June 5, 2008
By DAN PEARSON Contributor
Hey man, counter-culture icon Tommy Chong will make a special
appearance at the Zanies Comedy Nightclub in Vernon Hills with his
wife Shelby Chong next weekend.
"The Tommy and Shelby Show will be comedy and dancing and lots of
good things," said Chong, the Chinese-Irish Canadian author,
comedian, musician and social activist who turned 70 on May 24. "My
wife and I added a new bit called `Dancing With the Stoners,' a
take-off on `Dancing With The Stars.'"
His wife, who opens their show, appeared in four of the Cheech &
Chong comedies, including playing the provocative Fifi in the 1982
release "Things Are Tough All Over."
"We filmed in Chicago when it was the coldest day in history. Over
100 degrees below zero with the wind chill factor," recalled Chong
who played a musician stoner and a homicidal Arab prince in that
film. "We rocked the Aragon with our Arab band. But because of the
subject, you never see it on television now."
Chong has more far out news for his fans. "Cheech and I are getting
ready to do a tour in the fall," said Chong, who split with his
longtime comedy partner Richard "Cheech" Marin over creative
differences in 1985. "I was dead set against it because Cheech sort
of like turned his back on the culture...my wife and I were doing
fine without him, but my son persisted and Cheech came around."
Chong said the comedy team that personified the drug culture of the
1970s and 1980s was reunited on stage for a Q&A session following a
30th anniversary screening of their hit 1978 film debut "Up in Smoke"
"Cheech came up with the idea that we should start from the
beginning," he continued. "'Up in Smoke' was a live act that we did
so long that we ended up doing a movie. So we are going back to our
roots and doing Cheech & Chong's greatest hits."
Expect to hear such classic routines as "Basketball Jones," "Earache
My Eye," "Sister Mary Elephant," and "Dave('s Not Here)" and other
material from their nine comedy albums.
Chong, one of the mellower individuals on the planet, admitted that
for decades he was bitter about the break-up. He told his side of the
story in "an unauthorized autobiography of Cheech & Chong," which
will be in bookstores in August. "This was written before Cheech and
I decided to get back together again," he added, "so I hope Cheech
doesn't read until after we have our first pay check."
His feelings have changed, however. "Being bitter over the past is an
exercise in futility," he said. "In jail I had to learn to put all
Bad for Dreams
In 2003 the Chong Glass Company, AKA Nice Dreams, which manufactured
custom bongs, was raided by agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement
Agency as part of Operation Pipe Dreams. Chong pleaded guilty to a
single count of conspiring to sell drug paraphernalia. Although he
was expecting house arrest, he served nine months in a federal
facility in Taft, California.
Looking back, Chong can find some humor and perspective in the
experience. "I was 65 at the time and I needed the prison experience,
believe it or not," he said. "I am writer. A lot of people were
jealous that I had that chance. Because it is not often someone gets
thrown in jail for something as innocent as a water pipe."
In prison he wrote "The I Chong: Meditations From The Joint" and was
subject of the documentary film "a/k/a Tommy Chong."
The film debuted at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival and
is now available on DVD. In May of this year, over 10, 000 copies of
the film were allegedly confiscated in a raid orchestrated by the
federal prosecutor, who, Chong explained, was also responsible for
the first arrest. But in addition to the book and film, the prison
experience provided plenty of new material for his current stand-up act.
"I make light of a few things," said Chong. That included being a
celebrity prisoner and doing a crazy tango walk in the exercise yard
to demonstrate he wasn't to be messed with.
"The prison entertainment programmer took advantage of the fact I was
there and there would be a Cheech & Chong movie on nearly every
week," he explained. "The only way to survive that kind of prison
experience is to go within yourself and draw on your spiritual
strength. Luckily I had been prepped for that experience all my life."