April 20, 2010

Interview: Tommy Chong: "I’ll do anything as long as drugs are involved"

The Canadian comic legend talks about his reunion with Cheech Marin, his upcoming DVD and, of course, legalization

Tokers rejoice! Thirty-two years after lighting up the big screen with the Godfather of stoner-coms (that would be
 Up in Smoke, for our straight-edge readership), Cheech and Chong are still, still smokin'. The last decade has certainly been a trip for Canada’s own Tommy Chong: dude went to prison for selling bongs over Pennsylvania’s unhip state line, penned a memoir that was moreover a serious criticism on American pot culture, had a divisive doc made about him and reunited with his beloved Cheech.

Stylishly released on 4/20, Cheech & Chong’s Hey Watch This features stoner-friendly movie reenactments, sketches, stand-up and a bevy of crunchy tunes recorded during a recent reunion tour that saw the icons together onstage after 25 sobering years. In celebration of this DVD release (courtesy of the good folks at Alliance) and said high time of year, I’ve got the Squirrel Master himself on the line.

My father is going to be jealous.

Well, thank you. 

Hey Watch This is hitting DVD on 4/20 — that’s some brilliant marketing. 
Looks like it’s got some serious pre-sales. Our industry is expanding more than ever, so I think we’re riding a wave now.

This was your first tour together with Cheech in a very long time. Did the formula change significantly? 
We’ve already altered it almost 90 per cent since the first show. We have such a wealth of material that we could change it again tomorrow if we had to. Our stuff is now more audience-friendly. We talk to the crowd and acknowledge their love.

It must be nice knowing some audience members were probably stoned at your show decades ago. 
There’s still a few left. A couple guys brought preserved tickets. The price was like $2.50 back then. 

You were in Evil Bong. Is it scary?

Sounds like a bad buzz.
The bong… takes over. It’s all pretty fun, and I’ll do anything as long as drugs are involved.

What was trippier: being in a Scorsese movie [After Hours] or an episode of South Park?  

They’re both equal. I’ve always loved South Park. Those guys are such geniuses. Cheech and I actually partied with Scorsese. It was fun being in that New York scene.

A/k/a Tommy Chong [released in 2005] was a fascinating look at 21st-century Chong. But there’s been controversy surrounding the doc since it came out. I even read that you distanced yourself from it. 
Well, the guy that made it [Josh Gilbert] sort of lost his way. He tried to make it more of a commercial product. There were some hassles with the people that put up the money, so I just stepped away. After he sold it to someone else, [Pennsylvania attorney] Mary Beth Buchanan also busted those guys.

The film paints you in a flattering light. It was clearly made by an admirer.
He was a great fan and is still a good friend. But you can’t take on projects like that and expect them to be a huge commercial success, unless you’re Michael Moore.

It’s interesting how quickly medicinal marijuana is spreading across America. It seems like they’re close to outright legalizing pot in a couple of states. Does that sound overly optimistic? 
No, no. California has got it on the ballot for this November election to legalize pot outright. And it’s already medically legal there, which is great. You can grow up to 16 plants per patient, which is way more than anybody legitimately needs. But all it does is show the hypocrisy of the American system. And that's what has to be done to make a change. But you have to show a profit, and I think the American people are now beginning to see the financial possibilities.

It seems Hollywood is capitalizing on pot culture more than ever, with stuff like Harold and KumarPineapple Express and Weeds
I liked that one with Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep.

It’s Complicated.
That’s it. You know what’s really ironic is that Steve Martin’s whole act used to be anti-pot. He had that album called Let’s Get Small, which was his slam against potheads. Steve used to be a hippie but he couldn’t go anywhere with his act because he wasn’t hippie enough. So he went the total opposite. And to now see him doing a pot scene, that was beautiful.

Harold and Kumar
 received a lot of praise for its progressive racial dynamic, but you guys pioneered that long before. Growing up, I could never make out your ethnicity.
Well, I’m everybody. I’m like Obama.