That '70s Show

How Leo Became ‘That ’70s Show’s Most Enduring Character

Yeah, man.


  •  That ’70s Show is known not only for its main teenage characters but also for its integral parent characters, who contribute to the show’s conflict and narrative.
  •  The show featured numerous guest stars and cameos, including ’70s icons such as Billy Dee Williams and Alice Cooper, adding to its nostalgic appeal.
  •  Tommy Chong’s character, Leo, became a beloved fan-favorite due to his laid-back hippie persona, humorous interactions with other characters, and surreal inside jokes that reveal surprising details about his past.


There were many things to love about Fox’s long-running sitcom That ’70s Show. The teen sitcom, set in the 1970s, delivered riotous running gags and comic catchphrases that became hallmarks of the show. The farcical fan-favorite delivered side-splitting storylines for eight seasons, no easy feat in the competitive landscape of network television. The show was about the regular lives of the ensemble cast of kooky teens living in the fictional but relatable town of Point Place, Wisconsin. The gang of friends laughed their way through the many awkward moments that seemed to define high school in the basement of Eric Forman’s (Topher Grace) home. While the ’70s nostalgia-fueled much of the humor, the show is, at its essence, about a group of friends learning who they are and trying to find their place in the world. Aside from the main cast, the series also included numerous supporting characters, of whom Leo Chingkwake (Tommy Chong) became a mega fan-favorite.

The main characters of That ’70s Show, made up of Eric Forman (Grace), Donna Pinciotti (Laura Prepon), Michael Kelso (Ashton Kutcher), Jackie Burkhart (Mila Kunis), Steven Hyde (Danny Masterson), and Fez (Wilmer Valderrama), are the focus of the show, but what makes That ’70s Show so unique is that the parents are as integral to the show as the teens themselves. Much of the series takes place at Eric Forman’s house, primarily in the basement, where Eric’s parents, Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp) and Red (Kurtwood Smith), are constantly interacting with the dysfunctional group of “dazed and confused” teens. The clash of generations drives much of the conflict within the series and helps drive the narrative forward.

‘That ’70s Show’ Loves Guest Roles

That ’70s Show featured several ’70s icons as cameos and guest stars over the years. Billy Dee Williams, known for his role as Lando Calrissian in the Star Wars franchise, played Pastor Dan, the church counselor brought in to give Eric and Donna premarital counseling. This is a particularly special appearance because Eric is obsessed with Star Wars throughout the series. The two men even bond about “The Force” as the pastor attempts to advise the young couple, drawing heavily on Star Wars references. 1970s rock icon Alice Cooper played himself in the Season 3 episode “Radio Daze,” in which Eric has a jealousy-fueled dream about Cooper and Donna.

Even some of the character’s mothers on That ’70s Show were massive ’70s stars! Donna’s mother, Midge, was played by Tanya Roberts, a model and actress with numerous ’70s and ’80s TV and film credits to her name. She played Bond girl Stacey Sutton in A View to a Kill with Roger Moore, and she was the beautiful love interest Kiri in the cult-favorite fantasy film The Beastmaster. The talented Brooke Shields played Jackie Burkhart’s mother. Shields made a name for herself as a child model and actress in the ’70s and ’80s. She made waves as an 11-year-old in the movie Pretty Baby, playing the daughter of a prostitute living in a brothel. She modeled for Calvin Klein jeans, and her role in The Blue Lagoon cemented her legacy as a teen idol throughout the 1980s. That 70s Show has included some epic guest stars, but perhaps the most iconic ’70s star to play a recurring role on That ’70s Show is Tommy Chong as the hilariously bewildered hippie Leo.

Who Is Leo on ‘That ’70s Show’?

Who is Leo, and how did he become a colossal fan-favorite on That ’70s ShowLeo is a bit of an enigma. The details of his life are not revealed upfront. Leo first appears in the Season 2 episode “The Sleepover.” Eric’s father, Red, recently lost his job at the local auto parts plant when the factory shut down, leading to Kitty, a nurse, working more shifts to make ends meet for the family. Steven Hyde, who lives with the Formans, decides to get a job to help out, which is where Leo comes in.

Leonard Chingkwake, known simply as Leo, owns the Foto Hut in town. Leo interviews Hyde, who asks if he likes photos, and when he says yes, Leo tells him he got the job. Everything about this first meeting tells us everything, yet nothing about Leo. The fact that Tommy Chong plays Leo is telling about his character. Tommy Chong is best known for his marijuana-fueled comedy movies with acting partner Cheech Marin, Up in Smoke and Still Smokin’, among others. His characters have become synonymous with his real-life persona, making him the ideal person to portray the half-baked business owner.

Leo Is a Lovable Character on ‘That ’70s Show’

Tommy Chong as Leo in 'That 90s Show'
Image via Netflix

In the first interaction between Leo and Hyde on That ’70s Show, we learn that not only does Leo own that particular Foto Hut, but he references owning several others around town. He also comments that he wants to pay Hyde in cash to keep “Big Brother” out of his business, which Hyde assumes means “the government.” When Leo says no, he means his big brother, who always asks him for money. Somehow, Leo is a successful small business owner with a chain of photo processing stores, even though he is constantly confused by the world around him, making him all the more endearing. In this first interaction, Hyde foreshadows that one day, Leo may work for him, which Leo thinks is cool. This happens in Season 8 when Leo goes to work for Hyde at his record store, Grooves.

Leo provides the ultimate comic relief on That ’70s Show. He is the epitome of a ’70s hippie, more like a stereotype, but it feels authentic because it’s Tommy Chong. One of the things that makes Leo so lovable is his laid-back vibe. He is cool to the max. His long hair, relaxed denim attire, and non-judgmental attitude completely oppose Eric’s father, Red. When the two come into conflict, which happens periodically, hilarity ensues. And because Leo often comes off as clueless, Red can’t even get angry with him because he’s completely oblivious.

Leo’s character on That ’70s Show evolves through surreal humor and juxtapositions in his inside jokes. We learn that he was a WWII vet, something shocking because of his anti-war sentiments. Through a flashback, while he’s talking to Red, we learn that he was a straight-laced kid getting out of the military with plans to go to medical school and work in his father’s pharmacy. He gets in a car filled with smoke and jazz musicians, and as they say, the rest is history. These little tidbits conveyed over time through Leo’s confused one-liners help us get to know and connect with him. Leo can always be counted on for a laugh, and that is what makes him such a fan-favorite. Leo even came back to guest star in That ’90s Show as the same pot-smoking hippie. Though Leo was never essential to the overall storyline in That ’70s Show, his affable nature and humorous anecdotes made him one of the most beloved parts of the series.

That ’70s Show is available to stream on Peacock in the U.S.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button