"Cheech & Chong: The Unauthorized Autobiography" by Tommy Chong
By Joshua Sandoval, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
August 7, 2008
IN SEPTEMBER, Cheech and Chong will reunite for a tour, 26 years
after their last live performance. That is, if Cheech doesn't read
Tommy Chong's newest book, "Cheech & Chong: The Unauthorized Autobiography."
Here, Chong aims to detail the duo's years of success, and to explain
why they split. But the big smoke cloud he left in the 1970s and
1980s might have fogged his ability to focus, which he freely admits.
"I know some of you will thumb through the book and go directly to
the end to find out what happens," he writes in a prologue. "Well,
don't waste your time. Because that is not the way I write."
The first third of "Cheech & Chong" rarely mentions Cheech or comedy,
but details Chong's pre-comedy career as a recording artist with
Motown Records. He wrote the hit song "Does Your Mama Know About Me?"
-- which, he claims, changed how Motown songwriters worked.
"Until 'Does Your Mama Know About Me?' came along," he writes, "R&B
music had always consisted of love songs. Now songwriters started
exploring the color barrier with their songs. 'Papa Was a Rolling
Stone' and 'Love Child' come to mind as examples of this shift."
It takes a while to figure out, but Chong spends so much time writing
about music because it led to his comedy career. After an underground
newspaper owner in Canada introduced him to his music reviewer,
Richard "Cheech" Marin, an American dodging the Vietnam War, the two
of them formed a band, and comic magic surfaced the night of their first gig.
"I told the guys that Rich and I would go out and warm up the crowd
with some comedy," Chong remembers, "and then we would play (or
attempt to play) the tunes we rehearsed. . . . One bit melted into
the next until we ended the show and had both forgotten entirely
about the band sitting behind their instruments, waiting to play."
Chong goes on to tell the story of their partnership -- from the
early years playing club dates to their six hit albums and six films,
including "Los Cochinos" and "Up in Smoke."
As the book progresses, though, he occasionally gets distracted,
detouring into rants about the government and illegal substances.
"People always ask me," he writes, "if I think we could make the
movies like 'Up in Smoke' today. And I tell them no. I was
incarcerated for nine months simply because I made those movies back
in the seventies and eighties. It is in the court records. I was
incarcerated for nine months for taking responsibility for a box of
glass water pipes that was shipped across state lines!"
Chong's anger is understandable, but these topics were already
covered in his first book, "The I Chong." In any case, he seems to
have forgotten that marijuana-based buddy movies -- such as "Harold &
Kumar Go to White Castle" and the newly released " Pineapple Express"
-- have been made in recent years, undoubtedly inspired by Cheech & Chong.
For all the duo's high times, lack of communication doomed their
relationship. They went to pitch meetings and financial negotiations
without talking to each other first. Sometimes, they even wrote apart.
"While 'Next Movie' was being edited," Chong recalls, "Cheech and I
met with the heads of Columbia Pictures to pitch our next two films.
. . . When we met outside the Columbia offices, Cheech asked me what
stories we were going to tell them. I told Cheech that I had a few
plot lines I was working on we'd have to just improvise."
Although both men were at fault for the split, Chong blames Cheech
for wanting to be something more than a clown. He seems especially
incensed that his former partner took parts in "Nash Bridges" and
"The Lion King."
A telling moment comes when Chong recounts a question-and-answer
session at the 2005 Aspen Comedy Festival.
"Cheech was wearing the suit he wore in 'Nash Bridges,' " he writes,
"and was very straight and dry in answering the questions. This was
not the wise-cracking Chicano I had been partners with for fifteen
years. . . . Someone asked him how difficult it was to change his
'Chicano stoner image,' and he replied, 'It was like turning a big
ship around.' The moderator then asked me the same question and I
answered, 'I didn't have to turn my ship around because it was going
in the right direction.' "
So . . . about that tour?
