The 80-year-old actor, comedian, musician and cannabis-rights activist stops by TooFab ahead of 4/20 to talk about absolutely everything.
Tommy Chong considers himself a legend. He also thinks of himself as an icon and an ex-con.
All of this is true.
The 80-year-old actor, comedian, writer, director, musician and cannabis-rights activist stopped by TooFab ahead of his unofficial national holiday -- 4/20 -- to talk our ears off about absolutely everything. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we welcomed it with open arms.
Among the topics Chong charmed his way through were:
How his then-illegal passion got him locked up with the biggest Wall Street criminal of all time.
What he thinks Lori and Felicity should do in wake of that massive college admissions scandal.
How he's living his best life as an almost-81-year-old man.
His plans for April 20 as well as advice for nonsmokers.
His idea to combine charity work with a billion-dollar bong.
What he first thought when he heard about Donald Trump's wall idea.
Where he and his partner in comedy crime, Cheech Marin, stand today.
Who from "That '70s Show" he still talks to.
Why he turned down voicing a hyena in Disney's "The Lion King."
What Michael Jackson was like back when The Jackson 5 opened for his band.
This man has done, seen and heard more in 80 years than most could do in two lifetimes, so we urge you to give his lengthy sit-down a full listen.
Prison Time & Advice to College Scandal Parents
In 2003, Chong served nine months at the Taft Correctional Institution in California for making and selling glass bongs. He agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute drug paraphernalia in exchange for non-prosecution of his wife, Shelby, and his son, Paris.
"I was the only guy in America to go to jail for selling bongs," he joked. "That sort of solidified my position [as the founding father of weed culture in this country]. I knew I was right back then... So when I got busted, it was like, 'They'll learn eventually.' But the bust turned out to be like another adventure."
Given his experience, Tommy's advice to Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman is as follows: "Right now, they're in denial. They thought, 'They can't put you in jail for trying to get your kid in school, can they?' Yes, they can. My takeaway [from my time in prison] was, when the government offers you a deal, take it... You can't beat the government."
Bunking with The Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort
Chong and Jordan Belfort were prison cellmates -- or "cellies," as Chong likes to call it -- from October 2003 to July 2004. Belfort was serving 22 months for fraud and money laundering.
In 2007, the infamous stockbroker published "The Wolf of Wall Street," a memoir chronicling all the sex, drugs and risky antics he was able to survive. The best-selling book was then adapted into a 2013 Oscar-nominated film of the same name, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Belfort. But according to Chong, it's very likely none of this would've happened had he not intervened.
Tommy was adamant that Jordan initially copied Tom Wolfe's 1987 satirical novel, "Bonfire of the Vanities," almost word for word, and that it was Chong who steered him in the direction he ultimately went in. (Wolfe's bestseller centers around greed on Wall Street in the 1980s.)
At 80 years old, Tommy has his own marijuana bus tour. Join him on any given Friday or Saturday aboard a bus with his face on it that takes you to various dispensaries in Los Angeles. Light up with the founding father of weed culture by purchasing tickets here.
"It means a lot to a lot of people," Chong said of the stoner holiday. "It's uniting. There are so many stories about how 4/20 got started, but basically, it was a good excuse to get high! That's all it is, really... I've made 4/20 maybe three times in my life 'cause [I'll look down at my phone and realize], 'Oh, it's 7 o'clock! Oh, it's 10'o'clock!'... That's the spirit of 4/20."
Advice for Smokers Who Get Paranoid
People's main complaint with smoking marijuana or enjoying edibles is the paranoia or anxiety that sometimes comes along with the high. Here's what Tommy had to say about that: "I learned one thing in prison and in yoga: Stay on your own towel. Stay in your own little space. Don't worry about what's going on over there or what's going on over there, just stay on your own towel."
The New Face of Weed Is Your Grandma
Chong told us he was recently asked, "What's the new face of marijuana?"
"It used to be the hippies with the headbands and they're smoking and doing weird things," he explained. "Now, it's old ladies trying to sleep! I know so many grandmothers and mothers who say, 'Yeah, welp, I got my edible! I take my gummy bear and I take that and I'm good for the night!'"
Chong recently teamed up with an interactive visual arts festival -- conveniently launching on 4/20 -- called Zentopia. When we asked him about it, he charmingly said, "See, my appearances -- I've got that down real easy. I show up, smile, smoke, eat, say hi, sign autographs, hug ladies."
