Tommy Chong: Activist – Comedian – Actor – Musician – Legend
Tommy Chong is a…wait a minute…you already know who Tommy Chong is. If you don’t, you should probably stop reading this article right now and dedicate the next week of your life to all the half century of entertainment Tommy has provided the world. He is a legend in the cannabis community, as well as a musician, actor, director, activist, writer and comedian. Talk about a guy who has done it all. Tommy has rubbed elbows with the likes of Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles in addition to starring in numerous television and film projects. Now 77 years old, Tommy is not only kicking cancer’s butt for the second time, but he is also beginning a new art career and playing a ton of golf. So how do you interview a guy who has done it all? It’s simple really. You rattle off as many questions as you can before he has to get off the call!
How have you seen the cannabis industry change from when you first became an activist years ago?
The quality of the product has grown immensely, no pun intended. The weed itself has been refined and tested, and now we’re getting the purest of the pure products on the market, which is good for everybody, especially on the medical side.
What has impressed me the most is the assortment of medical uses of cannabis. Before, it was just to get you high. Now you can use it to both get high as well as cure whatever ailment is bothering you. It seems every day they’re coming up with a new ailment that cannabis actually helps. I’ve seen a 1000% growth, especially in the awareness factor. People are finally learning the truth about this plant.
As an activist you have done a great job over the years laying the foundation of the cannabis movement. You must be really proud about that.
The thing is, the best way to deal with everything is with humor. That became our trademark, that we were the doper comedians. It kept us in mainstream television but it also put us with the mainstream stoners. We earned our stripes. It took a while, but we used to say years ago, “What if we’re right?” Now it’s come to pass that we were right.
The thing is, the best way to deal with everything is with humor.
In the ’70s and ’80s, the cannabis movement saw the majority of activism through protests. Nowadays, people are breaking down walls with successful business practices. What do you think is changing perception today?
One thing that has really changed the whole system of perception, activism and crime in America is cell phone video recording. Everybody has a conscience now. You can’t commit crimes like you used to, but you can’t police crimes like you used to either. There is no more cover of darkness, because there’s always somebody who’s going to be pointing a cell phone at you recording everything you do. That’s what really came to light.
From inception, the cannabis laws that we have are racist laws. It was designed to slander Mexicans and to give people a reason to incarcerate black people, which they’ve done. That was their excuse and it’s just now being eradicated, but we still see it on television all the time.
The phrase ‘We need more research’ is just an excuse for people to put it on the shelf and forget about it.
Before these ignorant laws, cannabis was used in the medical industry. It was a medicine and they had what we have now, healing oils and such. All the stuff that we have now, we had that same ability back in the early ’20s. It’s almost like we’re going back in time.
The Chinese have been using cannabis for medicine for 5,000 years. It’s nothing new. We’re actually retracing our steps and we’re finding truly healthy herbs. These herbs were given to us by the Creator, to live a long, healthy life. When people realize how long these herbs and treatments have been around, that’s what is going to change perception most.
A while back, you did an interview with Rolling Stone where you talked about how you are a guinea pig for what cannabis can do. What do you think when you hear skeptics calling for more research before they consider becoming pro cannabis?
The phrase ‘We need more research’ is just an excuse for people to put it on the shelf and forget about it. People just want to keep the status quo going; just want to keep arresting people on the excuse that we need more research. But here’s a shocking statistic that gets me: we just celebrated 4th of July weekend not too long ago. Experts used stats and polls to estimate as many as 4,000 people were going to die in alcohol related accident over the holiday weekend. It wasn’t a secret. It was all over all the major news networks.
When they legalized in Colorado, the thing that struck me the most was the line-up of people. There were more people in wheelchairs and crutches than there were healthy.
Those same experts had no figures on cannabis deaths because there have been no cannabis deaths. I think that comparison tells you all you need to know. 4,000 people are needlessly dying on that holiday because somebody got too liquored up. On the opposite end of that, zero people are going to die from cannabis abuse. That statistic alone will tell you what’s wrong with this country and the direction we have to get back.
We have to get back on the right track again and that’s what we’re doing. We’re doing it with the ballot. We’re voting cannabis legal in all the states, and just like how gay marriage went through, this is going to happen as well. There’s going to be people that are going to push back but those are the people that created these laws to begin with. We’re just going to have to eradicate racism, which is really just ignorance, and we’re doing that very well.
