Tommy Chong, the comedian and advocate of legalised cannabis, best known for the "Cheech and Chong" films, created a political web video to promote Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign — and not just because the Vermont senator has called for an end to the federal government's prohibition on cannabis.
Chong starts off the video — to be seen on a laptop near you in the coming weeks — comparing the slate of presidential candidates to cannabis plants ready to be harvested, noting that only Sanders is "mature" enough to picked. Calling Sanders the "commander in Kush," referring to a type of cannabis, Chong ticks off his reasons for support. Then comes the money line.
"Only one candidate this year has said things I truly believe in, like supporting the legalisation of ...," he said, pausing for dramatic effect, "a fair and humane immigration policy." Also on the list? Legalisation of "a real living wage."
Chong may not be the kind of A-lister that campaigns roll out in swing states, but he does have millions of followers on Twitter and Facebook, where the video will be shared. Chong's tongue-in-cheek Web short is likely to be a hit with the vast grassroots army of volunteers and small donors Sanders is relying on to fuel his campaign — especially as he seeks to bring out progressive voters.
Though Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has collected the lion's share of reportable donations from donors in Hollywood — 9 of every 10 dollars according to a Times analysis — Sanders has benefited from the endorsements of artists with sizable social media followings.
Atlanta rapper Michael Render, known onstage as Killer Mike, who is part of the duo Run the Jewels, has become one of Sanders' most vocal proponents. Render did a series of widely viewed YouTube videos with Sanders and hailed the candidate on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” last week.
Chong, 77, is a natural politico. He was born in Edmonton, Canada, and came of age in the 1960s when he met his stoner comedy partner Cheech Marin in Vancouver. Marin, an American, was dodging the Vietnam War-era. Chong has followed U.S. politics closely since then and occasionally appears on cable news programs such as "The O'Reilly Factor" to debate legalisation of cannabis.
"He is not trying to advocate for special interests like everybody else, Bernie is for the people," Chong said of his support for Sanders. "Bernie is ready, he is the OG Kush that is at the top of the harvest."
Chong, who is recovering from his second bout with cancer, is still spry, witty and unabashedly upfront about his political views. He referred to Gov. Chris Christie as the "gangster from New Jersey" and said it was an "embarrassment" that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz also hailed from Canada.
At one point between takes he pointed to the colostomy bag he has had to wear since a surgery last month to remove a tumor in his rectum.
"I call it 'The Donald,'" he said.
Chong said Clinton would be a fine commander in chief if she got elected. But the out-sized role of money in politics has led him to support Sanders.
"It is a money dance. They are dancing for whoever is pulling the strings," he said. "That's what I like about Bernie, there is no one pulling the strings."
Chong said his son Paris turned him onto the Sanders campaign a few months ago and he started exchanging Twitter messages with volunteer activist group People For Bernie in December to see if he could help out. Chong and his social media director, Eli Graham, cooked up a script. Graham contacted the Sanders campaign and was told the senator would not be able to make an appearance in the video but encouraged the group to move ahead with filming.
Luis Calderin, the arts, culture and youth vote manager for the Sanders campaign, was grateful for Chong's support. "I respect his honesty and his credibility," he said. "The arts base has been incredibly important to get our message out."
Filmmaker Alex Calleros, 28, volunteered to direct after hearing about the effort through the Glendale for Bernie Facebook group. He brought along Ryan McDuffie, 29, a co-founder of the production company Finite Films. McDuffie described himself as apolitical before he learned about Sanders.
"We are doing this for Bernie," he said.