If you're looking for a Tommy Chong-approved way to spend 4/20, you can purchase tickets to Zentopia here.
'The Masked Singer'
In January of this year, "The Masked Singer" unveiled its second celebrity guest who sang "I Will Survive" disguised as a Hawaiian shirt-clad pineapple. That guest was Tommy Chong.
"I was on 'The Masked Singer,'" he told us excitedly. "And the only reason was because I'm a famous stoner!"
Billion-Dollar Bong & Charity Idea
Tommy's son, Paris, once said his dad always wanted to make a "million-dollar bong." When we asked him about it, Chong told us his dreams had grown. "Billion-dollar bong," he said proudly.
"You want the biggest boat," he said. "Not because you love boating, but because you can tell everybody, 'I got the biggest boat.'"
Tommy went on to explain that he still makes bongs -- only the ones he makes today are out of recycled kombucha bottles. He said his dream is to team up with mental health facilities and have their patients decorate his kombucha-bottle bongs.
"And the proceeds of their sales will go to them," he said. "It'll not only give them money, but it'll also give them pride in what they're doing."
Chong said he plans to create art contests and feels he's bound to stumble upon someone who makes something magnificent, "and that's where the billion-dollar bong comes into play."
"Rather than criticize or demonize or tear apart someone that's obviously sick, I'd rather give them something to do that's gonna help them recover and also help them become independent financially," he said.
Coming off the topic of his charity idea, Tommy blurted out, "Art can solve all our problems. Like when Trump was talking about building a wall, I'm a little deaf, and so I thought he said mall! And I thought, 'Wow, that's a great idea. Build a mall between Mexico and the United States, so when you're coming up, you can buy your supplies!'"
'Cheech & Chong'
Tommy Chong is likely best known for his marijuana-themed "Cheech & Chong" comedy shows, albums and movies, which he co-wrote and performed with Cheech Marin. Together, they created a whole new genre of comedy that still resonates today.
The two are still in cahoots, wreaking havoc and causing mayhem everywhere they go -- just like the good ol' days. Chong told us he talks to Cheech "all the time."
"I tease him about getting deported by Trump!" he said with a laugh.
'That '70s Show'
Tommy played Leo on Fox's "That '70s Show," a sitcom that produced some of the most well-known actors and actresses today. Two of them were Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, who married years later.
"Ashton and Mila -- we have the same gardener!" Tommy told us. "And so the gardener tells us what's going on in their life. I wasn't invited to their wedding or anything like that. I'm still an outlaw, even with certain people."
But Chong assured us he holds nothing against his former castmates for snubbing him from their big day. When we asked if he was surprised to hear they had gotten together after so many years (Ashton was Mila's first kiss on the show), Tommy smiled and said, "Pleasantly surprised."
Of playing his character -- Leonard "Leo" Chingkwake, an aging hippie and the owner of a photo hut -- Chong said, "They showed me the marijuana circle, and I realized that I could do that show without compromising my integrity. I rubbed that in Cheech's face all the time!"
Voicing Yax, But Not Shenzi
It was that very integrity that kept Chong from voicing Shenzi, the hyena in the Disney film, "The Lion King." Shenzi was voiced instead by Whoopi Goldberg.
So what exactly happened? Tommy claims Disney was "anti-pot" and that their dress code was too strict for his liking. But that all changed when they approached him to voice Yax in the 2016 Disney film, "Zootopia."
"I got to play the stoner!" he said with a grin. "So you gotta hold out for your stuff. It's not about money in this world."
Young Michael Jackson
In the 1960s, The Jackson 5 won a contest that let them open for Chong's band -- Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers -- at the Regal Theater in Chicago.
"We shared a dressing room," Tommy recalled. "Little Michael had to stand on a box to get in the mirror to do his natural. He was the cutest little guy. The whole band was incredible. They were cute little guys, but Michael was just unbelievable."
"The weirdest thing about Michael was that he was a little adult when he was 8, 10 years old -- a grown man in a little suit. And he could do all the moves perfect. Perfect moves... But the older he got, the younger he got," Chong explained. "Until pretty soon, when he was near death, he was like a baby. He'd gone nutty."
In reference to the King of Pop's massive fame and wealth, Chong suggests people occupy themselves with more meaningful things -- like smoking weed and making people laugh.