Do you think that someone has to be a cannabis user to be a successful advocate for the industry itself?
Absolutely not. I’ve known many, many people where cannabis is just not their thing. I’m talking big-time artists, musicians, teachers, lawyers and all other sorts of professional people that just don’t use it because they don’t need it. At its core, cannabis is a medicine and only people that need it, do it, because it’s not addicting. If you didn’t need to do it, you wouldn’t do it. Why go to all that bother to do it? You’re going to find it and you got to light it up, roll it, you got to do all that stuff. If it’s not your cup of tea then you don’t do it.
You don’t have to go through that ritual, but typically the people that do go through that process, they need it. When they legalized in Colorado, the thing that struck me the most was the line-up of people. There were more people in wheelchairs and crutches than there were healthy. That shows you that it’s a medicine and it’s not meant for everybody, but it should be available for everybody because it’s the safest medicine that we have on the planet today.
I’ve got a very, very colorful history and if you know me then you really are amazed because I’ve been rubbing elbows with the hippest people on the planet ever since I was born.
What are some of the most common misconceptions about Tommy Chong that you encounter when you talk to or meet people?
First of all, I’m like a walking aptitude test. You can tell how aware other people are by what they call me. A lot of people they just know me through Cheech and Chong, and so I get called Cheech a lot. The more unaware people mix us up all the time. They’ll be like, “Hey Cheech, how are you doing, man?” I answer them back and string them along. I usually let them find out for themselves that I’m not Cheech.
There are a lot of people that don’t really care. Who is Cheech? Who is Chong? They don’t care because they’re the peripheral people. They’re the ones that don’t really see you. They know of you but they don’t know you.
Then there are people that have read my books and that know my history. I’ve got a very, very colorful history and if you know me then you really are amazed because I’ve been rubbing elbows with the hippest people on the planet ever since I was born.
I’ve been next to greatness all my life, but a lot of people don’t know that and that’s where another misconception comes from. It really stems from all the movies that we did. There are people on the planet that believe that I am that stoner drummer, that can’t really get his drums together.
Is there one go-to moment for you, where you were sitting with someone and it resonated with you that you’re Tommy Chong and this is the coolest moment?
I think that happened when we were playing a little club in London, England. It was just a little Motown review gig that I had and we were backing up another singer. It wasn’t even our group. We were just sent over there to do a little favor and back-up Chris Clark. We were playing in this empty club and it was clear that no one was coming in.
The club almost closed, it was empty. Then, the door opened and Jimi Hendrix walked in. We didn’t know it, but he had been a big fan of the band. He walked up to the stage and roughly 200-300 people followed him inside. We ended up with a packed club. Jimi walked up to me and asked me if he could sit in, so I offered him my guitar but he said no, he wanted to play bass. He played bass and we played a set with Jimi.
We’re sitting, looking at each other going, “That’s (beepin) Jimi Hendrix in the bathroom, man.”
So you’re on the guitar and guitar legend Jimi Hendrix was playing the bass behind you?
Yup. I was on guitar, he’s playing bass and we played the rest of their set, and then kept on playing for a good while. In fact, the club owner had to pull the plug because we would have kept playing all night. After they pulled the plug on us we went up to our hotel room and that’s when it struck me. Even though Jimi stayed in the bathroom a long, long time, it was still Jimi Hendrix in the bathroom. We’re sitting, looking at each other going, “That’s (beepin) Jimi Hendrix in the bathroom, man.”
I guess I kind of made him up. They wanted a hybrid character. They didn’t want a real stoner and that’s why they never put me with Wilmer (Valderrama). If you noticed, I never had any bits with Wilmer. It would have been too close to Cheech and Chong. ‘Leo’ was something we all kind of collaborated on. They just wanted an old hippie that they could drag along into the ’70s.
How do you view all that you’ve accomplished so far in your life? What do you think you’re most proud of?
I think I’m the most proud of my wife, Shelby. She’s been with me through this whole thing. In fact, she was the one that pushed me in the direction of Cheech and Chong. Up until then I was a musician, but she encouraged me to go on my own and become a comedian. She has always been right behind me.
