By the Way

Tommy Chong is not dead — he’s so alive that he will be in Biloxi on Friday

Tommy Chong, one half of the legendary comedy duo Cheech and Chong, is alive and well and he will be performing with Cheech Friday in Biloxi.
Tommy Chong, one half of the legendary comedy duo Cheech and Chong, is alive and well and he will be performing with Cheech Friday in Biloxi. Courtesy

The first thing you need to know about Tommy Chong is that he’s not dead, but rather, he is still alive. I know what you saw on the internet and what you think you saw on TV, but Chong is still with us.

One of my coworkers even tagged me in a recent Facebook post claiming that the Chong half of the comedy duo Cheech and Chong was dead. I was saddened by this post as I was scheduled to talk with Mr. Chong a few days after his demise. And was I ever surprised when the phone rang and I heard this: “Hello, Jeff. This is Tommy Chong.”

Yes, Dave’s here and he’s not even knocking on death’s door.

It’s hard to think of a more iconic, yet complex duo than Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong. Known for their drug and counterculture humor, to pigeonhole Cheech and Chong as burned-out comedians is very shortsighted.

Cheech is an avid art collector and promoter of Latino culture in America.

And there’s Chong, the director and actor and activist and convicted felon and cannabis vendor who turned 78 in May.

He’s also a cancer survivor.

The still-breathing, not dead Tommy Chong will join Marin on Friday for a show at the IP Casino Resort at 8 p.m.

You guys are no strangers to Biloxi...

Yeah, Biloxi is going to be fun. I love that place. One day I’m going to get out and look at the town. You have a lot of history there. Isn’t Biloxi where one of the first Mardi Gras was? I guess you have better drunks than New Orleans.

I used to listen to my uncle’s Cheech and Chong albums when I was a kid. One of the first cassettes I ever bought was “Cheech and Chong’s Greatest Hit.” Are you surprised with the longevity and popularity you’ve had with Cheech?

No, the only thing that I’m surprised by is how I grew so old so fast — that’s the only thing that surprises me. I always knew that we had something. As soon as I met Cheech, I could feel it in my bones. When I hooked up with Cheech, I knew we were going to have a nice, long career. Doing comedy with music is something that will keep you on the planet as long as you can stay here.

You guys took a break from performing together. What was different when you decide to do the reunion?

After we had such success with the movies and the live performance and the records, we needed a break. We had come to an end of an era. We needed that time apart to become ourselves again and getting back together was more like a reunion with two comedians -- it was perfect. Our timing has always been perfect and I thank the great spirit for that.

There’s been a lot of talk about possibly doing another movie with the Broken Lizard guys, is that coming to fruition?

I’ll tell you, to be truthful, I directed all of our movies, including “Up in Smoke.” even though Lou Adler took credit. I directed all the movies. When we got to looking at another movie, I naturally assumed that I would be directing it but then Cheech and his camp had other ideas. So, you know, Cheech and Chong was my own personal project, I was the one who named us. The whole thing has really been my baby. I thought there would be no question that I would direct, but the questions arose.

I realized that every director we got, they would be coming to me to ask me what to do. I said, “---- this.” If Cheech and his camp don’t recognize that I’m the director, I just cooled the whole idea.

When we did those movies, it was very improvisational and that was the basis of our success. The short is answer is, “No, I’m not going to do another Cheech and Chong movie unless I’m asked to direct.”

Do you have a movie you liked better than others?

They’re like your kids — they are all your babies. “Up in Smoke” was the most lucrative and the most popular and probably the most artistic. It’s like “The Hangover” movies — regardless of how many you do, the first one is always going to be the gold standard.”

So, about 10 years ago you went to prison for basically selling bongs. Today, you sell your own cannabis products online. That has to be a dramatic shift in culture for you.

I’ve been thinking about asking Obama for a pardon during his last days in office and he has the ability to pardon me. But when I looked into it, there’s a lot of bull---- that’s just not worth it. I’m going to live my life and enjoy the fruits of our labor. Once marijuana gets rescheduled off of Schedule 1, then I’m going to pursue getting my conviction overturned and I can get my record expunged.

Why are people so afraid of marijuana?

It’s a racist law thought up by the people that wanted to take out marijuana. Rope used to be made out of hemp, so the plastic people demonized it as a drug and it was taken off the market. Hemp was far superior, so it was taken off the market. It also has great medicinal properties. So, the pharmaceutical companies and alcohol industry and cigarette industry were afraid of it. It’s just plain simple greed that demonized pot for so many years.

You’ve been battling cancer for a few years now. How are you doing with that?

Technically, I’m cancer free. I had to go to a doctor last week because I had a hangnail that got infected. I went to my cancer doctor and he came back with my test results and he said “You are clean.”