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It has long been said that behind every great man there is a great woman. That particular axiom was never truer than with husband and wife duo Tommy and Shelby Chong. Shelby became the second wife of Tommy Chong in 1975, when Cheech and Chong were already in full swing as an act, but before long the blonde bombshell was starring in Cheech and Chong movies and eventually began opening for the duo on the road.


After Cheech and Chong broke up Shelby moved unflinchingly into the second position vacated by Cheech, and continued to tour with her husband and partner in comedy. Things seemed to be going relatively smoothly until 2003 when Tommy Chong was targeted by two American investigations which sought out businesses selling "Drug paraphernalia" drug paraphernalia, mostly "Bong" water pipes. Chong was charged for his part in financing and promoting Chong Glass/Nice Dreams, a company started by his son Paris and his wife Shelby. Chong agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute drug paraphernalia in exchange for non-prosecution of Shelby and his son Paris


Most recently, Shelby has joined with a reunited Cheech and Chong for their Light Up America Tour which she serves once more for as the opening act. Dish caught up with Shelby Chong at Nashville’s exclusive Hermitage Hotel before the night’s scheduled show at the historic Ryman Auditorium.


Dish: Are you having a blast being back out on the road with both the guys again instead of just with Tommy? Are they as wild and crazy as everyone seems to think they are?


Shelby: It is all a big bunch of fun. Cheech is so sweet. I get along with him great and I think it’s because he always plays the female parts in the skits. We click like crazy! I think they are a lot more tame now than people might think they are. Especially Cheech since he went into another whole world where he plays golf and tries to live a straight life more. We have a straight life too but Cheech really likes living in that world.


Dish: What was it like getting back out there full force after having been on hiatus for so long? Is it just like the old days?


Shelby: It’s so funny when you get older because you still feel the same but you can’t believe that those things happened all those years ago. To make people laugh is not an easy thing. To have movies that were made over 30 years ago and continue to have people coming back over and over again to see them and they continue to love them, it’s just uncommon. When we first started out with this tour we were uncertain if people would come out or not and then the shows started selling out. We have generations of people showing up and everybody laughs even if they don’t smoke pot because it reminds them of what it was like and how crazy they were back then. Now that we are all back together and on the road again it kind of does feel like old times again. I keep thinking,“What happened to all of those years?”


Dish: How did you first meet Tommy?


Shelby: I first met Tommy in Vancouver when he and Cheech were there performing. We first saw each other literally across a crowded room and he fell in love instantly and started pursuing me. For me it was much more gradual. It took me time to realize all of the good things about him. He’s a great listener and very generous. When you meet Tommy for the first time he has this beautiful aura about himself. He wasn’t as funny back then but he loved to take a chance. We’re both rebels who like to live on the edge and that’s the biggest difference between us and Cheech. Cheech doesn’t like the edge at all.


Dish: When you married Tommy in 1975 you were coming into what was essentially a well knit family. Did you ever feel like an outsider?


Shelby: Not really. Cheech had his wife back then as well so that was fine. When his wife got put in the movies I got put in the movies. There was never a time that I felt like an outsider. I got started going on the road when he started getting really lonely without me and asked me to start coming with him. I didn’t want to do it at first but I agreed to start coming if he would let me open for him.


Dish: What about then? Did you get a lot of people who wrote you off as “just the wife”?


Shelby: I remember back when I first started going on the road with Tommy Paul Reiser asked him if he was crazy bringing his wife out with him like that. It’s so funny that people don’t want a husband and wife team to work together. I still after all this time get this “Oh, she’s just the wife” attitude from people that is just insane. Women are so much more feminine now and are starting to make so many strides in the world I just can’t understand how people still feel that way.


Dish: When Tommy was arrested in 2003 how did you deal with him going to prison as a way to protect you and your son Paris?


Shelby: I really felt like losing all faith in America. He had to go to jail or they would have sent either me or my son to jail instead. It was an impossible situation even though we knew we were all innocent of anything. They were honestly really bored when they raided our house because I think they thought we were dealers or something. It was a real shock to us. You always read about people getting busted for something and you hear them keep saying “We weren’t doing anything wrong” and so when we were busted everyone naturally thought we were dealing too because the government usually doesn’t spend millions of dollars busting someone for selling a bong.


Dish: Do you think your celebrity was the main reason you were targeted?


Shelby: Absolutely! I joke that Tommy was on the High Times covers one too many times. It was my son’s company so when we would be playing at whatever club in whatever city we would set up something to go into the head shops and help market them. Well, we would have all of these kids show up at the club who couldn’t get in because they were too young but they would just keep lining up for blocks around the club. I think that when they started looking into that they thought we were a part of some cult or something. Who knows what their excuse was? I think it’s a pretty sad thing when someone as hated as John Ashcroft was at the time brings down someone as loved as Tommy and no one says a word.


CLICK HERE To Find Out More About Cheech and Chong! / Issue 95 - September 7068
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