Pubdate: Sat, 30 Sep 2006
Source: Intelligencer, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2006, Osprey Media Group Inc.
Author: Lee-Anne Goodman, The Canadian Press
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Popular)
Bookmark: (Tommy Chong)


TORONTO - 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" (Simon and
Schuster), 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 earlier this week 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, Alta., 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

"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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