PETER KLAASSEN photograph

AROUND THE BONG WITH TOMMY CHONG

August 11, 2004

From www.viewmag.com

"We're in the midst of a flux in time and space," says Tommy Chong, on the phone from his home is L.A. "There's things changing constantly and it's going to be interesting to see what the final outcome is going to be." Tommy Chong, originally from Alberta and having just turned 66, his once brown beard gone white, knows a little bit about change. His days as a carefree stoner were abruptly halted recently, when The Man caught him selling drug paraphernalia over state lines, apparently a crime deserving nine months in prison. "They busted me for selling bongs with my picture on them. They totally targeted me because I'm recognized as an icon and a big supporter of marijuana," says Chong. "I think they were waiting for their chance. I mean, if you want to scare stoners, it's a pretty effective way of doing it." Now on probation and drug-free for the duration, Chong says that his stint in the slammer was actually a very positive experience. "Oh, yeah man, I have to say that overall the experience had nothing but beneficial results for all involved. My wife, Shelby, became an entrepreneur while I was in and my son went off the university," says Chong. "I was accepted by everyone in the prison from the minute I walked in. I was like this icon. I was even invited into a Jewish gang who hung out in the library. There was only once that I thought it was horrible and that was the very first night, for about the first half-hour after lights out. I crawled into bed on the steel bunk with this tiny little blanket and a plastic pillow and kinda looked around and it hit me pretty hard." Thankfully, his stance on marijuana and its legalization have not been shaken, even after his experience. "Pot is a gift, man," says Chong. "It's a gift from God to make us feel better; something to help us appreciate things. People just need to figure that out." When asked if his jail time had a profound effect on his new stand-up material, he answers with a laugh, "Of course man. You don't go through it and not get affected somehow. You see a lot of things inside. One thing I definitely learned is to never get in anybody's face or bug them. You do that and you're just asking for it. You learn to keep your mouth shut pretty quick." Touring with his wife, Shelby for about the last ten years, the shortness of this road trip is due to his being on parole and not being able to perform in the U.S. It's a four-day romp through Ontario. that's it! Luckily, Hamilton is one of the stops-the Ramada on January 26, to be precise. I tell him that I am recovering from Leukemia and feel lucky to live in a country where marijuana is not slotted into the same category as crack or heroin. I tell him that on the days when I ache because of all the drugs I am on to build my immune system, pot is often the only thing that makes the pain go away. He agrees that I am lucky, but tells me to be cautious because laws in Canada may not be what they seem. "Canada has to watch that things don't get all messed up. Like I said, the world is in a state of flux and good or bad things will happen." Chong, who has performed comedy in some shape or form in every medium, including stand-up, albums, songs and movies over the span of his colourful career, says that after all he's been through and experienced, stand-up is still his absolute favourite. "I think being on stage and doing stuff live is the ultimate sport between a man and his audience," says Chong. "It's also the biggest rush and you know, it's good to get your butt kicked by the audience once in a while, so you remember where you came from. I don't know any comedian who would not pick stand-up as their favourite. "I studied up on people like Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx," Chong notes. "I once saw a Redd Foxx show where he got the audience up and then brought them way down, to the point that they were starting to leave. Then, he reels them in a takes them even higher up. By the end of the show the audience was exhausted. It was two-and-a-half hours!" Older fans of course, will always remember Chong as the eternally baked straight-man to the forever manic Cheech (Marin) and will be happy to know that, yes- finally-one of the greatest comedy duos of all time, Cheech and Chong, are going to make another movie! After almost ten years apart, the pair are getting set to release a new film called Grumpy Old Stoners, which catches up to the bakers 30 years later. Chong says this is just the beginning. "It's great to have him around again," says Chong. "I love Cheech and I love bugging him." (Chong once described Cheech's leap to T.V.'s Nash Bridges as turning into a "parent.") "We always said we would never turn into our parents and there's Cheech doin' it. Oh, well. He's here now and we're getting along great. It's going to be a lot of fun. Ideally I would like to film a movie every year, but the way time flies by, I think one every two years is a bit more realistic." The bottom line: a whole new generation needs to stuff their pipes in preparation for the second coming of the "pot culture" phenomenon known as Cheech and Chong. V

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