With their long-awaited reunion and a new film in the works, Cheech
and Chong light it up in high style
December 18-24, 2008
by Ben Corbett
We use suppositories now," Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong chime
simultaneously when asked if they still smoke marijuana.
It's been 23 years since they've performed together, yet the
chemistry is as impressively tight as the duo's 1970s prime, when
crafting routines like Acapulco Gold, Basketball Jones, Earache My
Eye and Blind Melon Chitlin sketches as American and timeless as
the minds that created them. Not to mention the infinite laughs they
still inspire more than three decades after the fact. During TBS's
Cheech and Chong Roasted held at Ceasar's Palace in November, the
program attracted 2.4 million viewers, breaking the network's former
record, and only illustrating that none other than Cheech and Chong
can fill the vacuum they left in their own wake back in 1985.
As far as live performances go, aside from next-generation initiates,
there are two types of veteran Cheech and Chong fans: those who
actually used the mammoth rolling paper that came as a collector's
item with the 1972 vinyl release of the Big Bambu album, and those
who didn't. Those who didn't will bring theirs along to the show,
hoping for an autograph, while those who did will stand in the
meet-and-greet line boasting about how long it took to smoke that
spliff back when you could still buy an ounce of Mexican schwag for
$30, which is exactly how much it took to fill the thing.
So be prepared to get stoned. At least if you go to the performance.
Because that probably won't be a cloud of night mood incense causing
zero visibility between you and the stage when Cheech and Chong run
through their classic routines. Entering the theater will be
something like entering a spongy, smoke-filled lung, and after this
long of a wait, it's as much a tribute to the fans as it is to the
aging comics that performances on Cheech and Chong's reunion tour
have been selling out in mere minutes. But this should come as no
surprise. Vitality is measured by demand, and in the realm of comic
reliefa la sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll following eight years of
national confusion, demand is soaring.
"America needs a hug right now," says Chong. "America is so screwed
up. The capitalistic system has fallen totally on its face. Every
Bush move just failed miserably. He has the worst karma. It's just
like when Cheech and Chong were born during the Vietnam War and
people needed something to laugh at. Right now they need something to
laugh at more than ever."
"That's us," adds Marin.
Now celebrating the 30th anniversary of the cult film classic Up In
Smoke, the drug-induced duo has reached around the globe with their
own brand of humor, netting an audience that now crosses four
generations of fans and devotees. Formed in 1968 against the backdrop
of the Nixon administration, what made Cheech and Chong special was
their street theater personae cast in the glow of 1970s fringe: The
burned-out '60s casualty, Anthony "Man" Stoner, kicking it with East
L.A. low rider, Pedro De Pacas, both puffing on quarter-pound spliffs
of Mexican pot while drumming up the next hustle. From the bungling
cop Sergeant Stadanko to the prurient Sister Mary Elephant, the duo
became the counterculture's social commentators through their
characters, helping to ease the weight of an otherwise serious
atmosphere of fear and paranoia. Discovered in 1971 by record
producer Lou Adler, after releasing their first self-titled album,
Cheech and Chong debuted as the first comedians to open up for a rock
concert, setting the long-running trend that followed.
"It was the Rolling Stones," says Chong.
"Is that the band with the satisfaction?" asks Cheech.
"That's them," says Chong.
"Well, we were actually just starting," says Cheech. "We were in our
budding stage. That's when the first album came out. We were the big
"Mick Jagger's a pretty smart guy," says Chong.
"Yeah," says Cheech. "He's a real fart smeller. I mean smart feller."
"We opened for the Allman Brothers," says Chong. "We opened for Vanilla Fudge."
"Alice Cooper," says Cheech.
"We opened up for Joyce Brothers," says Chong (as Cheech cracks up
hysterically). "That was on the couch. That's where we opened up for her."
