts it all together. We got the San Bernardino fairgrounds. We rent out space to the vendors. The growers will be there with their products. It’s going to be like a farmer’s market with weed.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That certainly sounds interesting.
Tommy Chong: Oh, you have to come! You can come. Pretend it’s a Woodstock, and make it a destination. Just leave everything behind, jump in the Volkswagen camper, get all your crazy friends together and come on. Camp out and stay late.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What’s the cannabis competition about?
Tommy Chong: I’m one of the judges, and people submit their product samples, then we blind test it, and then we make a decision as to which product has the different qualities, taste, effect, power and beauty. All those good things come into play, and believe me, there are no losers. Everybody’s a winner. For the ones that don’t get a Cup, they’re going to have a lot of fun! So it’s going to work out really well.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So there’s a trophy?
Tommy Chong: A trophy and a prize. There’s a monetary prize that makes it worthwhile.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you ever had any minors who attempted to enter with a fake ID?
Tommy Chong: This is my first Cup, but I imagine so. That’s the American pastime. You know, use your brother’s ID or your sister’s ID, then you pass it through the fence to the next guy and have five people come in with the same name (laughs). My dad would take me to a baseball game, and I always thought the entrance to the field was in the back over a fence and under the stands (laughs). To me, that was the entrance because there were always people there, and you could get in real fast, then you’d take whatever seat you could find.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Will you have your own line of cannabis products there?
Tommy Chong: Oh, absolutely. Chong’s Choice will be there in a big tent. I met some Chong’s Choice customers recently. I was at an event where Ted Danson spoke. It was kind of a rehab for kids that have alcohol problems called Angels at Risk. I was watching Ted Danson talk. And I realized he was the bartender on Cheers for years, and his kid ended up with an alcohol problem. It’s kind of ironic, you know?
I’ve done weed forever, and all my kids have no problems. My youngest son got a degree in music from the University of Boulder. My daughter, Rae Dawn, got a bunch of acting awards for all the movies she was in, and my other daughter Precious got a degree in English and has her own podcast out of Toronto. So all my kids are very successful, and I owe it to marijuana. I wouldn’t let them smoke. Well, I wouldn’t okay smoking or drinking to excess. In fact, I’d tell my kids, “Listen. I don’t care what you do. Just don’t tell me about it.” (laughs)
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What’s the real deal on studies about the effectiveness of marijuana with pain and illness?
Tommy Chong: There’s so much coming up every day practically. They’re finding out it’s effective with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. It’s really effective with people with MS that were normally confined to a wheelchair and are now walking around. It’s really effective with epilepsy for young kids. Oh, it’s so good, and there are so many positive uses that we’d be here all day talking about them.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You had prostate cancer a couple of years ago?
Tommy Chong: In 2015, I got rectal cancer. I got a tumor on the rectum, and I had to have it removed. I underwent chemo pills and radiation. When they radiated the tumor, they also radiated the prostate, so I’m cancer free now. I had to move the exit to the front, but other than that, I’m good to go (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did the marijuana help with the side effects of the chemo or radiation?
Tommy Chong: The chemo wasn’t bad because it was pills. The radiation was a piece of cake. That was nothing, like ten minutes of listening to Jimmy Sutton on my earphones. But it was after the operation that marijuana helped me recover. After I got operated on, they put me on morphine and oxycodone, and getting off that drug … I got scared off that drug. I quit it as soon as I could because it made me feel too good (laughs). I said, “Oh, I don’t want to get used to this one.” So I quit.
It was marijuana that brought me back to life because when you’re recovering from an operation, you’re trapped. You can’t exercise as much because you’re immobile. You have to be still, and then all sorts of weird thoughts come into your mind. What the marijuana did was calm the mind. It calmed the mind, and then I started being funny. I started thinking funny, and then I started eating. I got a good appetite. I had lost maybe 30 or 40 pounds and was down to 140. I’m usually at 175.
Marijuana gave me an appetite, and it gave me an appetite for love, and it gave me a sense of humor. Within a week or so, I was playing golf. I did Zootopia. You know, the Academy Award-winning movie? I came out of the hospital and went right into the recording studio and recorded Yax for that movie. It was all because of marijuana. Marijuana gave me a sense of humor.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What do you think about Attorney General Jeff Sessions wanting to restart the “war on drugs”?
Tommy Chong: No wonder Sessions has a driver because I wouldn’t trust him finding his way home alone (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So you don't think the Trump administration will be able to reverse or slow down the prospect of continuing to make cannabis legal?
Tommy Chong: (laughs) Listen. That is one issue that if Trump ever went near it, he would lose every voter he ever had because think about it. You really have to be stoned in order to see the beauty in Trump. Like, being stoned, I can see through a hustler. I took a course in “hustler” when I went to jail, so I saw the “hustle” right off before Trump even saw it. I saw what he was doing. I wrote a song about it. But anyway, this administration has a hard time doing anything.
