Tommy Chong: The Stoner’s Stoner Has The Last Laugh
Tommy Chong has a new asshole, and he’s happy to tell you all about it.
If this sounds vulgar, please excuse him. The legendary comedian, one-half of the immortal stoner comedy duo Cheech and Chong, will turn 78 years old this year. And he has cancer, so he’s allowed to joke.
“I had a horrendous operation,” he said in a recent interview with SF Evergreen, recounting the aftermath of his second turn with cancer last year. “They cut out a big tumor. They literally gave me a new asshole.”
And that was the easy part. After having beat prostate cancer thanks to a regimen heavy on cannabis oil — a diagnosis that followed after he was off of marijuana for the better part of four years, thanks to nine months in federal prison, and three years while on probation, all for the crime against humanity of selling bongs online — Chong was diagnosed with rectal cancer in June 2015.
He went into surgery with good spirits, cracking proctology jokes and doing elbow shakes with his surgeon rather than shaking hands.
After the operation, unfortunately, came the cancer drugs. The tumor was gone, but he wasn’t getting better. Tommy Chong was literally wasting away.
“I lost thirty pounds in a week,” he said. “I had no appetite. I had no taste buds.”
So one night, he did what he’s done for over 60 years. He smoked a joint.
“It was a miracle. I got the munchies,” he said. “It was the middle of the night, but I put on some slippers and shuffled off to the kitchen. I opened the fridge, and there was some roast chicken in there. And I just started eating it. And I could taste it!”
“Marijuana is a life-giving plant,” he declared. “If it wasn’t for pot, I wouldn’t be here.”
In every way, Chong owes his existence to the cannabis plant — whose energy propelled him to international stardom as a comedy performer and later actor and director — which he first tasted as a 17-year-old in Canada in 1955. That experience “changed my life,” he says today, as did the run-ins with the law over the plant: the time police rousted out a boarder his parents had taken in, and when agents would camp outside a Vancouver music club to bust musicians. (Somehow, he escaped major legal problems until the bong bust.)
Today, he’s taking on a new role as an entrepreneur, marketing a brand of Chong-approved cannabis called “Chong’s Choice.”
But during the dark days of prohibition, the absurdity of it all fueled the comedy. The stoner characters he and Cheech Marin played were prone to foibles, but the real buffoons in the duo’s albums and films were the same clowns in real life: the authorities.
“That’s what we did with the law — we laughed in its face,” he says. “And we still do. Now, the comedy is listening to stuff like that 911 tape from the cop who got into the evidence room and ate the brownie.”
THE TAO OF CHONG
MARIJUANA HELPED HIM QUIT TOBACCO.
“Every time I wanted a cigarette, I’d toke on a joint instead. Pretty soon, I went from wanting a cigarette every day, to every week, to every month, to not at all.”
HE TURNED DOWN A ROLE WITH CHEECH MARIN ON NASH BRIDGES.
“I just couldn’t see myself being a cop.”
FORGET CANNABIS. HE CALLS IT “POT.”
“I’ve never felt better in my life. And it’s all thanks to pot.”
HE’S FEELING THE BERN.
“Bernie [Sanders] is the perfect guy. He’s not about cannabis, but he’s about the people that smoke it. That’s a good step.”
IT WILL ALL BE LEGAL SOON.
“I think pot will be legal across the board by the next election cycle. We have the foot in the door now. Pretty soon we’ll have the whole body in the door.”
Photo by Neil Visel