Younger generation remembers TV roles
By Malcolm X Abram
Nov 01, 2009
Attempting to interview Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong together is like
trying to wrangle two middle school class clowns if those middle
schoolers have been married and divorced a couple of times, spent a
few years in jail, smoked prodigious amounts of marijuana and
jump-started a movie genre.
Of course, Cheech & Chong aren't middle schoolers; they are 63 and
71, respectively, and after a couple of decades apart, they have
found their way back to each other and to stages across America,
including an appearance Friday night at E.J. Thomas Hall.
Cheech & Chong were one of the hottest comedy duos throughout the
1970s and into the mid-1980s, mixing comedy fueled by weed (and booze
and sometimes coke) with music in classic songs such as Earache My
Eye and Basketball Jones, and bits such as Dave's Not Here and Sister
The duo's films, including Up in Smoke, Cheech & Chong's Next Movie
and Nice Dreams, set the template for the stoner comedy genre still
going strong today in films such as Pineapple Express. But shortly
after the minor hit Born in East L.A. from their final album, 1985's
Get out of My Room, the duo broke up.
Marin worked hard to distance himself from his druggy days and go
mainstream (''I couldn't wait to sell out,'' Marin has said of his
decision), appearing in Disney films, becoming a stock player for
director Robert Rodriguez and playing the sidekick on Nash Bridges.
Chong also continued to work, though his profile was much lower, with
a recurring role on That '70s Show as stoner hippie Leo and even a
cameo on Nash Bridges, despite the pair's rancorous relationship.
In 2003, Chong was charged for partially financing his son Paris'
water pipe business; he took a plea bargain and spent eight months in
prison, from which a documentary, a.k.a. Tommy Chong, was made.
So after all these years, and all the rancor that surfaced between
the two, what has brought them back to each other?
Is it love or money?
''M-O-N-E-Y and D-I-V-O-R-C-E,'' Marin, who is twice divorced and
married longtime girlfriend and Russian concert pianist Natasha Rubin
in August, said during a conference call from Los Angeles.
''Actually, love of money. We both ended up unemployed at the same
time,'' Chong said from ''a real good space'' in what is still the
quintessential stoner voice.
The two, who had been working on a film before Chong's imprisonment,
were approached to reunite and tour, so they've been on the road for
much of the year performing around the country.
Getting a straight answer from these two is as difficult as trying to
teach Esperanto to a couple of stoned rhesus monkeys, as the two
usually give different answers at the same time (Marin at least tries
to address the question), then spend the next few minutes riffing and
making each other laugh.
So who is coming to see the pair perform 25-year-old comedy bits and songs?
''All kinds of weed smokers,'' Chong said.
''The surprising thing is how young the audience is. . . . It's not a
lot of the same old people you would think, because they're old and
they can't get out of the house,'' Marin said.
Interesting. Why do you think that is?
''They're all smoking dope, that's why. They smoke that devil weed
and then they come to see Cheech & Chong,'' Chong declared.
OK, perhaps; what does Cheech think?
''They've been hearing about Cheech & Chong since they were 12,'' he begins.
''And they saw me on That '70s Show and Cheech in Nash Bridges and
Rodriguez movies, so that's why they come and see us,'' Chong said,
finishing his partner's sentence.
''And they have nothing else to do,'' Marin concluded.
They have been breaking out many of their classic bits, updating
some, including Cruisin' With Pedro de Pacas and the game show skit,
Let's Make a Dope Deal. Marin dons the pink tutu of fictional rocker
Alice Bowie for Earache My Eye, and Chong appears as bluesman Blind
Melon Chittlin' (''Bush screwed up so bad, he got a black man elected
president,'' goes one of the lyrics). Chong also talks about his
adventures with the U.S. legal and penal system.
In the 38 years since their self-titled debut album and 31 years
since Up in Smoke, marijuana has gone almost mainstream. Besides the
continuing stoner comedy genre, weed is often casually mentioned in
everything from sitcoms to (nonstoner) movies to music, and the
fear-mongering of the '80s ''Just Say No'' campaign has all but
dissipated. A fact for which Cheech & Chong take at least partial credit.
''We were the Wright Brothers. And we were right from the
beginning,'' Chong said.
''We knew long before, and the people I knew knew. Jazz musicians,
blues musicians always knew the weed was good for you and now
everyone is learning that and finding out it's good for you in many
ways. I mean, how many substances can say they have a whole genre of
movies? Well, there are some cocaine movies.''
''I've seen some beer movies,'' his partner added.
The two still have the long-in-the-planning movie to make but also
said they will hit the road again next year with mostly new material.
What, pray tell, will be on their minds when they unleash their new bits?
''Sex and dope,'' Marin said.
''And rock and roll. There's gonna be a lot more rock and roll,'' Chong said.
With the team revived, a new movie on their slate and a youthful
infusion into their fan base, it would appear the Cheech & Chong ball
is rolling again.
''It's a joint that's rolling,'' Chong corrected.
''And it's getting bigger and bigger, and we're making the joint big
enough for everybody to suck on.''
Malcolm X Abram can be reached at email@example.com or 330-996-3758.