"I never really thought I was that good of a guitar player. My talent was doing ensemble work with other people. I was always looking for a partner. And when I found Cheech, everything was very easy after that."
– Tommy Chong
Guy MacPherson: You’re playing God in a movie?
Tommy Chong: Yes, I am. Typecasting, but it works out.
GM: I thought only black actors got to play God.
TC: Yeah, well we sort of broke the mould there.
GM: This is your first movie in a long time, isn’t it?
TC: About 30 years. Tell me about it! I forgot how much fun and how hard it is.
GM: A lot of standing around.
TC: I wish! No, not for me. I’m in almost every scene. I got dialogue up the yin-yang. Oh God, it’s a hassle.
GM: All that memorizing.
TC: Oh, shit, yeah. And you gotta listen to other people. And you gotta do that thing called acting. It’s tough.
GM: You’re coming back to town to play with Cheech. Since the reunion in 2008, have you been doing much together?
TC: Yeah, we’ve been kind of on the road with War and Tower of Power. And sometimes just with War. The band, you know? And we’ve been doing casinos and a lot of good venues, a lot of good outdoor venues. So we’ve been working almost off and on since ’08.
GM: Playing with War, but no more war with Cheech, though.
TC: Not really, no, no, no. We’re old; we can’t remember that shit. We’re like The Sunshine Boys. We can’t remember anything to fight about. We can barely remember what we used to do in the show. No, we get along.
GM: When I saw your show, it looked like you were having a helluva lot of fun on stage.
TC: Oh, we were. We were. It’s what we do the best, you know? Movies are a lot of fun but working live, there’s nothing like it.
GM: Will there be a Cheech & Chong movie?
TC: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Definitely. That’s coming.
GM: Is there one in the works?
TC: Yes, there is, as a matter of fact. I can’t give you any details yet because we haven’t signed any… There’s no money coming in. We’re still dicking around with the… But we definitely will be doing not just one but we’ll probably be doing about three.
GM: You had a bout with cancer last year.
TC: Almost two years ago now.
GM: And how’s that?
TC: It’s all gone. There’s no cancer there now.
GM: That must have been scary.
TC: It was annoying.
GM: Just annoying?
TC: It was annoying because I’ve kept myself healthy all my life then all of a sudden I got that. So I had to change my diet and treated it with a lot of good hash oil. It’s prostate cancer so it wasn’t that serious to begin with. But cancer’s cancer, you know? And I just changed my diet and I do a big exercise routine. I’m keeping it pretty well in check.
GM: Did you also use some traditional treatments?
TC: Not really. I started but I found out that medication they give you can give you Alzheimer’s so I quit. I don’t do any traditional. It’s all naturopathic and a lot of pot-based stuff. But it’s mostly diet.
GM: It’s interesting that Cheech & Chong started in Vancouver and now one of the most popular comedic actors is Seth Rogan, also from Vancouver and does a lot of pot-based movies.
TC: Vancouver’s a very special place. Always has been. It’s like Hawaii, there’s a lot of good energy in Vancouver. And a lot of knowledgeable energy. I got turned on to acid. I got turned on to everything in Vancouver. It’s a special place.
GM: You still live here, right?
TC: Yeah, I still have a home there.
GM: You told me about your urge to make it big time, and Cheech had that while other Canadians didn’t. Did it matter to you what you made it in, whether it was music or comedy?
TC: I knew it wasn’t going to be music. When I heard Gaye Delorme play guitar and watched him, I knew that I was not going to be famous as a guitar player. I’ve always known that. I never really thought I was that good of a guitar player. My talent was doing ensemble work with other people. I was always looking for a partner. And when I found Cheech, everything was very easy after that.
GM: But you wrote songs, too, didn’t you?
TC: Oh, yeah. I am a songwriter, but not dedicated enough. And I don’t have enough musical knowledge to carry me. But I’ve got a knack for comedy. It was the path of least resistance to the top. And that’s the secret of my success.
GM: Henry Young said you taught him some licks on guitar and he ended up with a pretty good career in jazz.
TC: I inspired Henry more than taught him. I was the first half-Chinese guy that Henry met. And him being half-Chinese, when he saw me, he adopted me right away. Because I was on stage and performing with a hot band. I showed him that you could do a lot with a guitar. Boy, did he ever become a good guitar player!
GM: He also said you used to watch a lot of comedy on TV, like Dick Van Dyke. So you were really into comedy from a young age.
TC: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I loved comedy. I got it from my dad, I think. My dad loved to laugh. And he loved to drink and he loved to have his buddies over and they’d tell stupid jokes and laugh and laugh and laugh. And dance. The two things they did: they danced and they laughed. And that’s the two things I do now: I dance and I laugh.
