In episode three of The Mike O’Hearn Show, hosted by bodybuilder Mike O’Hearn, on the Generation Iron YouTube channel, which aired on June 17, 2022, O’Hearn speaks with actor and comedian Tommy Chong. Chong, 84, is likely best known for his work with Cheech Marin. As the comedic duo “Cheech and Chong,” they won the 1973 Grammy award for Best Comedy Album and released eight movies between 1978 and 2013.
Chong chatted with O’Hearn about Chong’s upbringing — his first job, navigating adolescence amidst poverty, and the lessons learned from bodybuilding. Check out the full video below:
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Chong grew up without much money in the countryside of Canada. His first job as a gardener was offered to him by his dentist when he was a kid. As he recounted his childhood, he recalled how he was always working in some capacity whether paid or unpaid. He suggested that was the culture of where he grew up, but also his need for coin to pay for basic necessities. Chong joked that the only time anyone was ever handed something for free was on their deathbed.
I never turned down a job, ever. You couldn’t do that. You can’t have anything until you lose everything.
After spending a year in an orphanage as a four-year-old, Chong felt he matured much faster in order to take care of himself. Bodybuilding’s importance grew for Chong as he was very skinny as a child due to malnourishment. It boils down to Chong’s mindset of having agency over his life — advice given to him by his mother.
It’s totally up to you. You’re in charge.
O’Hearn made an observation he sees in modern culture, where people, even in their 30s “don’t even know who they are and what they want.” O’Hearn knew he wanted to excel in the health and fitness industry at age nine.
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Creativity of Bodybuilding
When O’Hearn and Chong compare the professional arenas they’ve spent their careers in — Hollywood and fitness — Chong expresses his adoration for bodybuilding because “you can’t wish…or pretend a body on yourself.”
[Bodybuilding] is one of the most honest and creative activities you can indulge in.
Chong’s first encounter with a legitimate weight room was at his local YMCA while he attended high school. After failing to make the football team, he trained at the YMCA, which “hardly anybody used.” At age 19, he ventured to Vancouver from Calgary and a bouncer at a dance club Chong frequented invited him to a gym, where Chong was introduced to the sport of bodybuilding.
The thing about bodybuilding: there’s no talk, there’s just action.
When Chong moved to Los Angeles, his first purchase after necessities was a membership at the original Gold’s Gym in Venice Beach, CA. After the release of the original Cheech and Chong movie, Up In Smoke, Chong had more money to spend and continued his training journey. Eventually, Chong made his way to Vince’s Gym in Studio City, CA, and picked up the gym’s owner, pro bodybuilder Vince Gironda, as his personal trainer.
Your appearance will tell [people] more about you than anything.
Chong is overtaken with giddy energy when he recalls the time he met bodybuilder and actor Steve Reeves, known for his roles as Hercules in Hercules and Goliath in Goliath and the Barbarians, who was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and his biceps stretching the sleeves. Even at age 84, Chong still holds a deep respect for the sport of bodybuilding, not only for the larger-than-life figures it produced but for the impact it had on him in his early years giving him agency over his life.
Featured image: @mikeohearn on Instagram | photo by Mike Ruiz (@mikeruiz.one on Instagram)