Tommy Chong: An Epic Journey
What can I say about my interview with the iconic Tommy Chong?
I learned so much about him while preparing for my interview with him for my podcast, “Lunch with Stormy.” I had no idea the breadth of this man - from his humble beginnings, to finding his way to Motown, to becoming half of the dynamic stoner duo, Cheech & Chong…. That’s a helluva list, but his depth and energy make up so much more.
The first time I learned about Chong was during my teen years, where somehow, someway, I watched Up in Smoke. I think I found the stoner comedy so funny, it may have been why I was eventually labeled a ‘stoner’, but for some reason I found them hysterical. Maybe it was because they were so different from anyone out there - like, these two dudes made an extremely successful life stepping up and being a “stigma.” It took guts and he did it well.
So, I think this guy is epic - not just for his character within Cheech & Chong, but for how he stands for something. He didn’t just stand for weed, he has continued to stand for the movement despite the laws surrounding the plant. And he did it successfully, and did it while being loved by millions. Even my mom thought they were funny, and she believed in Reefer Madness for most of her life.
I’m rarely starstruck*, but when he stepped into the podcasting studio, I found myself feeling so much gratitude for him. Tommy Chong is super handsome, totally engaging and I gave him a big hug – the kind where you are seeing the uncle who used to send you 20 bucks every year for your birthday, but you haven’t seen him in 10 years… It was the type of hug where I wanted to give him thanks for being so unapologetically different and unique for so long, that it paved the way for not only a subculture but also for cannabis legalization. I have been an open cannabis advocate for the past three years, and hadn’t met him yet, so it was a big day. And it was only 10 days before the Covid stay-at-home order kicked off. I’m so happy he was one of my last hugs… So I hug him, do a couple selfies, ya know, the small talk. And then…
I knew he had to leave right after our interview, but I HAD to smoke with him. Almost a manic panic in my mind, like “am I gonna ask him? Is he going to offer?” We’re in an office building, will he go outside? I had a joint ready. So we’re sitting in the lobby, and I ask the studio manager, “Hey can we smoke in here?” He said, “No. You definitely can not smoke in here. It’s against the rules.” Then he left to prepare the studio. My brain says quietly - I’ll pay the fine, maybe they kick me out and I don’t get to do the interview. But the thing is, the interview wasn’t on my bucket list. I had 30 seconds to make a decision. So I said, “Tommy, will you smoke with me?” And Tommy said, “We can’t in here, and I’ve got a long day ahead.” Another quick decision was required, BUT when your bucket list is staring you in the face and you’re holding the pen….do you follow the rules or check the box? So I said, “Well, it’s a bucket list thing for me, so I’m gonna smoke with you in the room.” I HAD TO CHECK THE BOX!! And I lit up..... and he smoked with me. A guy that made smoking okay, Tommy Chong. We only took a couple puffs so we didn’t fill up the whole office. We innocently walked into the studio and the manager didn’t say anything. I think he was jealous.
My teenage self never would’ve believed it. I would’ve been out of my mind, taking photos with my Polaroid and hoping the pics turned out… I would’ve called every friend from my landline, and shared how cool it was. I would’ve asked to go over to his house. But for this self it was more personal than that; to be able to share in the plant that had stigmatized us both in various degrees, yet brought us to the same place at that very time, to openly consume the medicine, while still breaking a small rule…perfect.
My advocacy for cannabis allowed me to interview THE Chong of Cheech & Chong. More importantly, it allowed me to get to know him and learn that he has an aura of acceptance and love for EVERYONE. Maybe it’s his wisdom, maybe it was because of the stigma surrounding how he found success, maybe it’s because he unfairly spent time in federal prison. Whatever it is, you feel it in his presence. It’s real. He’s naturally authentic and nobody beats their own drum the way he does. My Lunch with Tommy will always be something incredibly special. I could’ve talked to him for hours, and I hope to have him back.
Mark one off the bucket list.
*Exception - Steven Tyler