Pubdate: Fri, 29 Sep 2006
Source: Medicine Hat News (CN AB)
Copyright: 2006 Alberta Newspaper Group, Inc.
Author: Lee-Anne Goodman


Tommy Chong, one half of the legendary comedy duo Cheech and Chong, 
exudes as much serenity sipping on a cup of coffee in a downtown 
hotel as one might expect from a lifelong pothead. But three years 
ago, the Canadian-born Chong had good reason to freak out - agents 
for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency burst into his California home 
and busted him for selling bongs online, the first time an obscure 
law dealing with such offences had ever been enforced.

In his new book The I Chong: Meditations From the Joint, Chong 
insists the feds came after him, at the behest of the Bush 
administration, because he'd frequently spoken out against the war on 
terror and the erosion of civil liberties after 9-11.

"I was the first one they'd ever charged under that law," says the 
68-year-old Chong, in Toronto on Monday promoting his book. 
"Symbolically, I represented the antiwar movement. I represented the 
hippies. And they're scared to death of the hippies, because the 
hippies are the ones who stopped the Vietnam War."

That's not just nostalgic bluster from Chong, who was introduced to a 
new generation of fans when he played aging stoner Leo on That '70s 
Show. Of the 55 people charged under the Operation Pipe Dreams sweep 
in early 2003, Chong was one of the very few who was sentenced to 
hard time. Most were sentenced to fines and home detentions.

In last year's documentary A/k/a Tommy Chong, which premiered at the 
Toronto International Film Festival, comedian and social commentator 
Bill Maher, among many others, accused the U.S. government of making 
an example out of Chong for petty political reasons.

But thanks in part to his spirituality and, undoubtedly, his 
unabashed appreciation of the calming effects of marijuana, Chong 
approached his sentence with good humour. He says he didn't mind his 
nine months in prison because it allowed him to focus primarily on 
writing the book.

"If you're a guy like me, it's not so bad . . . I'm an old man, I'm a 
writer and I'm writing my book, I'm Tommy Chong, and I'm doing time 
with my fans," he says.

Being Canadian, Chong says, also helped.

"When you grow up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and spend 20 years 
with Alberta winters, everything else is so easy. Nine months in a 
California jail is nothing compared to nine months of a Canadian 
winter," he says with a laugh.

"Canadians, we appreciate sunshine and the things that really matter 
in life. People say to me: 'Don't you get tired of signing 
autographs?' No. Being famous, that's pretty easy."

In some ways, he says, the bust actually helped rejuvenate his career 
as marijuana advocates started a Free Tommy Chong movement and he 
became the subject of the documentary. But there are no plans to get 
back together with Cheech Marin.

Chong once famously described his old comedy partner as being "closer 
than a wife. The only thing we didn't do was have sex." The pair, one 
of the most successful comedy acts of all time, split up in 1985 due 
to creative differences in a breakup that Chong likened to "a death 
in the family."

It seems those differences are still serving to keep them apart.

"He's been trying to get me to do a play but he doesn't want to do 
the doper characters, so I'm not interested. I only want to play a 
doper. If it works, don't fix it," Chong says.

He can't resist poking fun at Marin for his recent stint on the Fox 
show Duets, in which professional singers like Winona Judd and 
Belinda Carlisle are paired up with wannabe celebrity crooners. Marin 
got voted off after week 4.

"After seeing him on Duets . . . you know, I don't want to hang with 
losers. He lost pretty bad. If he'd stayed on another a week, I would 
have voted him off," Chong says.

"And he was serious, that's what really scared me. There's a reason 
we went into comedy. We were going to start a band, but I heard him 
sing and I said: 'We better stick with comedy.'"
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