Tommy Chong Interview

Actor Tommy Chong is often seen as an aging pothead… and that’s exactly what he wants you to see. The truth, however, is slightly more complex and involves Nelson Mandela, Moses, the Joker and Fox News. Zach Freeman investigates.

by Chris Neumer

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ZACH FREEMAN: I’ve been watching clips of you on YouTube being interviewed on MSNBC and FOX and other news stations and it’s great. When you’re laughing at Contessa Brewer for covering Paris Hilton going to jail, or telling Cavudo that [George W.] Bush is a moron and that we definitely don’t have “one of the strongest economies we’ve ever had”. What are these newscasters expecting when they have you on there? Because they seem taken totally by surprise.

TOMMY CHONG: So many of them are just talking heads. They just read their monitors and they don’t really do their homework. All they have to do is ask their guys who work the camera, the grips, and they’ll tell them anything they need to know about me. They have no clue. The MSNBC one was the funniest. The thing is, I know their game: conflict, conflict, conflict. That’s the first rule of drama, comedy, life. So what happens with these guys is that they’re provocateurs basically. They just take the opposite side to keep the juices going and I think that’s what Cavudo was doing when he said, “This is the strongest economy ever.” He had no clue.

ZACH FREEMAN: That was my favorite because when most people disagree they’ll get angry, but you just kind of laugh about it and say, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” And that just drives the point home even more because if someone is coming back with anger then you don’t tend to go with either side. You think, oh this is just people arguing.

TOMMY CHONG: You know, I’m a comedian. To me, everything is funny.

ZACH FREEMAN: You’ve said that comedy can sometimes address important relevant issues better than politics can.

TOMMY CHONG: That’s why the king always had his joker. Because the joker would tell the truth, but no one could be mad at him because he was making fun of it.

ZACH FREEMAN: Like Stephen Colbert at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner where he’s making fun of Bush and he’s only 10 feet away.

TOMMY CHONG: Bush is a really good example of a prop. Just like McCain. The Republican party uses props. They use guys that can sell an image. There’s no substance to them. Take Reagan for instance. I was in jail with a Reagan speech writer and so the first chance I got, I started asking if Reagan was really that right wing and stupid and the guy told me, “Not at all.” Reagan was one of the hippest guys he’d ever met. He was playing a role.

ZACH FREEMAN: That’s why being an actor worked for him.

TOMMY CHONG: Oh yeah. Just like with Arnold [Schwarzenegger]… although Arnold’s not a good actor, never has been. But he’s good enough to get elected. And Bush is no actor either. All Bush is is a puppet, a talking head. I think Cheney and Karl Rove really represent the right wing. And by the way if you’re interested, I’ve got a theory on the war in Iraq.


TOMMY CHONG: The results that we got in Iraq were not unexpected. They were expected. They were designed exactly to create the chaos that they created. Under the thinly veiled lies that they knew, even the administration knew, were lies. The question is, “Why did they go through all this trouble?” And if you do some research, there’s a film clip of some newscasters interviewing Gerald Ford and they were saying that Cheney and Rumsfeld were his chief of staff and it was supposed to be a real friendly interview and they said to him, “So, what do you think of your boys? How are they doing?” And Ford surprised them, he was like me. He said, “Ahhhh, they made the worst mistake ever. Any commander knows you don’t open up two fronts at the same time. You fight one war and when that’s over then you open up another one. Opening up two fronts at once is a recipe for disaster, for failure.” Of course they kind of let him go quick. What happened, you have to look at it very pragmatically. You have to look at it knowing that these people that planned the war do their research. And the reason the country was thrown into war was simply because the gas car was becoming extinct. It’s no longer viable any more. The electric car, they found out that electricity will save the planet and so all these countries that are invested heavily into oil, all the sudden they saw the future and the future was not bright, in fact the future meant that these guys were going to go under. Oil will be useless within our lifetime. So, if there’s no need for oil, then there’s no need for wars, because every war, disregarding the religious aspects, behind every war is oil, including the Second World War, the biggest war. The other countries cut Japan off so they had to go invade other countries to get their oil. And during the bombings, that was the first thing they bombed. They bombed all the refineries. And that’s how you stop a machine. But with the advent of electricity now and for future use, we won’t need oil. And when that need disappears, all these countries, and Bush and Cheney, whose whole lives are invested in oil will suffer. This is why they did what they did to Iraq. It wasn’t that they were ignorant or stupid. Not at all. They knew exactly what they were doing. They wanted to create the chaos so that the war would keep going on so that it puts the country into an emergency state. And I’m talking about 9/11 too. Because 9/11 could have been prevented. They had the intelligence to do that. The FBI knew what these guys were doing and they were called off the case. It was meant to happen. It was made to happen. Of course, that’s unmentionable in America, but that’s really what’s happening. And the truth is no matter how they fight it, oil is going to be… you won’t be able to give it away in a few years.