I think I’m the most proud of my wife, Shelby. She’s been with me through this whole thing. In fact, she was the one that pushed me in the direction of Cheech and Chong.
When I got lonely on the road, without her and Cheech, I convinced her to come on the road with me and I taught her how to do stand-up. Now she opens for Cheech and Chong all over the country.
Could you share some insight on Tommy Chong, the comedian?
I’m sort of a procrastinator when it comes to stand up. You’ll find me writing like crazy just before I go on stage. I don’t bring any notes on stage but I will get it in my mind. I’ll remember stuff. When I first started doing comedy I never had an act. I had a friend who was a photographer and he used to come to the gym where I worked out and he would have a joke for me every day. Finally, about a month went by and he said, “You know you never give me any jokes. I give you all the jokes.” He actually helped me write my first stand-up act, my first half-hour. I used his jokes.
What do you still hope to accomplish in the cannabis industry?
My goal is to get cannabis recognized by the American Medical Association as a bona fide, viable medicine for various ailments, including epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, MS, and cancer, and who knows what else. That’s my goal.
What I would really like is for insurance companies to recognize it as a medicine so that you can put cannabis on Medicare or whatever your health care plan is. I really feel it is a proven medical option.
Pharmaceutical companies have been raping sick people forever. They charge them ridiculous prices for pills that really don’t work, and especially don’t work as well as cannabis.
Spreading the message is my goal. That’s why I feel that I was blessed with this ailment, because I’m so vocal and so public with my journey.
Is there someone who who has inspired you inside of the industry and makes you want to keep going?
Jack Herer. Jack was a very interesting guy. He was the first guy that really, really brought attention to the fact that, not only is cannabis a medicine, but it’s probably the most important plant on the planet, without a doubt.
I read his book ‘Emperor Wears No Clothes’; that set me off on the right path. Up until then I’d just been a comedian talking about pot. I really didn’t know the history until I met Jack and we became pretty good friends. The cool part of Jack’s book is that it is still very now, very today. It still carries the same message it did when it came out.
You’ve dealt with multiple ailments over the years and have treated yourself with a variety of cannabis-derived treatments. How has cannabis helps you personally?
Right now, I’m going through chemo and radiation at the same time. I could not do it without cannabis. Inhaling cannabis and getting high, allows me to not only sit through these treatments, but actually have a somewhat enjoyable experience. I also do suppositories. I’m doing heavy, heavy doses of CBD oil suppositories up in the infected area. I’m hoping that the oil will dissolve the tumor because I believe it has that ability. With radiation, chemo and the topical oil treatments, I think I’m going to see real results. If it really does work, then I’m going to definitely make sure that every medical book in America is going to have a chapter on how it worked.
Right now, I’m going through chemo and radiation at the same time. I could not do it without cannabis.
Now, if it doesn’t dissolve the tumor, it’s still as effective as a soother. When you have cancer, the worst thing is that the brain starts telling you that you’re going to die. You get very depressed and down on yourself. However, with cannabis, you can take your mind off of what you’re going through. When you’re high on pot, you’re listening to music or writing. Right now, I’m writing all sorts of jokes and other stuff. You get so creative when you’re high, especially when you’re high as a medicine. It’s not like when you are high just to party. When you’re taking it as a medicine it activates the creative part in your brain, and that also activates the immune system.
I really believe that cannabis works on the brain to activate all the different healing processes that take place. Everything that heals goes through the brain. The brain is the central computer and cannabis definitely works on the brain.
What kind of cancer are you dealing with now?
I have stage 1 rectal cancer. Luckily, it’s not that aggressive. I also had stage 1 prostate cancer, which was scarier because you can die from prostate cancer, even if it’s stage 1.
Spreading the message is my goal. That’s why I feel that I was blessed with this ailment, because I’m so vocal and so public with my journey.
I’ll tell you, all the cancer doctors were very straight laced when I met them. I was threatening to go the holistic route, and they were, “Oh, please don’t do that.” Because they have a way of radiating and burning it out. I told them, “Okay, I’ll go your route but I got to do it with my cannabis with it.” None of them had any problems with it.
