When cannabis icons are brought up, it’s hard not to think of Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong. The Los Angeles stoner powerhouses have been winning over audiences since the early ’70s with classic movies, albums and performances centered around pot. The pair has released eight films, including their 1978 debut Up In Smoke, which remains their most popular of the bunch.
For those that want to experience the power of Cheech and Chong for themselves, their comedy tour is likely coming to a city near you soon. For more information and a list of dates, click here.
We sat down with one half of the legendary duo, Tommy Chong, to discuss his history with cannabis, writing jokes about it and working with Cheech after all these years.
HIGH TIMES: What’s it like working with Cheech after all these years?
Tommy Chong: I met Cheech in Canada, but I didn’t really appreciate the fact that he was Mexican until we got to L.A. There’s one thing about Los Angeles, you can’t make it in this town without a Mexican connection. Once I got to Cheech’s hometown of LA, then I realized what a beautiful find it was. Because it really propelled us right to the top, the fact that he was Mexican. Not only is he Mexican, but he was a college-educated Mexican, which really propelled him to the top of whatever field he chose to do. Lucky for me, he chose to be a comedian.
HT: I remember when you were on Dancing With The Stars you refrained from using cannabis while part of the show.
TC: Yeah, that was a mistake.
HT: Do you take tolerance breaks often?
TC: I took a break for a lot of years. I took a break when I was under indictment by the feds. It’s called pre-trial probation, and they drug test you. And if you violate in any way, it goes against your record when they’re sentencing you, so I had to keep from smoking pot all the time that I was in the federal penal system. I didn’t smoke pot for three years, but I was definitely offered it a ton.
That’s the great thing about pot though. When I grew up in Canada, you would smoke it if you had it. But we never had a way of getting it, so I really grew up smoking it when it was there, and then when it wasn’t there, no problem. To me, that was one of the greatest things about pot, is that it was non-addictive. I had no problem, and I do it every once in awhile. But I try not to because I think the cancer was able to develop when I was on hiatus from pot. Coincidentally, I got diagnosed with prostate cancer when I got out of prison.
HT: As someone who has advocated for legal cannabis for years, how did it feel to watch Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska legalize cannabis?
TC: It was such a momentous, beautiful, life affirming feeling. Especially in Colorado. I was there the first day, and I saw the lines, and it was like a line to visit Jesus to be healed. There were people on crutches, in wheelchairs, with all these ailments, all standing in line to get their medicine. That spoke volumes.
HT: What’s your take on dabbing?
TC: I’m not really a big dabber. I like a toke or two. I’m a one toke wonder. One toke will do me. When rats find something to eat, they don’t gobble it down, they take a bite, then they go off in the corner and they wait to see what it does to their body and if it affects them in an adverse way. Then, of course, they don’t eat it anymore. If it doesn’t, then they come back and eat the whole thing. I’m from that school. If I get a new strain or something, I’ll just take one hit, that way I’m not too stoned and I can feel the effects.
Here’s my motto, it’s not how little you toke, it’s how much you toke it. I live that way. There’s been times when I’m in the basement with my bongs, and I’ll take a toke, then a half hour later, I’ll take another toke and then maybe another toke. But I never sit there and blast away like some people do. Dabbing is like that. One toke, I’m fine, but I’ve seen people that do too much fall into a coma or have problems. I used to do that with hash, but I was never a big hash or edible fan. I like to toke the flower, and I’ll dab once in awhile.
HT: Do you ever see yourself putting the pipe down for good?
TC: I’m getting older, and I have friends like Edwin Moses, for instance. He’s a famous artist, and he was a chronic smoker for years, and then he had to quit for years because of his health, so he’s an edible guy. But no, I’m gonna keep smoking. I really enjoy it. I was never a cigarette or pipe smoker, but my lungs wouldn’t allow me. Pot calms the body and brain, and that’s why artists smoke it. The criticisms of pot is why us artists smoke it—because it makes you forget things but it allows you to focus on detail. That’s why if you do art while you’re high, you can look at it and really enjoy it. And then hours later, you’ll be straight and you’ll look at it and ask, ‘what was so great about this?’ Because you’re not high. Because when you’re high on pot, you see detail. The detail could just be a nice day, or a flower, or it could be a little kid playing in the park. You focus on the little details, and that’s what makes it so valuable for artists—because we focus on detail. We don’t just see the one thing, we see and hear everything.
HT: How does it feel to be one of the original comedians to feature jokes centered around cannabis use?
TC: I made a conscious effort for Cheech and I to be in great physical shape. I’ve been weightlifting my entire life for personal reasons, not to enter competitions. I did it to look better because when I was a little kid, I had skinny arms and was embarrassed, but then I learned I could build myself up by weight lifting. Arnold [Schwarzennegger], for instance, when he was bodybuilding, he won Mr. Universe maybe six times and he had not only a great body, but he had a great health regimen. He would not eat or drink anything that would affect his body negatively. But, he would smoke pot. So I realized that it’s a healthy alternative to everything else.
So when we did the movies, I wanted Cheech and I to be in the best shape ever because we were going to do a movie completely stoned, looking for weed, but I wanted to represent pot heads in a way that’s never been represented before because they’re always showing potheads as gangsters out to kill people or drug dealers.
HT: On this tour with your partner Cheech are you guys revisiting any old bits?
TC: We’re having so much fun revisiting old bits on this tour because what we found out on the road is that we can update them without changing the whole dynamics of the bit, so we’re having the most fun we’ve ever had.
HT: How does writing in the year 2016 compare to when you and Cheech began in comedy?
TC: Everything ages. I’ve gone back and checked out old tapes, and we were much younger so we had more energy and physical humor. You know how you have standup comedians? We’ve become sit-down comedians. We do a lot of our bits sitting down, but it works. You have to be age appropriate whatever you do. So that’s the way we are now. When I was younger, I used to do old people. There was this old man in the park I used to do, but now that I’m age appropriate, I almost have to quit doing those bits because they’re almost too real to be a caricature.