ZACH FREEMAN: Even right now all the car companies that are refusing to meet the miles per gallon standards are losing so much money.

TOMMY CHONG: Well Toyota can’t keep up with demand for the Prius. Technically they could, but Toyota is heavily invested into their gas-guzzling cars too. And the thing is that when you have an electric car, that’s the end of it. Just like your mother’s vacuum cleaner. How many vacuum cleaners did your parents go through in your lifetime? One? Two, maybe. Tops. Tops. How many refrigerators? These things last forever because there are no real moving parts, and that’s the same as the electric car.

ZACH FREEMAN: In the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? they were talking about how mechanic shops and places like that would be losing business…

TOMMY CHONG: Air quality shops… every kind of ancillary business that’s addicted to oil. There are so many of them. And that’s why Bill Gates is the richest man in the world. Because he is dealing with the new age technology and eventually… and what do computers run on? Batteries, electricity. And not a lot of electricity. And now we’re getting to the age where… the pollution was good for the planet, because if it weren’t for pollution we wouldn’t have the need to find alternative energies. And when you think about it, the alternative energies are the original energies. We’ve had electricity since the beginning of creation.

ZACH FREEMAN: Wind power, solar power, hydropower.

TOMMY CHONG: All creates electricity. And then we’re a year or two away from having highways built where it will charge your batteries. So if you’re driving along and your battery’s low, you just get over and it will charge your battery. And because the vehicle’s already moving you’ve already got a source of rejuvenation. So, this is the future and the future is really now. I own three Priuses: my son has one, my wife has one and I have one. I’m a battery away from being totally plugged in, not even using the hybrid. This is the exciting thing of this whole situation. That’s why you have to look at these guys like FOX news and the Bush Administration and realize that they’re oil people. They’re dinosaurs and they’ve got one foot in the grave and the other one on a banana peel.

ZACH FREEMAN: But they’re clawing their way out and they’re clawing everyone in their path to try to save themselves.

TOMMY CHONG: Well, they’re hanging on. They’re sinking into the sinkhole and they’re grabbing onto everything. Look at Cheney. He’s had how many heart attacks? He’s not really long for this world. You look at Karl Rove, you see the same thing. George Bush is a little healthier, but I can’t say the same for his mental state.

ZACH FREEMAN: I agree, the more you see him, he looks haggard and it looks like he’s just trying to hang on to a world view that he has that he knows isn’t true. So, trying to put that many lies forward will take a toll on anyone. It’s hard.

TOMMY CHONG: He’s an actor whose play’s been cancelled.

ZACH FREEMAN: That’s a good line. I want to talk about the campaign that’s going on now. I’m in Chicago and when Barack Obama was a state senator he sponsored legislature to decriminalize marijuana, but now that he’s running for president, a few months ago his camp retracted that statement and said they’re not really sure what decriminalization means. Why do you think that if you’re going to be a mainstream and popular candidate you can’t have that opinion?

TOMMY CHONG: Well, look at Clinton. Clinton was a pothead and while he was in power they enacted legislation that put me in jail. It made it a crime to ship drug paraphernalia across state lines. And he refused to commute pothead sentences. They’re terrible sentences. So that’s why I’m not a big Clinton fan or a big Hilary fan, because the Clintons were bought. There’s a conglomerate of buyers: the tobacco industry, booze industry, and the pharmaceutical industry.

