In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
Tommy Chong is best-known as half of the legendary comedy duo Cheech & Chong, who created an entire career by playing consummate stoners. Their classic albums in the ’70s led to several movies in the ’80s, four of which Chong directed. The two then contributed some voice-over work to Disney movies and appeared in films like After Hours before parting ways. A longtime marijuana activist, Chong also served time in federal prison in the 2000s for selling drug paraphernalia through his family company Chong Glass/Nice Dreams. (He pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute drug paraphernalia in exchange for non-prosecution of his wife and son.) More recently, Chong has made a comeback by appearing on Dancing With The Stars, followed by his new online talk show, Almost Legal, which kicks off on October 23 on FilmOn.com, sponsored, naturally, by Weedmaps. He took a few minutes before his afternoon nap to chat with The A.V. Club about growing up in Calgary, his partnership with Cheech Marin, and the sorry state of of the current presidential race.
Tommy Chong: Fire away. Fire away. I’m ready.
TC: The worst job I’ve ever had… Roofing. Hot tar roofing. [Laughs.]
The A.V. Club: Where was that?
TC: It was in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It was the first job I got after I quit school. I quit school in Calgary. I quit in grade 10. And then I went back and got my grade 10 and part of 11, and then I quit again. But that was the worst job I ever had.
AVC: Guessing it was super-hot and strenuous and gross…?
TC: It was hell! It was hell. You picture hell, and you’re on a hot roof, and you’re spreading hot tar on the hot roof, and you gotta walk on the hot tar, and you gotta carry it and you gotta smell it, and it’s all cancerous… It’s the worst job ever.
TC: Like big success? Little success?
AVC: Like the first time you thought, “Hey, this is going to work out.”
TC: I guess I was about 15 years old. And I hitchhiked from Vernon, BC, to Calgary, with… I think I had five dollars in my pocket. And I slept overnight in a car with one of the guys that were driving me back—you know, hitchhiking back. And I felt really successful because it was the first time on my own, and hitchhiking, and a long distance, and managing to get from point A to B without the police being involved.
AVC: Did you have a dream at this time that you wanted to be a comedian? Like you could have possibly predicted what was going to happen to you?
TC: You know, the weirdest thing: I’ve always known, all my life, that I was going to be something special. I never knew what it was, but I always had that feeling. I think my mother installed it when I was a little guy, because we’re mixed—you know my dad’s Chinese, my mother is Scottish-Irish, and we were living in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, which is like living in Biloxi, Mississippi, as far as racism goes. And so one time when we moved to a different neighborhood, we got attacked by some kids. My brother and I were coming home from a friend’s house late at night and this gang of kids—white guys, you know—attacked us and bullied us a little bit, and we went home and told our dad. My dad, who was 5-foot-4, stocky little Chinese guy, he put on his shoes and went running out after those guys, and I think he caught them. And we never got bullied again.
TC: If I was a supervillain, what would my master plan be… Oh, to get the whole world high on acid.
AVC: That’s not surprising. What would be the best way to do this? Water supply? Through the air?
TC: I think through the air. I think we would spread it through the air. So then everybody could get high on acid.
TC: Happy, for the most part. I was kind of mischievous. I always had a friend. I always hung with a Cheech. [Laughs.] And sometimes it was my brother. But most of the time it was a best friend. And they came in all sizes and shapes. But I always had a friend that I could giggle with. I loved to giggle. And… yeah. I was a happy kid. I was happy.
TC: I guess Marilyn Monroe.
AVC: That’s a good one.
TC: I think I fell in love with her. I mean hopelessly in love. I just loved the way her lips moved, the way she talked.
I liked Doris Day, too, but she was a little too much like a school marm. Marilyn always got the base instincts. [Laughs.] She hit the nerve. The core.
AVC: Yeah, Doris Day seems a little straight for you.
AVC: You might actually have entrance music, I’m not sure.
TC: “Standing in the corner with my 6-foot bong and I’m hitting it hard with my man Tommy Chong.” [Laughs.] It was written especially for me. “Standing on the corner with my 6-foot bong / Going to get high with my man, Tommy Chong.”
AVC: Who wrote that?
TC: Razor Ray is his name. From Ann Arbor, Michigan.
TC: I have taken some promo pictures for some… vape pipes, you know? And I did a couple of interviews about the talk show, and I tried to have a nap earlier but that didn’t work out, so as soon as I finish talking to you, I’m going to have my mid-day nap.
AVC: When does the talk show start?
TC: Well we’ve already done something like 10 episodes, and then it’s just a matter of editing, and then I imagine in a couple of weeks it’ll be being seen somewhere.
AVC: Who have you had on so far?
TC: Eli Roth, George Wallace, George Lopez, Garfunkel And Oates… We’ve had quite a few people. Hannibal Buress, Iron Mike…
AVC: Sounds like it’s going to be fun.
TC: Oh, it’s good.
AVC: Was it spurred on by your recent experience on Dancing With The Stars? Because you had such an amazing attitude about being on that show.
TC: Yeah, it was a lot of fun. [Laughs.] It changed my life.
AVC: In what way?