They can’t recommend it but they’ve sure been behind me all the way. It’s more than just a placebo. I know that. It really works. I’ve been told cancer cells are just zombie cells that are being kept alive with sugar.
That’s the problem that America has right now with their bad eating habits. The other thing I want to do here is, if I can, to try to straighten out the eating habits of America.
Sugar or anything acidic, like red meat, keep cancer cells alive. Cancer cells feed off that and it’s basically sugar, because sugar is so caustic. If you put sugar in your gas tank it will stop the car. You can see how much power that sugar has. It’s basically what our body runs on, glucose, that’s life.
What happens when you’re eating refined foods is that you’re putting sugar into your body, into the food chain and then if you’re susceptible in any way to cancer then the cancer cells have a food source right there. That’s the problem that America has right now with their bad eating habits. The other thing I want to do here is, if I can, to try to straighten out the eating habits of America.
How have you changed your diet over the years?
My diet is very strict. It’s a lot of salmon, fish oil and water. Water is the fuel for life. Think about it, you can do without food for months, but you cannot do without water. You need your water and if you don’t have water you will die.
I play golf, work out and run all the time. I’m very active.
That was my problem years ago when I first got diagnosed with prostate cancer. I was water deficient because I was too active and didn’t drink enough water. I play golf, work out and run all the time. I’m very active. When you’re active you’ve got to drink almost half your body weight every day. I was very water deficient.
Now because I’m doing chemo they make me fill my bladder before I go. In fact, I’ve got to start drinking water pretty soon to do my treatments because when you have a full bladder then you define your prostate and your rectum. Your bladder doesn’t disappear in amongst everything else. You need a full bladder and the side result is that you’re drinking more and more water. That’s my advice to everybody: you need more water than you think.
What do you think when you see stories of kids who use CBD to treat ailments for seizures, Crohn’s disease, stuff like that?
It’s a miracle. Those diseases, they’re horrific. If you give me a choice of epilepsy and cancer, I’m afraid I’d have to go with cancer, because epilepsy is horrible. Your body is being shocked incredibly, being traumatized. That’s what I was referring to when I mentioned how cannabis helps the brain. It works well on the brain and the brain controls the epilepsy.
Make sure that you eat a healthy diet every day. Don’t drink, don’t smoke cigarettes and don’t do cocaine.
Look at MS (multiple sclerosis) and Richard Pryor. He couldn’t even speak at the end of his life. He could only use his eyes and he had MS so bad that he was totally paralyzed. Had we gotten into cannabis treatments earlier, he might have been better. We would have had more time with him. Oh man, there’s so many things out there that are waiting for us, but again, I take it right back to the diet. Make sure that you eat a healthy diet every day. Don’t drink, don’t smoke cigarettes and don’t do cocaine.
Set your diet and don’t cheat on it. Make it a lifestyle and try to get the people around you to do the same lifestyle. Because that mindless eating is killing people, eating things like bread is shortening your life.
What does Tommy Chong do in his spare time?
There’s an art form called wabi-sabi. It’s a Japanese form of art and I practice wabi-sabi every day. I make one hitter pipes out of bamboo shoots. I’ve got a special thing going and I’m eventually going to do an art show with my wabi-sabi art. My spare time is going to be my full-time. I’m going to retire from the performing and just do my art. That’s the next step.
Set your diet and don’t cheat on it. Make it a lifestyle and try to get the people around you to do the same lifestyle.
I’m going to unveil them at the art show and then we’ll probably mass produce the ones that affect the people the most, but more than anything I want to encourage people to do the wabi-sabi art with me. It’s very therapeutic. It’s a good thing and very easy. It doesn’t take a lot of muscle or room. The great thing about it is when you make these little pipes, you make them, sand them and put the holes in them. It takes a little bit of work but then the reward is testing them.
My goal in life is to be known as the most successful artist in the history of the world.
I want everybody to make their own art. I’m going to have a wabi-sabi art contest when I get this off the ground. My goal in life is to be known as the most successful artist in the history of the world.
I also got a Chong Golf Game coming out. It’s a new way to score in golf. Golf has become my new religion. I’ve looked into all the religions and golf is the truest of them all.
What would you like to know about Tommy Chong? How is activism different today compared to the ’70s and ’80s? Join the conversation and comment below!