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“Tommy Chong is in the semi-finals! I think he’s the oldest contestant to make it this far,” my mother said breathlessly over the phone earlier this week. “You’d never know he’s a smoker.” She’s right. He is the oldest dancer to progress this far, and he doesn’t seem to be out of breath on stage.
I couldn’t care less about Dancing with the Stars. As a general rule, I don’t watch talk shows or reality television; DWTS has always struck me as the worst of both worlds, with celebrities I don’t care about projecting their desired public persona as hard as possible while poorly performing ballroom routines. As a woman in her early 30s, my disinterest in the show is probably as predictable as the passionate devotion for it that my mother (in her 60s) has had for almost a decade. If it weren’t for weed, I have no idea how I would ever have gotten through her descriptions of each week’s dances over the phone, which she does every season. Although I generally hate these little recaps, this season has been different.
A few weeks ago, I wasn’t surprised when she began excitedly listing all of the stars on the show this season. I was surprised when she dropped the last name on the list: Tommy Chong.
Yes, that Tommy Chong.
I was even more surprised when my mother informed me that he had danced with a woman “dressed like a marijuana plant.” I had to see it to believe it. And she was right. He and Peta Murgatroyd did a Cha Cha to “Drop it Like It’s Hot” complete with a Cheech Marin cameo.
At 76 years old. Mr. Chong may be the sexiest septuagenarian I can think of. Can you believe how well his hips still move? Go ahead, watch that video again, no one will blame you. And while we’re at it, let’s talk about how well his knees are working and how effortlessly he’s doing that complex routine. It sure doesn’t seem like he’s brain damaged after all those decades of being America’s most notorious toker or like he’s huffing and puffing, out of breath.
And people like my mother, who is very conservative, are one of the biggest demographics for this show, and they are sitting up and taking notice. A few weeks into the season, my mother called me to see if I was near a radio (how cute, mom). She was listening to an interview of him talking about how he treated his cancer with cannabis oil. His cancer story, combined with his age, has apparently earned him a few votes from my mother along the way, although she wishes he’d stop with the weed references on the show. My mother and commentators may find his weekly toking gestures and in-jokes irritating, but plenty before him have as shamelessly pandered to an audience niche (like the many “Christian” celebrities who name drop the J-man in their promo spots every week). And in Chong’s case, his efforts are paying off handsomely.
Earlier this week, Chong once again escaped elimination and will likely garner a decent percentage of votes, given the racy dances he performed. Though there are plenty of people who are critical of his progression this far into the competition, the show is essentially a glorified popularity contest with weekly voting. Plenty of mediocre dancers have made it far by playing a character to the audience; at least Tommy Chong’s selling a message (that his marijuana use has not been harmful but rather beneficial and is something he deserves to celebrate) I can get behind.
Every week that he stays on, he’s subtly reinforcing the idea that marijuana users are a sizable voting block for DWTS and visually displaying the long-term effects of heavy cannabis use (though he has said in interviews he is on a marijuana hiatus during the filming of the show). Those who previously have believed that marijuana kills brain cells or destroys the lungs are watching a notorious 76-year-old stoner dance like he’s as young of body as he is of heart.
I can’t think of a better way to start changing otherwise unreachable people’s mind about marijuana. If my mom’s reaction to Tommy Chong’s tenure on Dancing with the Stars is any indication of how others in her demographic are responding, his decision to participate in this reality show may prove to be an incredibly effective form of legalization activism.
Good luck in the semi-finals, Mr. Chong!
For previous Ladybud articles about reality television, click here.
Photo Credit: Tommy Chong’s public Facebook page