A new season of Dancing with the Stars kicks off with pointed toes, arched feet and a whole new cast of once-and-future celebrities eager to strut their stuff on the dancefloor. Among the new cast for the show’s 19th season are the delightful potpourri of NASCAR driver Michael Waltrip, designer Betsey Johnson, actress Lea Thompson, The Carlton originator Alfonso Ribeiro — and, of course, pot-smoking comedy legend Tommy Chong. As it turns out, Chong’s a lifelong fan of the form — although he’s new to the sparkles and dance pants.
“I love dancing,” Chong says. “I’ve been trying to learn tango for years. This is the perfect environment for me, because you have to learn and you only have a few day. You can’t get tired, you can’t get sore, you can’t hurt yourself — you just have to show up and do the job.”
While Chong is frank about the fact that he’s hoping to re-kick start his career by joining the show (“The exposure reinvigorates careers we contestants might have left. We’re trying to stay in the spotlight,” he says), he’s not just dancing on the ballroom floor — he has a platform, too. His issue, perhaps unsurprisingly, is medical marijuana. “I want to be the poster boy for the marijuana community,” says Chong. “They can point and me and say, ‘Look at him! He’s 76 years old, he can dance, he’s healthy, he has a beautiful wife and he smokes marijuana for medical purposes.”
“Medical marijuana is my passion in life. I went for jail for my beliefs. Now that we’re getting legal, I want to focus on the benefits of medical marijuana — it helps little children with epilepsy and MS, and it helped me with my cancer.”
Chong’s passion may be increasingly socially acceptable, but there are some network considerations to keep in mind.“The show’s not allowed to show pot leaves or bongs,” said Chong. “But they have Tommy Chong, who really is a pot leaf.”
While Chong won’t be wearing bedazzled pot leaves on his costumes, he is paying homage to his favorite medicine. “I wear a lot of green,” he says. “Peta, my partner, is going to look like a little marijuana bud.”
And at 76, Chong is also the oldest member of the cast — not that he’s worried about the competition.“I’m not dead. I’m not Fred Astaire, but I’m alive,” he laughs. “I don’t have to take my shoes off at the airport. I got the old people vote. I got a decent shot.”
When asked if his demographic of medical marijuana partakers would remember to watch, Chong says he hoped that his fans would not only remember, but vote — because he’s competing to raise awareness for medical marijuana. “It’s more than just winning a contest — it’s really showing people the benefits of this miraculous plant,” he says.
As for the question on everyone’s mind? “Cheech will come whenever I tell him to,” says Chong.
Tune in to ABC tonight at 8 p.m. to see Chong cha cha on the dance floor.