After cutting five comedy albums through the 1970s, the two moved
into celluloid. Following the wild success of 1978's Up In Smoke,
Cheech and Chong released five more films, including Cheech and
Chong's Next Movie (1980) and Still Smokin' (1983), both instant
B-rated cult classics. Unfortunately, their creative peak came during
the fever pitch of Nancy Reagan's War On Drugs, which, besides
creating a puritan climate of national fear for any kind of drug
association, essentially stigmatized the comedians as evil
contributors to the poisoning of America's youth. With films that
seemed to glamorize drug consumption suddenly taboo, Cheech and Chong
released 1984's The Corsican Brothers, an otherwise tame film with
mere innuendos alluding to sex and drugs as
compared to the balls-out humor that won the team their earlier accolades.
Losing popularity due to the new circumstances, and with other
passions in mind, Cheech opted to seek a film career not involving
drug themes, while Chong stayed the course of his original vision and
stage persona. While older fans will remember Cheech and Chong from
their heyday as comedy titans during the 1970s and '80s, the next
generation knows them from Cheech's 1996-2001 role as Inspector Joe
Dominguez, Don Johnson's sidekick in the popular TV cop show Nash
Bridges. Chong, on the other hand, carried on the tradition as aging
stoner Leo in the hit comedy series That '70s Show from 1999-2006.
Despite rumors throughout the years of possible reunions, and
although Chong says the 23-year absence of Cheech and Chong is
because of "Mexican/stoner time," the two went through a period of
bad blood and public back-biting that never got too serious. With
Cheech comfortable in his Nash Bridges niche and doing TV and film
cameos and voice-overs in Disney films from the character Banzai in
The Lion King (1994) to Ramone in Cars (2006), Chong fared as best he
could without his other half. But finally, the ice was broken during
a 2005 HBO Comedy Festival panel discussion that thawed the once-cool
relations. Since then, rumors picked up momentum, culminating in a
June 2008 announcement of the Light Up America reunion.
"For years," Chong says, "the only question anybody really asked me
was: 'Hey, where's the other guy?' I'd go to pitch a script, and
they'd say, 'Well, you know, if you had Cheech with you, we'd have a
go.' There's a lot of anal people in the world. They hate to see the
salt shaker and the pepper shaker apart."
To supplement his stand-up income, aside from film parts, under the
safe umbrella of the Clinton administration, in 1999 Chong launched a
family business, Nice Dreams Enterprizes, an Internet mail-order
marketing outfit run by his son Paris that sold paraphernalia such as
Chong Glass custom smoker ware. Shortly after, in a Feb. 24, 2003
raid, under a sting operation called "Operation Pipe Dreams," John
Ashcroft's Justice Department arrested 55 individuals selling glass
pipes, Chong being the big catch and high-profile example. Although a
pound of marijuana was discovered in Chong's Pacific Palisades home,
he wasn't charged. In a case of entrapment, an employee of Nice
Dreams sold his Chong's custom glass to an undercover agent in
Pennsylvania, where sales of the contraband is prohibited. In May of
that year, Chong pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Distribute Drug
Paraphernalia and in October served nine months at the Taft
minimum-security facility. How was Cheech affected by news of Tommy's arrest?
"I cried," he says. "I sat down and cried. I said, 'Oh no.' Then I
brought him a fruitcake."
Chong adds: "Everybody said, 'Hey! Some fruitcake's here to see you!'"
Cheech explains that he visited as often as he could. "I wanted to
come more, but he couldn't stand the anal searches."
"They told me no more Cheech visits because it caused too much of a
commotion in the visiting room," says Chong. "When prisoners heard
that Cheech was coming, everybody scheduled their visits for that
day. The place was overcrowded, and they had to turn people away."
A victim who was set up, and the latest score for the other side in
the ongoing War on Drugs, Chong says, "It was more of Bush continuing
Nixon and Reagan's failed policies. It was really a smoke screen to
hide the way they were thieving."
Adds Cheech: "We find out more and more that the people fighting the
War on Drugs are the people that want to go on fighting it: the
people that run the prisons, and the DEA and those kinds of police.
Because if they don't have a War on Drugs, they don't have a job.
Half of the people in prison are in there for drugs. Half!"