Up in smoke again
As he reunites with Cheech, former Calgarian Tommy Chong says he
never tires of pot talk
Michael Reid, Canwest News Service
Published: Monday, August 11, 2008
Cheech & Chong: The Unauthorized Biography by Tommy Chong (Simon
Spotlight Entertainment, $27.99. 224 pages)
- - -
You might think that three decades after Tommy Chong pioneered the
stoner movie genre with Cheech Marin in Up in Smoke, Canada's Prince
of Pot would be tired of, pardon the pun, rehashing his reputation as
a famous pothead.
"No, not at all. I'm not tired of talking, period," laughs the
Edmonton-born, Calgary reared cannabis comic, still smokin' after all
these years. "When you get to my age, man, you look for people to talk to."
Chong, 70, was in the news again last week when Cheech and Chong,
Hollywood's original stoners, announced they would reunite for Hey,
What's That Smell?, their first comedy tour in 25 years. It was
perfect timing, what with the renaissance in stoner flicks: Pineapple
Express, the Harold and Kumar movies, Knocked Up, Dude, Where's My
Car?, and so on. The counter-culture funnyman was certainly happier
than the last time he made headlines: He was busted for selling
hand-blown glass bongs to an undercover agent back in 2003. Although
he maintains he did nothing wrong, he said he pleaded guilty so the
feds wouldn't go after Shelby, his wife of 33 years, and his son
Paris, partners in the family business: Chong Glass.
He figures his nine-month jail sentence might have had to do with his
quip to the press that the only weapons of mass destruction George W.
Bush was able to find were his bongs.
His ordeal was chronicled in a.k.a. Tommy Chong, Josh Gilbert's 2006
documentary just released on DVD. It paints Chong as a
civil-liberties activist targeted by those who wrongly assumed he and
his pothead persona were one and the same.
He insists that rather than glamorizing drug use, he was
affectionately satirizing the culture of do-nothing potheads.
Is he worried the DVD release of a.k.a. Tommy Chong will put him back
on the authorities' radar? Not at all, says the comic best known to a
younger generation as Leo, the aging hippie, on Fox's That '70s Show.
"I never worried about it when I was in jail because I didn't do
anything wrong," Chong says. "They're the ones who have to suffer the
karma and it's coming down on them. I'm just laughing at it."
Besides, he says, there's safety in numbers. He rattles off a list
of, what he claims, are famous dope-smokers: Norman Mailer, Louis
Armstrong ("the biggest pothead, he smoked every day"), architect
Frank Gehry and Montel Williams ("because he has MS, he has to").
He says it's no coincidence some of the most notorious stoners are geniuses.
"Some of my biggest heroes in the entertainment business smoke pot.
I'm in good company."
In his perfect world, Chong jokes, there would be drug tests for
great inventors, just as there are when accidents occur.
"Like when they invented the computer," he says, mimicking a law
enforcer: "Were you high on pot when you invented this?"
He admits he's on a natural high now that the creative differences
that caused his split with Marin, 62, in the 1980s are up in smoke.
"There was a big ego problem, and then Cheech grew up," he recalls.
"Before that, I was like the boss and Cheech came into his own and
wanted to drive the bus. The only problem was my bus goes one way,
and there's one driver."
He says he was relieved when Marin, who became best known as Don
Johnson's sidekick in Nash Bridges, made overtures about the
possibility of reuniting to reclaim the Cheech and Chong brand.
Although now based in Los Angeles, Chong has a long history in Canada.
He says he was introduced to marijuana on the streets of Calgary's
Chinatown in the late 1950s and, later, his raucous R&B band was
famously asked to leave the city by Calgary's then mayor.
Music was a huge part of his early life. In his new book, Cheech &
Chong, The Unauthorized Biography, which hits stores this week, he
details his days writing songs for Motown records.
He says has fond memories of his years in Vancouver, where he met
Marin in 1967, headlined the sextet Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers,
and owned a Davie Street blues club, the Elegant Parlour.
Chong also has a soft spot for Victoria, B.C.
"I love Victoria. I just love the old people there," he says. "People
say you go to Victoria to die but those f--ers there, they don't die.
They just hobble around forever, man."