While there are many famous pot smokers in today’s increasingly green-friendly world, there are few who resonate across multiple generations as much as Tommy Chong. As one half of the cult comedy duo Cheech & Chong, the actor and marijuana activist has been one of the most public smokers since the 1978 film Up in Smoke—decades before legalization was even a remote possibility. It’s fair to say Cheech & Chong pretty much invented the stoner comedy movie genre, and their hazy escapades have yielded a diehard fanbase across the globe.
In more recent years, Chong’s cut shapes on Dancing with the Stars in 2014, voiced a yak who runs a nudist colony in last year’s Zootopia, and runs a marijuana company with his son called Chong’s Choice. As the name suggestions, Chong handpicks his favorite marijuana strains and products—from pre-rolled joints to THC-infused breath strips—and distributes them to dispensaries.
About a decade ago, Chong fought and overcame prostate cancer, which led him to embrace a healthy diet that he still strictly follows today. Though the munchies probably lead to temptation, Chong no longer drinks coffee or alcohol, avoids red meat, and has cut down on sugar almost entirely. That said, he still loves a tasty breakfast, specifically one with some good bread and even vegetables. He’s also got some creative ideas for breakfast-related edibles, which we discussed over the phone while he was driving around Los Angeles, where he lives with his family. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Extra Crispy: Are you a morning person, and do you have any morning routines?
Tommy Chong: I’m a “wake up in the middle of the night” person. When you get older, you get tired early, but you wake up early, too. I usually wake up around 4:20 in the morning. I’m serious! Usually around 4:00 or 4:20 a.m. It’s crazy, I look at my phone and see, “Oh, it’s 4:20! That’s interesting!” I don’t get high that early, I just wake up, and then I end up going back to sleep. Then I get up around 8 a.m. My day starts with a little workout. I’m recovering from a cancer operation, so I stretch, do some exercise, go for a walk with my son’s dog if he’s there, and then I meet my wife for breakfast.
Are you a breakfast person? Do you eat after you exercise?
It depends. If I’m on a diet, or worrying about my weight, or if I ate too much the night before, I’ll skip breakfast and wait for lunch, but usually I do breakfast around 10:00 a.m. In order to look good, you have to be aware of what you eat. It only takes a couple of days of bad eating to lose all the gain that’s taken years to achieve, even if we’re talking about bacon and eggs. It’s like gambling: You can workout for five years and pretty much lose it all in a half hour. I’m pretty good about what I eat for breakfast, plus I don’t smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol or run around with loose women. I’ve got a pretty good life!
Do you often eat breakfast with your family?
Oh yeah, definitely. We just had breakfast together just now. We ate turkey sausage, eggs over medium, and I had a little toast. Paris, my son who I run Chong’s Choice with, had vegetables—some broccoli for breakfast! The key to good eating is that you should wait until you’re hungry and then eat food you usually don’t like the taste of. If you’re hungry enough, everything tastes good.
How has your diet changed since the surgery?
When I got diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2005, I quit drinking alcohol. Once a year, I’ll have a little wine, but otherwise no alcohol. I also cut out the red meat, except when I go to Chinatown or get Chinese food… then pork is OK with me. I like chicken, fish, and salmon. I love salmon. I try not to eat bread, but that’s my weak point—I love some good bread, and I always have. I’ll often have toast for dessert! I try not to eat sugar, so I have bread and butter late at night instead of in the morning. I also really like to eat dark, dark chocolate, like 85 percent cocoa, alongside almonds. But I have to watch that too because you can easily pig out on health food.
Do you feel better now that you follow a stricter diet?
Oh yeah, definitely. I have so much more energy since my body isn’t digesting huge amounts of food. My thing with diet is portions. Since I had an operation, I don’t eat big portions anymore. Just lots of small portions throughout the entire day. I feel more mental clarity now that I stick to this eating routine, and I no longer want to hibernate after eating a meal in the morning. When you’ve got too much food in you that early, you get lazy!
What were your eating habits like in the early days of your film career?
When we started making movies [in the ‘70s], we really had to watch our diets because we were on screen—and the screen will blow you up! When you’re overweight and on screen, it really shows. Both me and Cheech [Marin] were both very cognizant of our diets, and I kind of went into a vegetarian phase while we were making all the movies. I wanted to stay skinny. When Cheech and I broke up, that was when he let it go. Now he’s got a big old pot belly, but he never had it when we were in our peak. I have to give credit to my wife, Shelby. She’s really been the Jiminy Cricket who sits on my shoulder, and tells me if I’m starting to eat too much when I’m out somewhere and stoned. She’ll tell me to stop it.
What time of the day do you typically start smoking weed?
It all depends. I seldom smoke in the morning and usually wait until the afternoon before I start. I want to keep my senses about me. I make bongs as an art project, and I test them myself. But I make sure I don’t have a whole lot to do, and then I’ll test them by doing little one-hits. I’m a one-hitter guy—one or two tokes and then leave it. Then, a few hours later, I’ll wonder why I feel weird. It’s the martini approach [laughs].
You once served a nine-month stint in prison, and I’m curious what prison food was like in your experience. What did you eat for breakfast while inside?
I was very lucky because I only ate in the mess hall just for the experience, just so I could try it. You know the movie Goodfellas and how they had their cooking club? I had the same thing in prison, and the people I cooked with were high up in the hierarchy and also some of the most intelligent people in the whole prison. We grew our own food and cooked our own meals, usually one big meal in the afternoon. Cooking breakfast together wasn’t as common.
I ate so healthy in prison. We had a garden with fresh vegetables, and there was a ton of dandelion growing all over the place, so I would go pick flowers to make a salad. We also had chicken and rice from the commissary to add to our meal. That was our routine. Every Friday night, one of the guys had a connection in the commissary so we’d get ice cream and cookies. Just once a week. It was a minimum-security prison, and there are often people who cook like that in those types of facilities.
Have you always been good at cooking?
More or less. I had a Chinese woman show me how to cook Chinese food, and I took an interest in it. It’s like any other art project—cooking can be a beautiful thing. I like to use a wok to make stir fry, and whip together broccoli, bok choy, dandelions, and other greens with lots of ginger, lots of garlic, and some good olive oil. One of my favorite meals to cook is linguini and clams, and I’d stir fry the clams, Chinese-style, before throwing the noodles in. I’d get lots of compliments from that meal!
Have you tried any crazy edibles that would be great for breakfast?
The best food to turn into an edible is cereal, no matter when you eat it. Cereal has always been a stoner classic, and it’s definitely the most tasty option for edibles if you can find people who make it. I don’t like eating edibles too often because they’re time-released and you don’t always know how strong they are. I have no control over the high!
Once, I came up with a breakfast edible recipe where you puree fresh berries—like blueberries, strawberries, raspberries—then put weed in the mixer, then freeze it. I make a popsicle, but a healthy breakfast popsicle with no added sugar. Just pureed fruit and weed, kinda like a frozen smoothie. The weed kind of separates so you can almost see it in the mixture. After I was operated on, the only thing I could eat was popsicles, so this invention became the best option for consuming weed at the time, but I’ve stuck with it. It’s a potsicle!
OK, my last question for now. If you were allowed to eat any crazy breakfast without it affecting your health at all, what would you order?
I’d do something classic like bacon, eggs, and pancakes. Just what my dad used to cook us every Sunday. It was a treat—tons of bacon, tons of eggs, stacks of pancakes. My body can’t handle that anymore, but I can dream of it. OK, I gotta run—take care, Crispy Guy!