Hits From The Chong

Photo by Andrew StonesPhoto by Andrew StonesOn June 10th of this year, Hunter S. Thompson’s widow Anita Thompson hosted a party at Owl Farm, her late husband’s beloved property near Woody Creek, Colorado. The guests were lawyers and activists, all attending the annual NORML conference being held in Aspen. I was able to wander the ranch at my leisure, and fantasized about what Hunter would think as he wandered around his property. The main house was filled with his spirit, and I’m sure he was enjoying the party. Hunter loved hosting parties, especially when the drugs and booze flowed freely. Although I did not know the great Gonzo journalist, I did have a chance to meet him at the 2004 Comedy Festival in Aspen. I was on probation at the time, not doing anything that could violate my probation and put me back in prison, so I sadly had to pass on the opportunity to party with him then. A few months later he killed himself with one of his many guns, an act that surprised no one who knew him. His affair with the gun and his love of shooting while drunk and high was his signature crazy quality, and eventually did him in. I guess, in a way, it was how he wanted to be remembered.

Sitting on a log in his field, I tried to imagine what kind of demons drove him over the cliff, because I could not understand why someone would want to leave the beauty of life out there. Alcohol demons are mean though – unlike gentle pot angels who comfort and heal pain, alcohol demons inflict physical and mental suffering as the liver and brain get poisoned and the body dies from within. You see crippled alcoholic souls ghosting around the streets of all North American cities and towns, homeless wrecks muttering to the demon monkeys on their backs.

But in the meantime, pot remains illegal. Record numbers of growers, sellers and med-pot users are going to jail, which begs the question “How long will this madness last?” Lenny Bruce, a stand-up performer in the ‘50s (you could call him a comedian), predicted that because so many law students were smoking pot, it would be legal in the ‘60s. That was 50 years ago, and many law students, law professors, and lawyers are still smoking it. But Lenny underestimated the corrupting power of self-interest in those who seek to arbitrate the “law”.

I pondered this conundrum often at the four-day NORML convention. I ended my marijuana fast, and while this made my time very pleasant it also made me question what I was part of. I observed the convention hall packed with people looking for answers to the nation’s pot laws, while lawyers mingled with med-pot caregivers and provided legal advice in exchange for potent weed. Everyone would “wake and bake”, yet I felt these lawyers were different. I realized that the defendants in the drug war are a primary source of income for them, and if pot were legal they would make less money; liberty does not enrich lawyers – prohibitions and laws do. NORML is into their 38th year of trying to legalize pot, yet more people are in jail for it than ever before. 44,000 US citizens are in state jails and 11,000 in federal prisons, for just marijuana. There were 784,000 arrests in the USA for pot in 2006. As you know, I did nine months in federal prison for “conspiring” to sell one Chong Bong across state lines, turning my “crime” into a felony. Well, my pot lawyers took $100,000 from me then told me to plead guilty! And they were my friends – imagine what I would have had to pay if I didn’t know them. Luckily I had the money because of all “the millions made making fun of law enforcement” in my movies (an actual statement by the prosecution at my trial). The whole affair was captured by Josh Gilbert in a documentary called AKA Tommy Chong, which shows how the DEA entrapped my family’s business Chong Glass into sending a shipment of bongs to Pennsylvania, and how my arrest was the centerpiece of then Attorney General John Ashcroft’s ideologically driven “Operation Pipe Dreams”.

