From Cheech and Chong to That 70’s Show and Dancing With the Stars, actor, comedian, activist and marijuana entrepreneur, Tommy Chong has done it all and has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.
That is, with the exception of Nov. 18 when Chong took some time out from his busy schedule to chat with the Times by phone from California in anticipation of his Nov. 24 show at the Commons Theatre.
Times: What can we expect from your upcoming show at Algonquin?
Chong: It’s more like a seminar than a performance. It’s almost like a Q and A. You might even call it a sermon because I’m such a pot activist. I’m very passionate about the pot, the weed and its good effects.
Times: Have you performed at many colleges or universities before?
Chong: Over the years I’ve done not a whole lot of colleges, but weed conventions, those kind of things. When I was on probation, you know, when I was gonna go to jail, part of my probation was teaching a course at Chapman University in Los Angeles and it was basically, sort of, you know, I don’t know what you’d call it. Anyways, it was an evening with Tommy Chong.
Times: With the younger generation so focused on political correctness, do you have any concerns about performing for a college audience?
Chong: Yeah, I’ve always been asked that question and that’s what happens, you know. My resume gets passed down from one generation to the next. It goes down. It depends on what I’m doing, you know. On TV, like when I was on that 70’s show, I got a lot of young crowds and now they’re older. And then I was on Dancing With the Stars and I got really young fans from that one. I get 10 year-olds coming up to me and ‘Oh my god! Oh my god!’. I’m a guy for all ages.
Times: Mike Meyers has said that Canada is in a unique position when it comes to comedy because growing up, we had access to British comedy that has a different approach compared to the U.S. Do you agree? Do you think there are other major differences between Canadian and U.S. comedy?
Chong: Depends on where in Canada. Comedy always depends on experiences. Certain jokes you can’t use, certain references you can’t use. That’s why a lot of New York comedians, you know, they have a problem when they go down south. Being a Canadian, we’ve had our problems up in Canada. You know, nothing serious, but every place has its own life, its own rhythm. There’s different ways to tap into it but that’s one reason why marijuana is such a unifying substance, because everybody can relate to the feeling of smoking a joint, getting high. So that’s what’s kept my career going, because it’s such a common denominator with everybody around the world.
Times: What is your reaction to the fact that the U.S. is already ahead of Canada in terms of legalizing marijuana?
Chong: Well, down here in the states, we’ve always been in some way a little ahead and in other ways we’re behind. It goes back and forth, you know. It’s like a team of dogs pulling, you know. One dog pulls them harder, depending on the terrain and all of a sudden the other dog is catching up and pulling harder. Canada is very interesting because of its bill of rights and separation of the justice department from the police is very healthy in Canada. And the only thing is the regulations that stop you cold in Canada. Weird building code restrictions and all that crap. Canada is a very special place.
Times: With what’s going on in terms of legalization, what would Cheech and Chong be up to today?
Chong: We were really children of the sixties. We lived through that sixties generation. When Cheech and I started, it was ’68, ’69 when we got together, and when we hit it big it was ’71. So we were still in the hippie, Woodstock generation and now we’ve gone full circle. We’re right back to the Woodstock generation again, you know, where it’s legal and accepted and everybody is enjoying the weed.
Times: How do you think it will impact the younger generation?
Chong: It’s hard to say. I’m very optimistic because I’d rather see my kids — in fact, I’ve made a point of making sure that my kids didn’t get too involved in alcohol or any other kinds of hard drugs like cigarettes. And then they didn’t smoke pot on their own. Maybe because I did and they didn’t want to be like their dad. And now all of them are back and they’re not big smokers but they use it as medicine now and then.
My theory with kids is that they’re smarter than adults. Between the ages of say eight and 16, you know, they’re the smartest people on the planet. It’s only when they start getting those reproductive urges that brings the chemicals out which accounts for a lot of drinking because it loosens inhibitions. Or drug use, including marijuana. But it has nothing to do with marijuana; it just has everything to do with the urges that we are given, thank god.
Times: What does impending legalization mean for you and your business?
Chong: It just opens the door. You never want to be in a business where you don’t pay taxes, because if you’re not paying taxes, that means you can get shut down at any time and you can be nailed for the failure to pay taxes. So being able to pay taxes is probably the best insurance you can have and that’s what we like about it. We like the fact that we can hire a book keeper to keep track of stuff and then you can run a business decently when you’re not hiding stuff from the law. That’s the good thing about it.
Times: Any chance of expanding Chong’s choice to Canada down the road?
Chong: Oh absolutely, absolutely. As soon as we get the green light, I’d love that. I love the green. As soon as we get the green light we’re going to spread the green around Canada like you wouldn’t believe.
Times: What’s one piece of advice you would give your younger self?
Chong: Just keep doing what you’re doing. That’s my advice. Just stay happy. Just realize that we’re on this earth to learn. See, Earth is one big spaceship going through the universe at the speed of 1,036 miles an hour and we’re only on it temporarily and we’re only here in a physical form to learn to evolve, to become better at being human. Just enjoy the process because everything that happens to you is a lesson. Sometimes they’re rough and sometimes they’re really sweet. They’re all lessons and they’re all temporary and once you graduate, then you go on to another level but right now, this is the only level we have and we have to learn everything we get.
Times: Your variety show, Almost Legal just came out last year. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Chong: We’re working on it. With all the election stuff and everything else. I got a really good idea of what I want to do, you know. I haven’t even told my son who is the producer. Thanks to the weed I’ve got a really great idea for a show and I’m gonna spring it on him when the time is right.