Comedian, actor and marijuana activist Tommy Chong celebrated his 78th birthday at Mack Sennett Studios in Silver Lake Tuesday night at a hybrid event that managed to be part touching tribute, part pot-themed comedy show and part product launch party (his name and likeness appears on packaging for the new Chong’s Choice cannabis brand) attended by more than 700 people. And, despite the hazy clouds of cannabis smoke filling the venue, it presented a pretty clear picture of how the stoner class might socialize in a future when marijuana use has moved more mainstream – right down to having a proud gift-bag sponsor, Los Angeles-based lifestyle brand Photo/Genics + Co. whose product line includes a $42 hashish-scented candle.
(This is where we need to remind readers that although several U.S. states have legalized adult recreational use, here in the Golden State the legal purchase of cannabis is restricted to those holding valid recommendation paperwork issued by a California-licensed physician.)
The weed theme was in overdrive with piñatas shaped like pot leaves; a leaf-emblazoned green, white and black version of the Stars and Stripes; a bar serving up drinks like the Gin and Chronic (gin, pineapple, grapefruit cordial, celery shrub and East Imperial’s Burma tonic water) and ladling out Blue Dream punch (a combination of tequila, aloe vera juice, bianco vermouth, cucumber, lime and orange bitters); and a dedicated smokers lounge thick with smoke that all but obscured a table full of gummy worms, Rice Krispies Treats, Oreo cookies, popcorn and chocolate chip cookies (that by our count was decimated in under half an hour). The capper to a scene already bordering on the surreal was a folding table in one corner crowded with items that resembled disassembled smoking devices. A sign just to the right read: “‘Not a pipe’ interactive pipe museum.”
Shortly after 10 p.m., the party buzz shifted from the dispensary and makeshift medical clinic areas to the studio’s 5,000-square-foot Stage 1 space, where, for the next hour and a half, a lineup of comedians took turns riffing on a wide range of topics – although almost all of them made at least a passing reference to marijuana – in front of an audience that included producer Lou Adler (who directed Cheech & Chong’s feature-film debut “Up in Smoke”) and the green-suited Bishop Don “Magic” Juan at whose table this reporter accidentally found himself sitting at. (“You’re at the Bishop’s table,” we were told before given the heave-ho.)
The free-flowing, smoke-blowing comedy jam was hosted by comedian James Davis, who kicked things off by pointing to the birthday boy seated in the audience. “Look at Tommy Chong,” Davis said with a note of bewilderment, “He’s 78. His Facebook [account] is popping, and he looks good. He looks like the guy in those Dos Equis commercials.”
Then he looked into the crowd and asked, “Where [are] my indicas at? Where [are] my sativas?” – name-checking the two different species of cannabis plant. After receiving enthusiastic applause, he observed, “If you’re used to popping bottles, well, you’re not that guy tonight.”
Among those taking the stage were Andrew Santino, Eric Andre, Jordan Rock, Luenell, “Saturday Night Live” cast member Jon Rudnitsky (who, for the record, does a decent Donald Trump impression), Erik Griffin (familiar to “Workaholics” fans as Montez Walker) and identical twin brothers Kenny and Keith Lucas (creators of “Lucas Bros. Moving Co.,” the Fox TV series featuring animated versions of themselves) whose mirrored mumbling-meets-mimicry stage patter was enough to make even the stone-cold soberest in the audience feel a little tripped out.
Last up was Chong’s longtime partner in comedy crime, Cheech Marin, who took to the stage ever so briefly to offer a birthday greeting that included the appropriately Cheech-like observation: “You [expletive] made it to 78, man!”
After that, a frosted-green sheet cake — decorated with spliff-shaped birthday candles — was brought forward, and Chong headed to the stage. “Well, happy birthday to me,” he said in his familiar semi-bewildered-sounding drawl. After blowing out the candles, he made it clear that at least one of his birthday wishes was to make it an annual affair.
“I’m going to make this an annual event as long as I can. We need more than just 4/20,” Chong said. “We need 5/24. And, instead of giving me gifts, I’m going to give you gifts next year – that’s a promise. Because I don’t need anything; I’ve got everything I need. I’ve got the most gorgeous wife in the world – Shelby – she’s the reason I’m here today. If it wasn’t for that lady, I’d probably be in … Vancouver. So thank you very much and enjoy the rest of the night.”
Does the world need another holiday to celebrate all things marijuana-related? Probably not, especially since, despite the rising tide of public acceptance, the Drug Enforcement Agency still considers pot a Schedule 1 drug. (That category, which includes heroin and LSD, is for substances with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”) But then again, in an era when there are more celebratory “days” than the 365 days in a calendar year (May 27, for example, happens to be National Cellophane Tape Day, National Grape Popsicle Day, National Don’t Fry Day and National Heat Awareness Day), the bar is obviously set pretty low. And, frankly, if anyone can start a grass-roots movement for a second stoner holiday, it’s Tommy Chong, whose bearded visage might well belong on the Mt. Rushmore of the modern marijuana movement.
On a side note, if the wished-for annual celebration actually does happen, a quick check of the online National Day Calendar reveals that it will join other May 24 observances: National Escargot Day, National Scavenger Hunt Day and Aviation Maintenance Technician Day.
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May 28, 2016, 10:27 a.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly characterized the sponsorship of Photo/Genics + Co. That brand was a gift-bag sponsor, not the event’s presenting sponsor.