ZACH FREEMAN: All three drugs in themselves.

TOMMY CHONG: Right. And there’s a vested interest. And the police and the prison guards support it too, because prison guards love pothead prisoners. They’re harmless, helpful, intelligent people.

ZACH FREEMAN: I have a friend who’s in jail right now for marijuana. He’s 20 years old, he’s a college student, and now he’s in jail.

TOMMY CHONG: Yeah. And he’ll do well in jail. I was in there. The potheads run the prison. The potheads have the gardens. They keep the vibe mellow. They take advantage of their time in there. Don’t feel bad for them. They’re not like pedophiles or even embezzlers. They’re not real criminals. These are honest, hardworking, intelligent, beautiful people. The universe is perfect and it always balances. So what happens when you have laws like this is that you attract people that can help change the system. If these were just heroin addicts or cocaine addicts, sick people, when they go to jail they’re in the hospital and when they get out they go right back on the drug. Well, the potheads are different. They take advantage of every opportunity they have to learn. They learn, they write, like I did. I wrote a book, I went to school, I puttered in the garden. Really, other than the counting, being forced to stand up and be counted every day, and even that became a plus because it would force me to socialize with the others. And the thing is that pot has such good karma that these laws that seem unjust are really the universe’s way of making things right. Nelson Mandela went to jail for twenty-eight years and he suffered the worst kind of jail, but because he was a saint and he went there on a mission, it just made him more powerful and equipped him to do what he did: to take his people, like Moses, out of the dark ages and into the ruling class. And so this is why things happen. It’s like weight lifting. The reason people weight lift is that you use a resistance to build an endurance. And that’s what’s happening with our culture. If pot were totally bored and legal it would have very little effect on our civilization, but in order to make it effective it has to be illegal. And the reason it has to be illegal is that it brings out the people’s motives, like Hillary Clinton, for example, she’s been exposed now as a politician that just wants to be elected.

ZACH FREEMAN: Her campaign has been a little weird.

TOMMY CHONG: Obama on the other hand. His true feelings about pot will never change, because he knows. He was a pothead, and he knows that it should be decriminalized. At the least it should be decriminalized, at the most it should be to the point like we have in Canada where you go to the doctor and you get your permission and you get your card and you show that every time you buy it so you’re not taking a shitload of pot and selling it to school kids. And the government can keep statistics on users. And that’s it. And if there are taxes involved, pay the taxes. But as far as saying it should be legal and getting elected, that’s a whole different number. So Obama has to be very careful. He went through that black minister thing already and he survived that. He would never survive a pro-dope stance. Never. That would bury him. And that’s why they have that law on the book. It’s a racist law. It’s to keep people like Obama from holding office.

ZACH FREEMAN: So they can hold that up.

TOMMY CHONG: Right now don’t worry about it. Obama will be our next president. And within his first year as president he will have decriminalized it because he knows firsthand. But the focus always has to be on the medical aspect of it. It should never get like Cheech and Chong. Because we made funny movies, but now the government is using those movies against the movement. Barry McCaffery said “Medical marijuana is nothing but a Cheech and Chong ploy.”

ZACH FREEMAN: I saw an interview where you were saying that kids should never do drugs and that you know how to talk to kids about drugs, so I was wondering what the tricks are to talking to them about it?

TOMMY CHONG: Here’s the thing about talking to kids: You can’t really tell kids anything because they feel superior to people because of their youth, their quickness, their reactions, their ability to grasp things. How do you tell a kid something when he knows more about your computer than you do? How can a parent say, “Okay Johnny, I’m going to search your room and make sure you’re not doing pot, and by the way, while you’re here, how do I send this message?” So, here’s what you do with kids: You recognize them for what they are. If you’re willing to leave your prize possessions, which is your kids, in the protection of a 13 or 14 year old babysitter, then you have to have the same amount of trust when it comes to allowing them to pick and choose what experience they want to go on. Because kids are going through rapid change in their life. It’s exhilarated when they’re young. And adults have gone through those changes and have sort of mellowed out, but kids are changing every day. And adults have to realize that. More than anything, adults have to be that rock where the kids can always go to them. My kids can always come to me and I’m going to give them love, and help if they ask for it. But it’s like teaching a kid how to ride a bike: you see he’s going to fall but there’s nothing you can do about it, except advise them. “Watch out for this, watch out for that, don’t go too fast.” And that’s all you can do. Parents have to trust the universe and when you trust the universe that’s the best. There’s only one way to lead, and that’s by example. If you’re a drunk that beats his wife, then chances are that your kid will be a drunk that beats his wife. So, in most cases, it’s whoever you are that determines who your kids are.