TC: Well, I got rectal cancer while I was on the show. [Laughs.] It was a pain in the butt. It was a real pain in the butt. And I think [the show] brought it out. It might’ve been there before, but all the stress and strain and the work brought it out. But I became myself, you know? I had to. I couldn’t hide behind Cheech & Chong or the stoner persona; I was out there by myself. And people accepted me. And so that’s where I am myself.
TC: I used to get mistaken for Jerry Garcia, when he was alive. [It happened] every once in awhile. In fact, we put it in a movie one time. In Nice Dreams. This gent comes in with a girl rock band, and they go, “Jerry Garcia! I love you guys!” It was pretty funny.
TC: Not a pipe-maker. Jewelry. I could make smoking jewelry. Not officially yet. My son is still worried about the Feds and me going to jail for bongs. He doesn’t want me to do pipes until they know that I won’t go back to jail.
TC: Well right now I’m collecting Kampachi bottles, you know, the empty bottles that Kampachi comes in. I want to do an art display. I want to do an art show—an installation—and I’m going to build a bong house out of bongs. So you can smoke the house.
AVC: Any particular kind?
TC: Salmon skin—what do you call it? What do they call the hot sauce?
TC: Yeah. That would be my last meal, would be salmon roll with hot sauce and wasabi.
AVC: Is there a place that you like, where you would go to get that?
TC: Nobu. Yeah, that’s pretty well known.
Bonus 12th question from Sloane Crosley: If you could take back one thing in your life that you’ve ever done to another person, what would it be?
TC: I directed the movies, you know, including Up In Smoke. If I had to do it over again, I would make Cheech a co-director. Because he really was a co-director. He really was. I had the final say, but everything we did, Cheech added as much as I did—if not more, in some cases. But I got the name and the glory, because I insisted on it. But if I could do it again, I would make Cheech a co-director.
AVC: Are you guys still in touch?
TC: Oh, yeah. We still work together.
AVC: You two are such a beloved partnership. And you’ve been together for decades. Have you ever even had a falling-out?
TC: Oh, yeah. It was mild, you know, but it was good. The falling-out was good because it prompted me to become a stand-up comedian on my own. So I was on the circuit for over 20 years as a single. And it also enabled me to teach my wife how to do stand-up, and she was on the road with me for 15 years, and she was doing her own stand-up. She’s a fine stand-up. She’s really good. So even the fall-outs were good—when Cheech and I had a falling-out it was at the right time, and when we got back together again, it was at the right time. So, you know, we’ve got good timing.
AVC: And it looks like he’s still doing his own artwork…
TC: Yeah! Yeah, he blossomed into himself, too.
AVC: Nice. So now you get to pose a question that we’re going to ask the person that we talk to after you.
TC: How long are we going to have to endure Trump?
AVC: Oh my god. I hope not much longer.
TC: [Laughs.] Hey, listen: We’re going to miss him when he’s gone—you know that.
AVC: Yeah? Not as much joke fodder?
TC: That’s why I don’t think he’s going to be gone. Because they don’t have anybody. Who have they got? I mean who else but Trump? You look at the Republicans… The thing is, everybody in the world that’s done numbers, you know—they run the numbers—and they knew Obama was going to get elected. You could talk about Mitt Romney all you want, but when you put McCain against Romney for the first guy—that was the best they could come up with? McCain?! And Sarah Palin? You knew that they’d conceded defeat right off the bat. Well, the Republicans are kind of conceding defeat now. The only thing they’re doing is they’re appeasing their donors. The people that are—the racist millionaires that are backing these guys. They’re just appealing to their sensibilities. And so you’ve got all these guys. Ted Cruz, he’s got his donors that he’s appeasing, and Donald Trump, to me, is appeasing himself. At the expense of everybody. Definitely at the expense of the Republicans, for sure.
So my point is that smart money knows the Democrats are going to get in. There’s not even the slightest doubt about that one. If there was a doubt about that one, building that wall just shot everything down. Because just saying that racist remark and then nobody in the Republican party challenging you, nobody including Bush, who is married to a Mexican, no one is challenging him, you know? Because they don’t want to go against that hardcore tea party bunch. But that’s only 25 percent of the population. Which is normal. Like in—you take a poll anywhere, you’re going to find at least 25 percent deranged people. You’re going to find them. It’s just the law of averages. And so my point is that the smart money, they know that the Democrats are going to get in, so their strategy is to keep the Democrats’ mind off any kind of tax raise. And the way they do that, they bring up these wars that’ve already been fought—like voting rights and women’s right to abortion—they bring up all these red herrings so the Democrats go, oh, no, we’re not going there again, are we? And they forget about going after the billionaires for their tax breaks. And that’s why I think Bernie Sanders could very well be our next president.
It’s not impossible. Not impossible. Because when you see what Hillary has to say, and the way they act, they’re with the billionaires. Barack Obama is with the billionaires. Elizabeth Warren I think would be for the people, but she’s not running. Joe Biden would be for the billionaires. Anybody that’s in that office—they’re for the billionaires—because that’s who really runs the country. So when you get a Bernie Sanders… it’s not a new message; it’s a message whose time has come. And I think that’s what we’re going to see.