I am so sick of the drug war and watching it get worse when we keep thinking it’ll get better. But I have to put my disgust towards something productive, so I use my comedic skills and personal experiences to explain to everyone how corrupt and cruel the system is. Since I wrote my last column in Cannabis Culture, I’ve been doing guest appearances on television news shows to give a “stoner” interpretation of current events, politics and laws. When I saw hotel chain heiress and socialite Paris Hilton being exploited by the media as a way to avoid covering the other major stories that are actually important for Americans to know about – such as Vice President Cheney claiming he was his own separate branch of government, or the Justice Department’s destruction of thousands of emails, or the GOP using Government computers for political business, (the list goes on) – I told my public relations people I wanted to do more speaking about the politics of prohibition and government. “Get me on these so-called news shows,” I instructed, and the very next day, MSNBC called me to be on the Contessa Brewer Live program.
Marc and Jodie chat with Tommy in Vancouver after the "The Marijuanalogues", in which he performed in 2005.Marc and Jodie chat with Tommy in Vancouver after the “The Marijuanalogues”, in which he performed in 2005.
With Paris Hilton seeming to be dodging jail time for driving while her license was suspended, I had initially reacted like everyone else. “Throw her in jail – it serves her right! That will teach the little snotty rich girl. She’ll live the real ‘Simple Life’ from now on!” But when I ground up some frosty nugs, rolled a joint, smoked it, and let my cannabis consciousness correct my emotional knee-jerk reaction, I was able to clear the hype out of my head and think about the facts. I realized I was falling into the same trap as everyone else, being manipulated by the media pulling my strings, making me react just the way they wanted. A lot of news commentators were taking easy cheap shots against heiress Hilton, who was released very early in her sentence for “medical reasons” after three media-saturated days in jails and brought back to court in a tug-of-war between the Sheriff and the Judge. This incensed the media, who seemed to be insisting some sort of major injustice had occurred – or not. Different news programs were offering various opinions on whether “she deserved it”.

Contessa Brewer introduced me onto her show as the author of The I Chong: Medications from the Joint, which I found to be a funny malapropism of the actual title, Meditations from the Joint. As a live highway scene of the squad car taking Paris Hilton to court played beside me on the TV screen Contessa prattled on about the ‘breaking news’ and I asked, “who did Paris Hilton murder, by the way?”
Contessa gave a half-laugh. “Well, see, that’s the whole thing, she didn’t murder anybody, but…”

“Was she with Enron?” I asked. “Did she embezzle a lot of money?”

“I know, it doesn’t seem that bad, but she did get caught driving under the influence – reportedly not only of drinks, but potentially, drugs as well,” Contessa responded.

I laughed, “Oh, what, you mean like Mel Gibson?”

“Yeah, kind of – but he’s on probation…”

“How much time did Mel do?”

“It’s not – you see, she broke her probation by driving without a license,”

“And she should go to jail for that?” I asked, incredulously.

“You don’t think she should go to jail for thumbing her nose at the law?”

“She wasn’t thumbing her nose at the law, she was late for court. Being late for court was her big crime. This wouldn’t be a three-ring circus if it weren’t for Republicans trying to divert attention from headlines like Gonzales, and the wire-tapping scandal… ”

“You think it’s a Republican scheme?” she scoffed.

“It’s a media scheme. And apparently, the media is controlled by a lot of Republicans.”

She decided to go for the easy one: “Tommy, have you smoked anything today? Just curious.”

I answered with an honest “No, why?”

“Well, it seems like such a far out sort of idea, that Republicans are somehow responsible for the squad car going down the highway…” I was a little surprised that she thought I was proposing some outlandish theory of impossibility. But, after some more commentary, we wrapped it up civilly. “Well, thank you for joining us and sharing your, um, perspective on this”, she said, shuffling her papers almost nervously.

I laughed out loud, “Hah hah! Not what you expected, was it?” to which she replied, bewilderedly, “No, it wasn’t.”

The exchange got me an appearance via satellite on the Comedy Central show The Colbert Report where Stephen Colbert, the ultimate satirist of the right-wing media, acted totally flabbergasted by my behavior.

After playing the end of my exchange from MSNBC, Stephen kicked in “No, it was not what she was expecting! …When a
journalist asks Tommy Chong for commentary on breaking news, you expect a certain level of discourse. After all, this is Tommy Chong we’re talking about!”

He introduced me: “First of all, I want to say I’m a big fan; Los Cochinos – very big album for me. But, Tommy… how dare you fluster Contessa Brewer! Don’t you understand how this works? When you are asked on a news show to give your opinion, you give your opinion, and therefore validate what they are reporting as news, and then they, in turn, treat your opinion as if it’s worth having. That’s how it works. What don’t you get about that?”

I was chuckling, as he was doing his best to keep a straight face, but I went into my bit. “I’ve got an excuse – I didn’t know the cameras were rolling. I thought we were rehearsing. No one said ‘action’!”

“Oh, so you were just shootin’ the shit?” Colbert laughed.

“Well yeah, basically! But anyway, what Paris did, I think she deserves to be punished. I really do. If I were the judge I’d just get her in my chambers, I’d lay her across my knee and pull up her skirt, and I’d pull her little panties down, and I’d give her such a lickin’!” The crowd screamed and howled with laughter, while Colbert looked totally shocked. “And in a place where she would feel it, too!” I concluded.