In February 2005, still on parole, Chong launched into his new
passion, The Marijuana-Logues, a pot-smoker's take on Eve Ensler's
Vagina Monologues. However, after only two performances, Chong's
parole officer pulled the plug on the show's star after audiences
were seen smoking pot during performances (obvious due to the large
clouds of smoke filling the halls), a probation
violation. Meanwhile, Chong wrote two new books, during and after
his jail stretch, The I Chong: Tales from the Joint and Cheech and
Chong: The Unauthorized Biography.
"It was like doing a homework assignment that you put off forever,"
he explains. "Finally you have to finish it. I worked on it in jail,
and I worked on it after. I realized that how I write is I research
for a couple of years, then I put it all in a book in about a month."
Finally in 2006, with parole behind him, Chong did a few quick
stand-up shows in the U.S., stating publicly that he was leaving for
his hometown Vancouver, never to return, and perhaps launching a
major lawsuit against the U.S. Justice Department for constitutional
issues. So why the return now?
"Bush is kind of out of office now," says Chong. "Actually, he always
was. He never was in. But we've got the new Obama regime, and they're
more Chicano-stoner friendly. I decided that you can't run away from
your problems, ya know. Not for the kids. Because the kids are our future."
Are Cheech and Chong nervous about returning to Pittsburgh, the place
where Chong's troubles began, and where they've just scheduled a show
for the ongoing Light Up America tour?
"Never," they answer together.
Says Chong: "What's her name? Mary Beth Buchanan [U.S. Attorney and
Chong's prosecutor, now refusing to resign under the new
administration]. She better start getting nervous. They're going to
start investigating her for politicizing the White House. They'll
probably keep everybody in there long enough to get indictments against them."
"Yeah, that'd be nice," adds Cheech, who during the interim since
Nash Bridges has continued his career in film, doing a spot in Robert
Rodriguez's Grindhouse, as well as the TV hits Judging Amy, Lost and
Grey's Anatomy, to name a few. Marin is also known for owning the
largest Chicano art collection in America, perhaps the world, and he
spends a portion of each year taking selections on the road,
promoting the work of traditional and up-and-coming Chicano artists
in museums across the country, giving talks, spreading the word of La
Raza. More, he announced just this week a new film now in
pre-production which he'll both direct and star in called The Angel of Oxnard.
As for the comedy team, Cheech and Chong are putting together a live
performance DVD of the Light Up America tour for release in 2009.
"We're working on that by doing the show and making sure it's
ship-shape," says Cheech, with Chong adding, "We're working on trying
to remember what we're working on. We're also working on the script
for the next Cheech and Chong movie. We both want to do Santa Claus
and His Old Lady, that album that we got out. Up in Smoke was really
our live act and our records put together. Santa Claus and His Old
Lady, at least it's got a visible, recognizable title. The first
thing you look for in a Cheech and Chong movie is a good title.
"We were also thinking of Pineapple Express III," Cheech throws in.
"The next one will be probably the best thing to ever hit film or the
stage in centuries," says Chong
"Ever," says Cheech.
"I saw Australia last night," says Chong, "and our movie is going to
be even more spectacular than that. We're gonna have way more horses in it."
Green Without Envy: Cheech and Chong Interview
Dec 10, 2008
by Julie Seabaugh
It took 20-plus years, but the smokedelic duo of Cheech [Marin] and
[Tommy] Chong has finally reunited for a massive Light Up America and
Canada Tour that has sold out since its September spliff-off...er, kick-off.
(And sadly for fans here, the show on January 18 in St. Louis is sold out.)
Though the pair remains mum on the subject of past creative
differences, it is their present and future projects -- not to
mention their current paychecks -- that truly fires 'em up.
So what led to the reunion tour?
Chong: Uh, old age. We're getting to the point of no return. Cheech
got divorced and I got out of jail, so people had lawyer bills to
pay. He sort of came to the end of his art show and I was looking for
something, and it was a great time. My wife and I had been working on
the road and she opens the show. She's on her own now. She does her
own little stand-up. So it all works out great.