They got the House, the Senate and the presidency, and they can’t pass anything. They can’t get anything done! They’ve got a majority, and their proposals are so stupid that even their own people would rather quit than do that stuff. So as far as marijuana goes, I mean, come on. It’s pretty safe.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What will be the catalyst for getting the rest of the states on board to legalize marijuana?
Tommy Chong: The answer really is money. You look at how much Colorado makes in sales, and it’s in the billions! That’s not money taken for something that’s polluting the planet. It’s money that goes right into the government. It goes back to the government. The benefits are great, and the health hazards are non-existent, so it’s just a matter of time before the whole world catches on, and that’s going to happen.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): There were censors on television in 1978, but apparently Hollywood and the public were ready for a stoner film. Is that why Up in Smoke was so successful?
Tommy Chong: Oh, for sure. Yeah. We followed the perfect Hollywood recipe for success. It was a forbidden subject, and it was two stoners, one very Mexican and one very Canadian, and we just changed the whole world. Even the advertisement was funny. The poster read, “Don’t come straight to this movie.” That’s all it had to say (laughs). We got by every censor. In fact, the censors were digging the movie.
Everybody dug the movie. In that movie, nobody got killed and no one got hurt. The only time you hurt yourself was when you were laughing so hard at those guys. My wife said we were the first people to come along to make a movie where the cops were the villains, and the stoners were the good guys. So that film really resonated with everybody, and it just spawned a whole identity. I’m very proud of it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You should also be proud of the character of Leo on That 70’s Show.
Tommy Chong: Oh, that was an extension of Up in Smoke, wasn’t it?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Aging hippie with an easygoing attitude. Anyone we know?
Tommy Chong: You talk about typecasting (laughs). I was typecast and purposely, too. When Cheech went off and did all sorts of movie roles, I just waited until I got the one role that fit, and that’s all I needed. But I’m super lucky. I got my health. I got my wealth, and I got my beautiful wife.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you performing with Cheech these days?
Tommy Chong: Oh, yeah. We’re leaving in an hour to go to the airport. We’re doing two casinos. We’re still hard at it. We’re hard-working stoners.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What’s your secret to success, Tommy?
Tommy Chong: My secret just walked in the house. She’s my reason. From the day I met her, my life changed totally. She was about 16 years old when I met her. I met her, and we were just friends. She was going to school. Then I ended up moving next door to her, and we became a little more than friends. She never ever wanted to marry me. In fact, we were together for years. The only reason she married me was because of income tax problems (laughs). She said, “I’ll never marry you.” Then the accountant said, “Well, when he dies, the State gets all the money.” She goes, “Okay. I’ll marry you.” (laughs) I was not her first choice, but I was the only guy that kept standing in front of her until she finally said, “Okay. I’ll let you drive me home.”
We were friends first, and we’re still friends now. We’ve got three kids. The very funny comedian Rodney Carrington talks about being old when the wife signs the checks. I’m at that stage (laughs). She’s got power of attorney, and she signs the checks. When I went to jail, she parlayed our house in Vancouver into two apartment buildings and a house in a swanky area. Then she sold the house and has got money stashed all over the place (laughs). Oh, she’s a joy!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You once said you toked up with all the Beatles except Paul. Is that still the case?
Tommy Chong: Oh, yeah. He’s on my bucket list for sure. I can’t wait, man. I know the word had gotten to him because I’ve been saying this for years now. George and I were really good friends. We were pretty tight. We got high together a lot … a lot. We did play music together one time when he played on “Basketball Jones.” Ringo never smoked pot, but I was with him when I smoked pot, so I consider that the same thing. He was in rehab when I met him a couple of times.
I was in a room at a party one time, and I was lighting up, and I looked over, and there was John sitting on the floor by the bed. So I walked over, and I handed him my joint, and he said, “Nah. I better not.” He was having trouble with immigration and going through some things with one of his girlfriends. It was the Chinese girl. Anyway, John declined. But who walked in then and started fluffing his hair in the mirror? Rod Stewart. I walked over to Rod and offered him some, and he said, “No, thank you.” It was the voice, you know, can’t have the reefer because of his voice. But I have to admit it was one of those stinky ones, so I don’t blame him for turning it down. It was one of those that your mother would say, “Did the cat piss in here or what?”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Any other projects coming up?
Tommy Chong: We did a Cheech & Chong documentary, and it’s about three quarters finished. It needs a really good ending and a good deal. So we’ve got that coming out. I want to call it “Grumpy Old Stoners.” But my daughter Robbi’s guy Dave is the director. We’ve got the Blazer’s Cup coming up. I’m on Facebook with something like seven million and something followers and growing. I keep getting more and more, which is fine with me.
My life is so good that I’m a little afraid now, and I’m looking around the corner. But thank God for Trump. If we didn’t have Trump, my life would be perfect (laughs). I’m listening to Rodney Carrington. I love Rodney. I’m listening to his latest record, but I think Cheech will be the only one who will appreciate it. I loved talking to you, dear. Call me anytime.
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