If the phrase ‘living legend’ seems a little strong, stop and think about the number of entertainers so ingrained into the fabric of the world that they are instantly recognized by a single word. Chong is one. There are not too many more. If that concept seems a little vague and unfocused, that is a state often brought on by something else that Tommy Chong is synonymous with.
But even though there may be a single topic with which he is always associated, the successful comedian, writer, guitarist, actor, activist, business owner, husband, and father is a multi-talented man still working as hard today in his 70s as he ever did as major star of the 1970s. Tommy sat down with Buzzine’s Nicole Rayburn at The Vanguard in Hollywood, California, during the filming of Season Two of The Green Room with Paul Provenza, to talk about accepting gifts from beautiful women, how to read a comedian’s reaction to comedy, and the importance of sending the right message to the kids of today.
Nicole Rayburn: So the rumor is that you’re about to go have a conversation with a bunch of comics?
TC: That’s what I heard. Well, it’s been my experience that I’m about to go listen to a bunch of comics [laughs] while you get a word in edgewise if you can.
NR: Do you have to fight for it? Do you have to jump in there?
TC: Well, yeah, I do.
NR: Byron Allen has a show where they set up little jokes, but this is a totally different feel. This really is a candid conversation, but yet do you still feel the pressure to be ‘on’?
TC: No. They’re not paying you enough money. [Laughs] You only feel the pressure if there’s a lot of money…
NR: What are we going to find out about you tonight?
TC: It depends on what they ask. My career stretches so far that we could spend hours just on the beginning, so it depends. If they ask me what it’s like working with a Mexican… [Laughs]
NR: [Laughs] Are you seeing a lot of old friends that you haven’t seen in a while, just here mingling?
TC: Actually, yeah. Joe Rogan and a few people. Most of the comics weren’t born when I was [laughs] working. This whole room – everybody’s young. Well, my son is here, and he wasn’t even born when I was working.
NR: Right, because you started working before…
TC: I just started working before there were comedy clubs – that’s how far back I go. In fact, they didn’t even call it comedy. They called it, “Okay, you open for the band.” That’s what they were.
NR: How much will you be able to tell how you are doing tonight from the other guest’s reactions?
TC: …Like if you’re quiet, that means you’re stealing the bit. You’re memorizing it. And if you’re laughing, like hahahaha, it means “that wasn’t very funny and I don’t know why you told it.”
I used to hang out with the old comics that hung out in a drugstore called Schwab’s drug store on Sunset, and there were writers for The Tonight Show and Laugh-In, all the writers were there, and they would sit around a table and eat pastrami sandwiches and drink coffee and tell jokes, but no one laughed at the jokes. They would go, “That’s funny.” Because comics, by trade, aren’t really good laughers, because we’re performers. We’re not laughers. We’re not a good audience. I think, anyway. That’s been my experience.
NR: We’re gonna get down there and learn a lot more about you, I think. Right?
TC: I hope so. Is this still being shot?
NR: Here’s the thing: In 2011, you don’t even have to watch the cameras anymore. It’s on you, it’s focused, and they could just walk away.
TC: I know. There’s not even film in the camera.
NR: No, it’s a digital card.
TC: I love it, man. I grew up when we had albums, and people don’t even know what an album is now. Records. Black vinyl. They don’t even know what it is. ..
NR: I only know because of my dad. [Laughs] I’m not kidding. You think I am, but I’m not.
TC: I’m just glad to be the senior member of the group here. Now… have you smoked pot? Do you have any pot now that you can give me?
NR: I’m sorry. I don’t have any on me…because I’m ethical and within the law.... [Laughs]
TC: Well I usually get paid, and I’ve got a little thing: I will smoke anything given to me by a beautiful woman.
NR: Oh! Well I’ll find you a beautiful woman and then we’ll get you something.
TC: [Laughs] That’s a good line. You should be a comic.
NR: No, I will never enter the arena.
TC: Really? My wife’s a comic. She should be here tonight, but she’ll be in the next show. I’ll make sure she’s in the next show. She opens the Cheech & Chong tour, and Shelby Chong is her name. She opens the show, and she’s a bonafide comic, and she’s very beautiful too.
NR: I would expect nothing less. So you said she opens the show. Are you touring right now?
TC: Yup. With Cheech. We go to Alaska next weekend.
NR: Oh my gosh! That’s rad! How many more shows do you have?
TC: Eleven more. Then we’re free at last, free at last! Then I can go back to being unemployed. It’s more fun.
NR: Then you can just sit back and reap the benefits.
TC: Smoke. We sit back and just get high, smoke dope, smoke pot, and eat.
NR: You’re sending a good message to the kids… [Laughs]
TC: Yes. Should I give a message to the kids?
TC: All right, kids: If you’re gonna use drugs, replace them. Okay? Drug abuse in my house is coming home to an empty baggy: So remember. You heard it from Chong of Cheech & Chong.
The second season of ‘The Green Room with Paul Provenza’ premieres new episodes on Showtime every Thursday night at 11:00 p.m. ET/PT beginning July 14, 2011.