WEEKEND: 26 / 27 / 28
Out of the joint
Tommy Chong and the ‘Marijuana-Logues’ comes to Blaisdell Concert Hall
What's the curse? May you live in interesting times? Three years ago, as Americans were still reeling from the combination of al-Qaida and anthrax attacks, as American soldiers prepared to cross the border into Iraq, government prosecutors and law-enforcement personnel executed a daring raid.
Joining the cast of "The Marijuana-Logues":
» Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall
» On stage: 7:30 p.m. Friday
» Admission: $55, $40 and $25.
» Call: (877) 750-4400
By the close of business on Feb. 24, 2003, more than 50 individuals had been taken into custody, their weapons of destruction seized, their fiendish business operations shuttered. America could breath a sigh of relief. "Operation Pipe Dreams" had struck a blow against the sales of drug paraphernalia, such as bongs and pipes.
Stoners, beware. As if they weren't paranoid enough!
One of those targeted was comedian Tommy Chong. He had a family business selling artistic blown-glass pipes and bongs called Chong Glass. His home was raided, the assets seized.
After a career of making people laugh, this wasn't funny. Though the Justice Department studiously avoided naming Chong in its press releases, when he was sent to federal prison for the crime of bong sales, Operation Pipe Dreams became high profile. The operation is still in operation, BTW.
And so, after prison, when Chong joined the touring cast of "The Marijuana-Logues," he had some serious personal history to fall back on. The show debuts in Hawaii Friday night.
Written and performed by Doug Benson and Tony Canin, "Marijuana-Logues" ran for more than a year off-Broadway.
"First time in Hawaii, yeah," says Chong, who, judging by the background sound over the phone, was busy watching cartoons. "We just performed it around New York and like that. It's based on 'The Vagina Monologues,' except instead of talking about vaginas, we talk about weed. Yeah, I know as much about vaginas as I do about weed. They're both expensive."
Tommy Chong, center, and his old buddy Cheech Marin, left, are legends who still get invites from people like Jay Leno.
OK, Tommy hasn't lost his sense of humor. He calls the production "a theaterish experience; we get the kind of people who go to plays, but wouldn't normally go to concerts. I change my dialogue because I'm an old guy and I can't remember. The other guys, Doug and Tony, they stick to the script. They wrote it."
Reaction, even in reactionary times, has been positive, said Chong. "Everybody likes it, even the authorities. It's just the Republican Party that's down on it, because they've got so much money inverted in keeping weed illegal. ... They don't like the idea of entrepreneurs like me selling bongs on the Internet."
He sighed, one of those weight-of-the world sighs. He explains that as a teenager in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, a half-century ago, "a jazz musician handed me a joint and a Lenny Bruce record and it changed my life. I have a career built on weed. America wants you in a category, and mine turned out to be weed humor. And I really enjoy it. Everything I have, I owe to that magic weed.
"I'm the official spokesman now that I've been put in jail for it. Instant cred. The Nelson Mandela of weed. The go-to guy for weed. When the FBI relaxed rules on potheads, the (Associated Press) and the press were calling for comment. What d'ya think of that? Man, that's cool. Heh-heh-heh."
That rumbling, ruminative laugh, inwardly directed. If there was an official audio clip of weed, Chong's heh-heh-heh would be it.
But, back to the Big House. "I went to jail for nine months. Very minimal security. Camp Martha Stewart. Actually it was fun and I enjoyed it. Changed my status to martyr and icon and I've been capitalizing on it ever since.
"People were surprised when I got sent up, but I was the most surprised. I thought I was going to get house arrest. I was ready for my ankle bracelet to get fitted. After I got out, I was on probation for a year, but I could do anything. Except smoke weed. Or sell bongs! Someone on the government payroll is watching the Net, checking on bong sales. What's the deal? Maybe Bush's daughters got bad bongs."
More importantly, how does Hawaiian weed, pakalolo, compare to that of the rest of the world? I mean, what have you heard?
"It has its own magic. What makes weed powerful is how much sunshine it gets. Because of the intense Hawaiian sunshine, your weed is very, very good. And only a fool would take too much of it, heh-heh-heh."
Chong claims he's only made one TV commercial, for Hawaii's Natural High store. He doesn't remember too much about the filming, and looking back, says, "I must have been tricked into it! Hah!"
Next month, Chong is the subject of a documentary called "AKA Tommy Chong," which is the "story of the bust and my time in jail. And I've written a book called 'I Chong' -- like 'I Ching,' heh-heh-heh -- and it's a memoir of the same thing. And my wife and I are still doing stand-up all over the country. Other than that, I've just been trying to get my electric car running."
No joke. Chong is serious about cobbling together an electric car. "Actually a diesel hybrid," he said. "Runs on vegetable oil and electricity. Any diesel engine will operate with vegetable oil. Burns totally clean and smells like french fries."
Just the thing when you've got the munchies. But, thanks to his probation restrictions, "my hair no longer sets off sensors. I quit weed. Easiest thing in the world. When you get old, you're just naturally slow and stupid anyway. If I'd been a drinker, I'd be dead by now. I'm 68 years old and in the best shape of my life."