“Oh really?” Colbert exclaimed Bill O’Reilly style, while fighting to hold back his own laughter. “Are you high? Are you high right now, Tommy Chong?”

I happily responded, “Of course! I’m Tommy Chong, man!”

“Yeah, of course,” Colbert mocked with thinly feigned indignation. “So is that how they dole out justice in Chong-Land?”

“Well, I’d do more, but you know…” The audience laughed again, and we closed the piece before I could take it any futher. But it was a blast, and I enjoyed goofing around without having to dabble in depressing politics and current affairs.

Upon Paris Hilton’s release after 24 days in jail, she remarked she had found God and again the press snickered. Hey, I’m glad that Paris found God in jail, as I had a similar experience while imprisoned: I came to the conclusion that God is a stoner with a sense of humor. I mean, how else do you explain George Bush, and what’s going on in the world today? It’s crazy! I believe the media obsessions about Paris and other young stars are intended to distract American people from the serious business of removing a cabal of tyrants and thieves from the White House.

Thankfully, I’m getting asked to give a Tommy Chong stoner perspective on political stories and other issues of the day. Shortly after my mid-June appearance on “The Colbert Report”, Fox News’ Neil Cavuto had me on to discuss illegal immigration. Ted Nugent, avowed gun freak and 1970’s wild man of rock, had been on the night before advocating a militarized border patrol with orders to shoot any illegals entering the US. This is a popular opinion that I wanted to counter, so the Fox bit was billed as “ Nugent vs. Chong “ and “Tommy Chong’s Immigration Fix: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” I really let them have it.
Tommy, wife Shelby, and director Josh Gilbert at the Vancouver screening of "AKA Tommy Chong", 2006Tommy, wife Shelby, and director Josh Gilbert at the Vancouver screening of “AKA Tommy Chong”, 2006
“This is Bush administration politics. We’ve had this so-called immigration problem since the beginning of time here in America. It’s only a problem if people see it as a problem. Migration is a natural impetus in people. People move to where food and jobs are. It’s like trying to stop birds from migrating south. Can’t do it. I started my career as an illegal; I’m from Canada. I had to sneak down here to work for about five years until I got my Green Card. The Bush Administration creates this so-called immigration crisis and its attendant distractions and tension to keep our attention away from how very badly we are governed. When we had Bill Clinton for President, we didn’t have any ‘immigration problem’. We had a good economy, a government surplus. I can’t recall hearing about an immigration crisis on such a daily basis until this administration came to Washington. Today, we have a moron for President. A moron needs distractions.

“Someone is making money on all these migrants, or it wouldn’t continue. Do people go where there are no jobs? No they don’t. Hundreds of thousands of Americans must be dangling money to millions of willing foreign workers. All these American businesses – factories, farms, hotels, construction, landscaping – are making money off mostly Hispanic people working ‘illegally’ in their respective industries, making many Americans rich and improving everyone’s standard of living, or they wouldn’t be here. America is expensive without a job. These migrants don’t just come to live for free; they all pay taxes on what they buy, rent, and consume. They work for what they get, and they pay taxes.”

When I was asked if there should be a limit on immigrants America can take, I said “No limit. Not only that, these are the descendents of the original Americans who were in the southwest before the white Europeans. These people should have a right of passage to work here, if not be citizens. This land was stolen from the Indians and Mexicans… ”

At that point, the host interrupted for the inevitable query, “Tommy, you’re not back to smoking that stuff you used to do?” This time I said, “Absolutely. I smoke every day. And you should too! Your eyes would be open to seeing what’s going on! America is governed by a moron. Do you know what a moron is? Get rid of the moron, you’re going to get rid of all the moronic problems the moron has created.”

I want to tell the truth in the language of the everyman – speak out loud what so many are thinking. But there are people who want guys like me to just shut up and wave the American flag unquestioningly. I was recently invited on Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly Show, but he was so angry about my commentary that he cancelled airing the segment right after we did it. I don’t mind; I’m going to keep hammering away, humorously I hope, at the Bush administration, their failed policies at home and abroad, and the wars they commandeer. People are frustrated with being lied to so much, so as often as I get the chance I’ll be talking about changing the direction of government, and putting an honest person in the White House in 2008. Stay tuned for more!