Everybody remembers Tommy Chong as the big four eyed oriental half of Cheech And Chong - The hippie comedy team who sold a zillion albums to millions of giggling stoner teens in the seventies and then starred in a few enormously successful feature films in the early eighties before finally going Splitsville over Cheech's desire to go Hollywood and Chong's desire to tell Hollywood to go piss up a rope.
Since then Chong has appeared in a few movies and become a headliner on the comedy club circuit with more or less the same act he used to do with Cheech - A lot of blues guitar playing, the kind of funny songs kids make up while listening to the radio, and a bunch of skits with his beautiful blonde wife Shelby (Who appeared as a beautiful blonde in several Cheech and Chong movies) as his beautiful blonde stooge. Not the most glamorous gig in the biz but, judging from how brilliantly funny Chong is on "That 70's Show", it's kept his comic skills sharp while other seventies comedians like Steve Martin and Chevy Chase have gone soft and flabby (John Belushi is in better shape than those guys). As "Leo", the latest incarnation of the bewildered loser character he has been playing for more than thirty years, Chong -At age sixty two- isn't just one of the funniest people on television today, he also earns his place amongst the most talented comedians of his time.
Which is really throwing the cat amongst the pigeons, cause Tommy Chong gets about as much respect from other comedians as Pee Wee Frampton gets from other musicians. While I was doing stand up in New York I wasted God only knows how many evenings fighting to keep a straight face while other comics blathered their chatty admiration for screaming meemies like Paul Reiser and Richard Lewis (Feel free to step out for a little fresh air), but if I was ever dumb enough to say anything about Tommy Chong people just looked at me like I had told them the size, shape, and color of my most recent bowel movement.
I suspect what other comedians find so annoying about Chong - And what shines through so beautifully on "That 70's Show"- is the total absence of anger in his humor. He may look like one of the Hell's Angels that beat the crap out of those stupid kids at that Rolling Stone's concert, but deep down inside Tommy's an ol' softie. Shucks, not "deep down" even!
But Americans are angry people and we like our comedy with a maximum of sneerin', snarlin', and snortin'. Remember Jackie Gleason and his "BANG! Right to the moon, Alice!"? Or Sam Kinison screaming and yelling about how stupid those Ethiopians were to live in a desert? Man, that is our kinda cuttin' up! Or if you really want to be a vicious prick you can do "Political Satire". If it really is true that kids get most of their news these days from the late night comedy shows it might be because Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings could never be as mean spirited as Bill Maher and Jon Stewart. Those nattering nabobs of negativity deliver the punchline to a Bob Jones University or National Rifle Association joke with all the grace and delicacy of Joe Strummer on the first Clash album. From the way most comedians carry on you'd think that any second now the fascist rednecks are gonna rise up and pack us off to the concentration camps.
The World According To Tommy Chong, on the other hand, is a happy, sunny, bouncy place full of love and fun for one and all. My God, what if everybody started to think like that? It would be the end of civilization as we would have known it if we had subscribed to the New York Times! What is the deal with this Tommy Chong doofus and all that silly goofin' around of his? Ain't he got no anger? Sure, he does! But unlike most comedians Tommy Chong's really got something to be angry about.
Forget about how tough Richard Pryor had it as a kid, just try to imagine what it was like for Tommy Chong growing up as a half Chinese kid in a frontier town way up in the Canadian Rockies called Dog Patch. You have to go all the way back to W.C. Fields for a boyhood saga as gaga as that. This is a guy who's earliest childhood memory is of boxing with homemade gloves made out of burlap sacks. Hell, yeah, Tommy Chong has a gripe with this world. So why isn't he pouting and sulking all over the place like Howard Stern or Chris Rock? Well, maybe I'm going out on a limb here, but just maybe Tommy Chong is one of the very few comedians who had the GUTS to put that stupid anger aside and GROW UP into a decent, well adjusted, adult MAN. Gosh, there sure aren't a lot of THOSE in Hollywood, no wonder Cheech had to scrape him off!
But Americans don't believe in overcoming anger because we think anger
is "cool". Anger is "street". Anger gives you "attitude" and if there's
one thing you can't do without in American culture it's "attitude". That's
why you can't look at advertising for more than five seconds without getting
smacked in the face with some slogan like "Pizza With Attitude", "Tube
Socks With Attitude", "Decongestant With Atti- Hey, man! I've just received
notification from Acid Logic headquarters that Tommy Chong makes a guest
appearance on the latest solo album by Dr. Dre from Niggaz With Attitude!
Can this be an omen? A sign from God Above that we are now as a people
putting our anger and hostility aside to move into a New Age of Peace,
Love, and Under- What!?! One of our ships has been blown up by Arab terrorists
and a bunch of sailors are dead!?! That's it! The gloves are off and it's
time to kick ass! We are gonna cut out their living guts and use them
to grease the treads of our tanks! We are going to grind their women and
children into hamburger and feed them to the Japs on a sesame seed bun!
Saleeby wrote for The National Lampoon while he was in high school, was
a stand up comic in New York, and has contributed to the net humor zines
Schmuck.com, Campaign Central, and the legendary American Jerk. He's on
medication now so he's probably a little nicer now than he was when you
met him earlier.
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