When the notorious “Wolf of Wall Street” stockbroker Jordan Belfort went to prison for fraud, he at first wasted away his days playing tennis and paying other inmates to do his chores.
But in a strange twist of fate, it was famed marijuana activist and comedian Tommy Chong who inspired Belfort to write his memoirs as part of his restitution.
“I kind of embarrassed him into writing,” Chong said while taping an interview with fellow comedian Doug Benson on Wednesday afternoon in Los Angeles.
“What he did, when he found out he could write, I changed his whole life.”
Yahoo News was on hand for the taping when Chong decided to go into detail about his role in shaping the book that would eventually become the best-selling memoir and basis for the blockbuster 2013 film “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
“All he did at the time was play tennis,” Chong continued. “Finally, he asked me what I was doing and I told him: writing a book.”
The two men were cube mates (the posh prison did not have actual cells) in a California federal prison, and Chong said he encouraged Belfort to turn his story into a book after listening to the discredited former broker recall his experiences each night when they would talk.
Chong himself was serving nine months after being convicted for his role in a marijuana pipe selling business.
Chong says that at first Belfort tried avoiding the painful details of his own experience, instead trying to write a knockoff fictional tale in the vein of a John Grisham legal thriller.
“He handed me a page like a little kid,” Chong said. “I had to tell him the truth, he didn’t write shit. When you see a genius, you tell him if he’s fooling himself. And that’s what I told him.”
“He wasn’t telling the stories that he would tell me every night,” Chong continued. “We’d stay up all night and he’d be telling me the movie.“
After helping convince Belfort that he needed to write an actual autobiography, Chong says he then helped guide the first-time writer through the drafting process.
“I told him a few tricks of the trade, how to articulate the story,” Chong said. “Specifically, a thing called the 'most of' technique, or the biggest ever. Which is, if you’re going to tell your story, you have to pick the biggest part of it.”
When host Doug Benson questioned how Chong could be so supportive of a man accused of defrauding individuals out of their life savings, the comedian stood by his former cube mate.
“He’s beyond genius,” Chong insisted. “You gotta realize they were like fisherman. They were throwing out the bait that these people were addicted to.”
Belfort eventually was paid $1 million by Random House for the rights to his book and another $1 million for the rights to the film.