ETC / Interviews

Tommy Chong on Elevate The Conversation with Dr. Frank

Tommy Chong, eh? What more can we say, other than “amazing”? Tommy Chong has been a long-time advocate of medical marijuana and, alongside partner Cheech Marin, is one of the key developers of what we might now dub “stoner comedy”. Oh, and Chong has also helped us see a little bit of what the world of stockbroking is like by inspiring Jordan Belfort to write The Wolf of Wall Street whilst in federal prison.

Should you decide to look at post-WWII US comedians with a bit of an investigative eye, you are likely to notice that many of the best comedians of Tommy Chong’s day could be said to be “stoner comics”. George Carlin, Robin Williams, Rodney Dangerfield, Lord Buckley, Lenny Bruce …

The list of comedy greats who used marijuana seems to be more than just a coincidence. Maybe it was the outdoor-grown 60s/70s weed; maybe it was the fact that many of them were fighting against government misinformation and the prohibition lobby.

Whether Tommy Chong likes it or not, many see him as part of the same illustrious group of comedians mentioned above. Whether it was the “Dave’s Not Here” or “Sister Mary Elephant”, Cheech & Chong albums were often things 70s kids put on when their parents weren’t around.

In fact, with some of the material these comedians put out in the 60s and 70s, you might still get a raised eyebrow or two here or there. (Go on, we dare you: put on a Richard Pryor record at a classy party and see what reaction you get.) This is perhaps why so many of the counterculture comedians of yesteryear still hold such influence today – their messages are still relevant today to a greater or lesser extent.

Now, in the post-Kinison era of Chris Rocks and Doug Stanhopes, we might think some of Cheech & Chong’s material to be somewhat “tame” by today’s standards. However, sometimes we must look beyond the fancy, sweary packaging many comedians employ (and they did this as much if not more so back in the day in the old vaudeville clubs than they do now), and search for the substance.

What makes a piece of comedy “edgy” is not necessarily the language of the comedy, but the challenging content what is being said. Yes, Cheech & Chong may have been more less caustic than some of their counterculture comedian counterparts, but by making their comedy that little bit more accessible they not only became great successes but showed the world that cannabis users were more likely to be laidback goofballs than hardened criminals.

By doing this Cheech & Chong helped change the narrative on the War on Drugs, as well as set the blueprint for future stoner-buddy films to come, from Pineapple Express through to the Harold and Kumar series. To immortalize his influence on modern comedy even further, Tommy Chong was given bit-parts and cameos in plenty of great films, like Half Baked and National Lampoon’s Senior Trip. Oh, and a pretty great stint as Leo in That 70s Show before Chong was imprisoned.

You’ll get to hear all sorts of stories from Tommy Chong on this show, including some details of what his time in a federal (and celebrity) prison was like and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s tolerance of marijuana use. Go on, give it a watch!

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