COMEDY Back onstage, Chong is still smokin'
The comedian spent nine months in prison for selling drug paraphernalia.
By JOHN BENSON
Dude, long before there was stoner rock, there was stoner comedy.
And leading the way was Cheech & amp; Chong, the Martin and Lewis of the Baby Boomer generation, only martinis were out and, well, you know what was in.
"Oh, that was a great image," said Tommy Chong during a phone call to Los Angeles. "It was our take on pot, basically. It was a very honest take. Pot has been around for as long as humans, and there's been evidence it's been used in early Christian rituals as incense. And so what we did was tap into something that has always been here and always will be here, as far as I'm concerned."
Considering the decades of openness by Richard "Cheech" Marin and Chong toward marijuana, including numerous mainstream motion pictures and various comedy albums that detailed their cannabis exploits, the latter had to feel like any heat from the fuzz (i.e., police, government, etc.) was unlikely.
'Operation Pipe Dream'
However, what he didn't anticipate was "Operation Pipe Dream," a national investigation into drug paraphernalia distribution that caught wind of his Nice Dreams Enterprise, which sold bongs and pipes. Next thing he knows, he's going to prison for nine months. And in typical Chong fashion, he doesn't regret a thing and is now unabashedly capitalizing on the publicity.
"I'm one of the good guys," the 67-year-old said. "I was lionized. It took me out of obscurity really and put me into the martyr position. I have people from Washington phoning me up for my opinion on drugs. And I'm definitely known. Before it was kind of Cheech & amp; Chong, but now it's just Tommy Chong."
After doing his time in California at what he called "Camp Cupcake, like the place Martha [Stewart] went to," Chong, who is originally from Calgary, Canada, found religion. He's become a full-fledged sweat lodge brother, which is part of American Indian culture.
"It's where they get a bonfire, heat rocks up until they're glowing and then they put them in a little hut, a lodge," Chong said. "You stay in there for almost four hours and you sweat all of the impurities out of your system. So it's a health exercise, as well as spiritual."
Perhaps it would take days, not hours, for Chong to fully secrete a lifetime of impurities, but he's committed to his sweat lodge brethren. In addition, the experience has given him plenty of material for his current standup routine, which he performs with his wife, Shelby. The couple will be in Northeast Ohio March 3 through 5 at the Cleveland Improv.
If there's one question that follows Chong, it's about his former duo that had America "Up in Smoke" decades ago.
"Yeah, Cheech and I probably won't get back together," Chong said. "It's tough because you're competing with your old stuff. So, come out now to see this old relic from the past. You're not going to see me around too often, so grab it while you can."