15 Trivia Tidbits About Tommy Chong on His Birthday
If you got way too high and forgot to observe 4/20, we have good news: You still have time to celebrate Tommy Chong’s birthday. The legendary comedian and pot culture icon turns 85 today — yet another ringing endorsement for the restorative powers of living in a weed-induced haze for the better part of five decades. So to honor Tommy Chong, we’ve collected some dank nuggets of far-out trivia, starting with…
His Band Played With The Jackson 5
Prior to his comedy career, Chong played guitar in the group Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers, eventually signing with Berry Gordy Jr. of Motown Records, for whom they recorded songs like “Does Your Mama Know About Me,” co-written by Chong.
At one gig in Chicago, the openers were a pre-fame Jackson 5. Chong later recalled seeing young Michael Jackson perform for the first time: “We were amazed at this little guy that could sing like an adult and dance better than anybody we had ever seen.” An impressed Taylor then “urged the Jacksons to go to Motown Records,” and a month later, they were signed.
He Started Canada’s First Topless Improv Theater
After his music career fizzled out, Chong became interested in comedy and turned a seedy Vancouver strip club run by his brother, The Shanghai Junk, into an improv venue. Not wanting to fire any of the club’s performers, Chong decided to put them in sketches, creating what he called “the only topless improvisational theatre in Canada.”
He Met Cheech While the Latter Was Selling Carpets
While Chong was running his improv club, a carpet salesman named Cheech Marin visited the building next door. As Chong recalled, Cheech was “fast and funny and tired of laying carpets,” so Chong offered him a job with their improv troupe at “$5 a week more than he was getting laying rugs.” The rest is history.
A Peter Sellers Movie Changed His Life
After watching the Sellers comedy I Love You, Alice B. Toklas, in which Sellers plays a straitlaced lawyer who becomes a hippie after trying weed brownies, Chong and his wife Shelby, who were living in Detroit at the time, were inspired to “move to Venice Beach where the movie was shot” and take up the hippie lifestyle. “It literally changed my life,” Chong said of the film. Years later, Cheech and Chong befriended Sellers, who was a big fan of theirs.
He Created a 1980s Sitcom Featuring a Young Brad Pitt
Chong produced the 1988 sitcom Trial and Error, which “evolved” from a pilot he wrote for a show called The Family Martinez, about “a former Hispanic gang member who became a lawyer.” The project was rewritten without Chong’s involvement and, for a brief time, was, unfortunately, titled Amigos. While it was canceled after only three shows aired, one episode did feature a brief appearance by a young Brad Pitt.
He Directed a Movie Starring His Whole Family
Chong directed several of the Cheech and Chong movies, including Still Smokin and Nice Dreams, and also, oddly, the music video for Toto’s “Without Your Love.”
Then in 1990, he made his last directorial effort with the comedy Far Out Man, about an “aging hippie” who embarks on a road trip to find his family. Much of the cast was made up of Chong’s real-life family members, including his wife Shelby and his kids Rae Dawn Chong and Paris Chong.
He Appeared in an Early 1990s Commercial for Trails (Whatever That Is)
“Trails has great pants, great T-shirts. Cool place to shop.”
The U.S. Government Spent $12 Million to Bust Chong’s Bong Business
Famously, Chong was arrested in 2003 for the grievous crime of checks notes selling some bongs over the Internet. It was part of the federal investigation called “Operation Pipe Dreams,” which targeted “55 bong makers,” including Chong, who was only a spokesperson for the company but took the rap to protect his son. The operation reportedly “cost around $12 million and the use of around 2,000 members of law enforcement.” Presumably, it was totally worth it to keep the guy from all your parents’ old comedy records off the streets.
His Cellmate Was the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ Guy
While serving his nine months in the clink, Chong’s cellmate was disgraced financier Jordan Belfort. Inspired by Chong’s writing, Belfort decided to turn his stories into a book, resulting in The Wolf of Wall Street, which was later made into a movie directed by Martin Scorsese (who previously worked with Chong for After Hours).
He Missed Two Seasons of ‘That ‘70s Show’
One of the best parts of That ’70s Show was Chong’s portrayal of Leo, the avuncular denim-clad stoner. But Leo was missing during Seasons Five and Six of the show due to Chong’s conviction. This was eventually explained with a letter in which Leo reveals that he mistakenly stayed in Point Place longer than expected and needed to get back to his wife.
He Wanted President Obama to Pardon Him
In 2016, Chong made it known that he hoped for a full pardon from President Obama, launching a petition that received thousands of signatures. Chong later claimed that he turned down the chance for a pardon but would “accept one from President Biden.”
He Was in a Fergie Music Video
Chong made an appearance in the video for Fergie’s “L.A. Love (la la)” along with Kelly Osbourne, Hilary Swank and Wilmer Valderrama.
He Was Replaced by Homer in an Episode of ‘The Simpsons’
In a Season 22 episode of The Simpsons, Cheech and Chong guest-starred as themselves. Chong, fed up with doing the same old routines on their reunion tour, quits the act and is replaced by Homer.
He Was in the First Season of ‘The Masked Singer’
Chong wore a pineapple suit in the first season of The Masked Singer but was eliminated in the second episode. He later had not-so-great things to say about the experience: “You know, visually, it was good for everybody, but as an actor, it was our worst nightmare because we’re hidden, and no one knows who we are!”
He Got High with Three-Quarters of The Beatles
According to Chong, he once got high with George Harrison and also got high next to two other Beatles — he smoked a joint while standing next to Ringo Starr, who couldn’t partake because he was “on the wagon,” and tried to share his “stinky” weed with John Lennon at a party, but Lennon refused, citing his perilous immigration status.
You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter (if it still exists by the time you’re reading this).