Interview by Steven Hager
Back on the reefer nightclub circuit after nine months in jail for selling bongs, the world’s biggest pot star has a new documentary (a/k/a Tommy Chong) and a new book (The I-Chong: Meditations from the Joint), both due out this summer.
Josh Gilbert, producer/director of a/k/a Tommy Chong, recently convinced the Maharishi of Marijuana to drop by the HIGH TIMES office, where he talked about his Amazing Electric Hot Rod and other future plans.
When’s the first time you ever got high?
I was a 17-year-old musician... A friend of mine, a jazz musician, a Chinese guy named Raymond Mau, came back from LA, and he handed me a joint and a Lenny Bruce record. Changed my life. And I took that joint, man, I don’t know, instinct or what, but I smoked a little toke, put it away... put it out. That joint lasted me a month. And I was so messed up. Happy. In Calgary, it was totally legal. In fact, after I got high that one time, I was still in school, and I think I quit school the next week. I mean, I was wasting my time sleeping in class—this was before I got high. Then I realized: “I just want to play music. What am I going to learn?” And I didn’t even want to go to music school, because I didn’t want all that musical knowledge to interfere with my blues thing. Then we got kicked out of Calgary and had to go to Vancouver, and we’re all playing, then we found out one day—I don’t know how we found out, but we ended up at a party together, and the piano player and the drummer were also smoking dope. We were hiding it from each other, ha ha ha! And we were sneaking around. Then we found out: “Oh, you smoke?” Then—boom!—we’re all together. We used to get joints from this black guy. He’d roll up these tiny little pinners. I credit him for keeping me from smoking too much pot. Because he’d sell to us for a buck apiece. And there’d be a little pot dust in each one, and he’d roll them so small. It was a marvel, how small he could get them. We’d share a little pinner and we’d all get stoned. Not the kind of stoned you get that you can’t move, your mouth’s open and you can’t talk. Just a nice little buzz. Just to make the music a little more fun, the girls a little prettier—that was all.
So how did you and Josh meet? What’s the genesis of a/k/a Tommy Chong?
Citadel Pictures. I did a movie called Far Out Man. I’d never been to film school. And so I figured, “Well, I know—I’ll put up my own money and do a film with my family in it. That will really teach me how to make movies.” And it did. Josh was a junior exec over at Citadel Pictures, and we became friends. We wrote a script together, Comedy’s Easy, Dying’s Hard. Josh talked me into buying a three-chip camera. I never used it, but Josh always managed to find a way to, ha ha ha! He said, “We got to get this on film.” And I said, “Well, then you got to do it.” I forgot that the camera was on half the time. Luckily, Josh is a great talent. The first rough cut blew me away—I loved it. I could see where he was headed. It was a good, well-told story. But then the final cut... wow, just blew me totally away. I can’t watch Cheech & Chong movies right after I do them; I’m too close, and I see too many mistakes. But I can sit through a/k/a Tommy Chong and be crying at the end.