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Interview 566 with Tommy Chong
Thomas B. Kin Chong, comedian, actor, director, musician, writer, activist, counter-culture icon (born at Edmonton 24 May 1938). Tommy Chong is one-half of the comedy team Cheech and Chong. He was born to Scots-Irish mother Lorna Jean Gilchrist and Stanley Chong, an immigrant from China, and the family moved to a neighbourhood near Calgary when Tommy Chong was young. Racism he witnessed and experienced while growing up had a noticeable influence on his career.
In 1956 he formed his blues band The Shades, a name inspired by the racial mix of the group. The Shades played in Edmonton and Calgary before departing to Vancouver, and separated without making a record, but some of its members would reunite as Bobby Taylor & The Vancouvers in the 1960s. The band recorded 2 albums and the song "Does Your Mamma Know About Me" was co-written by Chong and reached #29 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Chong returned to Canada and worked in his brother’s club where, inspired by the standup acts he saw, he began writing comedic skits and eventually performed himself with an improv troupe. Richard “Cheech” Marin joined the group, beginning a professional relationship that would lead to 9 comedy albums, 8 movies (some directed by Chong) and many live standup performances.
Cheech and Chong’s first movie, Up In Smoke (1978), follows the pair while they chase down some marijuana in a van they are unaware is made of it. On the way they satirize police and the government, which was also a common theme in their act. This early “stoner” film led to more in the same style and was hugely popular despite not being taken seriously by critics. Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong dissolved their partnership in 1985 and embarked upon solo careers.
In 2003 Chong was charged with conspiring to transport drug paraphernalia across state lines (he co-owned “Chong Glass,” an online water-pipe retailer), and he spent 9 months in federal prison. In 2006 The I Chong: Meditations from the Joint, his account of the experience, was published and Josh Gilbert released his award-winning documentary about it, a/k/a Tommy Chong.
The incarceration had interrupted Chong's ongoing role as hippie Leo on That 70’s Show, but he returned to the TV series and also to standup. He reunited with Cheech Marin for Cheech and Chong’s Animated Movie in 2012 and the duo created a new standup act, including Chong’s wife Shelby.
“Cheech and Chong” won a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording in 1973 for the album “Los Cochinos.’ Tommy Chong was inducted into the Canadian Alternative Hall of Fame in 2005.
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