GM: Joi de vivre.
TC: That’s what it is.
GM: Lots of people in everyday life have feuds or fallouts with lifelong friends, as you did with Cheech. Do you ever encourage them to let it go or do you let them find it out for themselves?
TC: I found the best way to live life is to be in the present. Be totally in the present. Holding grudges means you live in the past. And anticipating good or bad means that you live in the future. I do neither. I like to live in the present. When I’m with him, when we’re playing golf, we just play golf. Every once in a while we’ll talk a little bit about the good times but never the bad times. It’s the grandmother approach I take now: I see no evil.
GM: So with friends who may be feuding, do you preach to them to let it go?
TC: I try not to preach to anybody. I try to change the subject. My wife has a real nice touch with babies. I study her a lot. A baby will be crying and she’ll pick him up and within two seconds it’s quiet. Because she diverts his attention. And that’s what I try to do with people around me. There’s a book called The Golden Key. It’s a book by Emmet Fox, a spiritualist in the ‘50s. He put a book out called The Golden Key. The way it works is that if you want to change somebody, you change yourself. And by changing yourself, the other person will automatically pick up on the vibe and change with you. And it works all the time. For instance, if your plane gets delayed, instead of going up and telling the ticket agent your problem, you go up and flirt with them or ask them how they’re doing and joke with them, the next thing you know you change the vibe and you change the whole sequence of events just by being positive and nice.
GM: Very Zen.
TC: Yeah, yeah, totally. In the moment.
GM: Is the show you’re bringing here different from the one in 2008? Do you guys update or write new sketches?
TC: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, we change. I just read a review about a show we did in New York, which I thought wasn’t the best show we did, but the reviewer thought it was. The reviewer just loved our show. In fact, I’ve got to show this review to my wife. We don’t get the same kind of applause or laughter as when we perform in LA but people just enjoy it just as much. They just express themselves differently. And so our show in Vancouver will be pure Cheech & Chong. You never know what to expect with us.
GM: How do you collaborate when you’re apart? Do you send ideas back and forth to each other?
TC: Not at all. Not at all. You see, you have to be in the moment. You wait until you get on stage. You open the floodgates then. Like, I’m shooting a movie, you know? You can’t do one scene if you’re doing another scene. You have to do one scene at a time. And that’s the same as comedy, you know? There’s no preparation. Comedy is much like preparing a meal. You just have to prepare yourself to be in the mood to be funny. And that’s how you prepare yourself. It’s not about remembering or doing this bit or that bit; it’s about getting yourself in a very good mood so when you walk on stage all the stuff will come to you. It’ll come to you when you need it. That’s what happens with comedy.
GM: What about the choice of sketches? Surely that’s prepared ahead of time?
TC: Yeah. We do sketches that grow, that have a life inside the sketch itself. He doesn’t know what I’m going to say at certain times. He’ll ask a question and he won’t know what the answer’s going to be and I don’t know what the answer’s going to be. So the audience picks up on that. It’s one big, wonderful party.
GM: So there’s an improvisational element.
TC: Totally. Totally. And that’s why Cheech & Chong are still alive today. Because everything grows with the times.
GM: You’re not the same young characters on stage.
TC: Yeah, exactly. And we joke about it. We joke about everything.
GM: When you said the show in New York wasn’t your best, was that just based on the audience reaction?
TC: Well, to begin with, it was in the round. We were with two other bands. We went on kind of late. And the stage is going around in circles while we’re performing. So it kind of throws you off because you can’t get your legs under you. But the reviewer in the audience loved it. They loved it. They loved every moment of it. That’s one thing about being judgmental, that’s why you have to stop being judgmental at all, because we’ve done the show a million times. Of course there are a lot of parts that are the same and if we don’t get a laugh in the same area it bothers us only, but it doesn’t bother the people in the audience. And you always have to realize that.
GM: Are you performing with bands in Vancouver? Or will there be an opener?
TC: No, no. It’s just Cheech & Chong. And Shelby. Always Shelby. Shelby is part of the show.
GM: And there’s a part where you play the guitar in it, too, right?
TC: Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. A couple of parts. Cheech and I will come out and play a little medley of our songs, and I’ll do Blind Melon Chitlin and he’ll do Elvis Boy. There’s a lot of music. A lot of different things in the show.
GM: Do you play music by yourself at home?
TC: Oh yeah. Yeah, I play the guitar. I’ll smoke up and then I’ll go down to the basement and get the guitar and run through my repertoire and jam a little bit. And then I’ll try to sing. I’m learning how to sing.
GM: Was there a period where you didn’t smoke up?
TC: Well, I had to when I was in jail. I had no choice. Okay, they’re calling me back on the set.
GM: Okay, thanks a lot.
TC: Okay, man.