ZACH FREEMAN: And if you’re too controlling of kids without giving them reasons why not to do things, the kid’s not going to feel comfortable talking to you.

TOMMY CHONG: Look at the damage that does. Look at the evangelicals and these sort of cult figures. Those kids don’t have a will of their own because they’ve given it up to their parents. I just finished reading Steve Martin’s book. And his whole life he was tortured by his father. His father never gave him love and never gave him confidence. So he spent his entire life trying to please his dad, consciously and subconsciously. He built up all these phobias from that lack of parental love. And that’s the most important thing in the universe: love. Love your kids. For whoever they are, whatever they are. Of course if you see them heading in the wrong direction, you change. Like in my case, we actually moved. My son got mugged in Los Angeles going to school. At first I was going to teach him the art of self-defense, because this kid just popped him and said, “Give me the running shoes.” My son’s not a fighter so he gave him the running shoes. And my son told me who the boy was that took them and it was a kid a little bigger than my son and my son pointed him out to me and he was wearing the shoes. And I said, “Hi how are you doing? I think you got my son’s shoes on by mistake. Mind if I look at them?” So he took them off and I said, “Yep. They’re his. Thanks.” And his friend said, “Oh man, you’re gonna make him walk home in his bare feet?” And I said, “Well, he’s lucky I’m gonna let him walk home period.” So that’s the end of that. So instead of fighting the system, luckily I can afford to move, so we moved to Canada.

ZACH FREEMAN: When I was a kid I lived in Hawaii on the island of Molokai and I was the only white kid and I used to get picked on and pushed around a lot, because Polynesians are big people, even as kids. And when I was about to go to high school my parents decided to move, and I think that probably had something to do with it.

TOMMY CHONG: Yeah. You can’t beat that crap. That’s the best way to do it. Why stay somewhere? I had no choice. I ended up becoming a brawler myself and I’m not proud of that time in my life so when my kids face that… Cheech had a saying: “When confronted with an idiot, change idiots.”

ZACH FREEMAN: Well that’s what we need to do with our president.

TOMMY CHONG: It’ll be Obama. It depends on whether or not America needs more lessons. Because when they voted Bush in for a second term, it was like the headlines said, “How can 300 million people be so stupid?” And have we learned our lesson? I hope so.

ZACH FREEMAN: I remember talking to my European friends when the election was going on and saying, “Look guys we’re going to fix this.” And then we didn’t and I had to tell them, “Honestly, we’re really not that dumb.” In another interview, I saw that you said, “Life is better straight, but if you ‘need’ to smoke, that’s a different story.” What do you mean by that?

TOMMY CHONG: The ultimate high is the natural realization of yourself. And that happens a few times in a person’s lifetime if they’re lucky. One time you’ll wake up and be extremely happy with what you see. And there’s no high greater than the natural high. The conduced high will take you partially there but it will also enhance whatever’s in your psyche anyway. If you’re depressed it will make you more depressed. If you’re anxious, it will make you more anxious. If you’re happy it will make you more happy. If you’re laughing you’ll laugh harder. There’s nothing nicer than doing that without help. It’s like being on stage and giving a performance without being coached from the wings. So that’s what I meant by the natural high. Natural high is realizing who you are as an entity in the scheme of the universe. And we all are eternal beings that will as beings on this planet experience every life there is to experience on this planet from being an ant to being a whale to being a gorilla to being a cat. Every one of us will have those experiences because we have time to go through those experiences. And that’s why we’re connected to this reality of ours forever. That’s it.

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