Marin: They made us an offer that we couldn't refuse. They said they
would write off 250 hours of community service if we did this. So
we're doing this for the kids, because the kids are our future, you
know? We teach by example [Laughs]. We've always been trying to get
together and do somethin' but something always intrudes, like Tommy's
jail term. And we figured, well, if we're ever gonna do something, it
has to be now or never 'cause we're not getting' any younger. And
then there are other factors too. We're calling it the Felimony tour,
his felony and my alimony.
Is there a certain percentage that's classic versus new stuff? Do you
switch it up?
Chong: It's mostly old stuff with new fillings, like the references
are more McCain and Obama as opposed to Clinton and the old stuff we
used to talk about. The humor hasn't changed at all. It's the same
old story, the stoner kind of stuff. We just really get back into the
good old Cheech and Chong fodder and fans are just lovin' it.
Marin: We have this vast library of materials to draw from. We're
doing stuff we've never done onstage from our catalogue. A lot more
music and actually playing live and doing bits we haven't done
before, and the classics and then there's a lot of commentary. Tommy
in particular does a lot more stand-up than I do and he comments on
the political scene and the inequity of it all. He's a great comic.
Cheech and Chong are professionals. We do it all for the kids, you know.
Was a lot of rehearsal required?
Chong: No. More than anything, we always rehearsed in front of an
audience. That was our thing. If we had any new bits to do we'd just
do it right then. There was very, very little offstage rehearsal. We
tried, but it was just, like, old age. We'd either record the
rehearsal or shoot the rehearsal or just get in front of the audience
and do 'em.
Marin: We did a little bit of rehearsal, like talking it over, and
then we went and did four days at a comedy club in La Jolla,
California, at the Comedy Store, and we just went onstage. And it was
like we'd never left, like we'd been off a week, not 27 years. It
makes me think, "Wow, I couldn't get rid of this stuff if I wanted
to." The thing that's surprising me is how timeless the material is.
It's just as contemporary now as when we first did it. It's amazing.
Have you been watching the new crop of stoner movies?
Chong: Oh yeah, it's like my job, because so many people ask me about
them, I have to go see them. In fact, I reviewed Pineapple Express
for one magazine, Maxim. Yeah, they put in my little take on Seth
Rogen. I give him all the compliments in the world because I really
do appreciate his intelligence. And all the stoner movies, I'm a big
fan. I don't care how bad they are.
Marin: The kids watchin' 'em are going out and doing their own thing,
mixing it in their mix, you know? But it's my conviction that a
stoner movie doesn't necessarily have to do with smoking pot. Stoner
movies have to do with mentality. I think Napolean Dynamite is the
perfect stoner movie. You watch it and you go, "Okay, that's really
off of them." It's like, "Huh?" And that's what makes it worth
bearing repeated watchings, you know, because it's off from the
mainstream. You have a dichotomy today in which you have these kind
of mainsteam movies that are blow-em-up and digitized and crammed
down your throat, and then you have these other, kinda off movies
that let the scenes play and let you be involved in them rather than
having it smeared all over you...
And there may be a new film in the works for you guys?
Chong: Yeah, we're talkin' about it. The film companies are kind of
chomping at the bit.
Marin: You never know, if they make the right offer. Hey, I'm
susceptible to money.
Any thought as to whether it might address how the culture's changed
since the '70s, with organizations like NORML or the proliferation of
the medical marijuana movement?
Chong: Possibly. You know, they all have a habit of sticking their
little noses in there somehow. Like in Nice Dreams we had Timothy
Leary in there. So with this one, yeah, I would venture to say we
could probably get into the MS factor and how pot has really helped
those people. I'd like to show the miracle side of the magic weed and
I probably will if I have my way.
Marin: There are a few things floating around. We made it a pact to
kind of do this one thing at a time. Let's go on the road and see if
we don't kill each other, and if that happens, we'll talk about other
stuff. It's amazing how it's building. We're getting these offers out
of the blue, and the longer you wait, it's unbelievable. We're just
on a ride here. But the kids are driving, because it's all about the kids.
*This show is sold out*
7 p.m. Sunday, January 18. The Pageant, 6161 Delmar Street. $35-60.