Cheech and Chong come to Fairbanks
by Glenn BurnSilver
Jan 14, 2011
FAIRBANKS From their humble improv comedy troupe beginnings in
Vancouver, B.C. to Grammy Awards, box office record-breaking films
and (for a period) the best-selling comedy record of all time,
Richard "Cheech" Marin and Tommy Chong have achieved global success
Better known as Cheech and Chong, the pair perform Saturday at the
Carlson Center. Their first big break was on the Los Angeles comedy
circuit in the early 1970s, making fun of the culture they were
immersed in hippies, drugs, free love and often playing up
stereotypes (Latino and otherwise).
In short order, they parlayed this irreverent humor into eight films
and nine records, including the Grammy Award-winning "Los Cochinos."
Some of their most famous comedy skits include "Sister Mary
Elephant," "Earache My Eye," "Santa Claus and his Old Lady," and
"Dave's Not Here."
Cheech and Chong performed until an acrimonious split in the
mid-1980s. Marin furthered his acting career with roles in more than
20 movies and various TV shows, including "Nash Bridges" with Don
Johnson and "Lost."
Chong also starred in several movies, including "Far Out, Man!" and
"National Lampoon's Senior Trip," along with guest starring on
assorted TV shows.
While Marin's career was relatively trouble free, the
marijuana-advocating Chong was arrested in early 2003 for conspiracy
to manufacture and distribute drug paraphernalia through his company
"Chong Glass." He served nine months in federal prison, was fined
$20,000 and forced to forfeit $120,000 in assets.
Whatever the reasons for the initial break-up, they were eventually
"The great thing about being stoners is that we forgot what we were
fighting about," Chong explained.
The pair embarked on the "Light it Up America" reunion tour in 2008.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner recently caught up with Cheech and
Chong in Los Angeles for a tag-team conference call (Chong was at
home, Marin in his car) to discuss the duo's history, comedy routines
and what to expect when the "Get It Legal" tour arrives in Fairbanks.
News-Miner: The one thing I never read is how you guys met and got
your routine going.
Cheech Marin: I was in Vancouver doing a mission for the Mormon
church trying to convert strippers.
Tommy Chong: Cheech was up there dodging the draft. No, it was in
case the Viet Cong attacked from Alaska. Actually, I had a topless
night club I converted into an improvisational theater. I was looking
for a straight man and Cheech was as straight as you could get at the
time. We hired Cheech and when that group broke up, Cheech and I
stayed together. We snuck into L.A.
NM: Why do you think stoner comedy still works?
CM: Because there are lots of stoners.
TC: It's really in the news now. You can't turn on the television
without hearing about it. (Switches to big TV announcer voice)
"America and marijuana! It's very big right now."
NM: In your movies in the 1970s, times were very different as you
depicted stoner behavior, but it seemed this gave a negative context
of pot. Now, it seems it should be the opposite with medical
marijuana trying to make inroads.
TC: That's why we call our tour "Get It Legal." We were doing it long
before medical marijuana was coming of age.
CM: We're in the age of medical beer.
TC: What we did and the reason we're still around is that we
portrayed the truth. The characters we portrayed were back then and
still are (around) now. We weren't fiction. We were like the first
reality show. As we got older our music tastes changed but our pot
habits remained the same, and it's recreational as far as we're
concerned. And recreational is a big part of any recovery. The Army
dictates you have recreational periods for the soldiers to recover.
So we've always been into the recreational part.
NM: So you're bringing back some old routines never done live before…
TC: Yes, things like "Dave's Not Here" and "Santa Claus and his Old
Lady." Those are two bits that we never figured out how to do live on
stage until this last tour. So we thought, 'Let's try it.' And it
works really, really well. It gives everybody a nice boost and gives
the people a chance to recognize the bits, the old fans and new fans.
We get to do things we meant to do but never got around to doing.
NM: What's your stage set up? Are there costumes and props or mostly
just you two sitting around?
CM: All that, and lots of music too.
TC: I think that (the music) surprises a lot of people, but that
accounts for our longevity. We were both in bands before we got
together, so that's our fall-back position. Back in the day when we
first started if the crowd got too drunk we just played music.
CM: We do a lot of music in the show.
TC: And we play tunes too; listenable stuff.
NM: You split up in the 1980s. From what I've read, there was a lot
of animosity. Tommy, you just said there were things that you wanted
to do but never did. Was this something that brought you back together?
TC: It's a growth factor. I don't care who you are, you've only got
five or six hits under your belt. After that people move onto other
things. It's a generational thing. So when the Cheech and Chong
generation grew up, we had to find other means of employment.
CM: I have to make a U-turn.
TC: Uh… OK. But it was a natural progression. And we did something I
don't think any comedy team in history has done: We got back together.
CM: Yeah, and we've been successful with it too.
TC: The great thing about being stoners is that we forgot what we
were fighting about. So when we got back together it's been great. It
was the era of bands getting back together, The Police, The Who all
those people. So we did too.
NM: Pot has never gone away and probably brought you an easy audience.
TC: It was such a win-win. Potheads will laugh at anything.
CM: That's right.
TC: I've done the same joke twice and they've laughed just as hard
the second time. So, it's a win-win all the way around. There's no
critics in a pot audience. It's just a 'Hey, man. Sign my album.'
NM: You mentioned a number of bands, some who seemed to be in it for
the money rather than the music. Does it ever feel that way for you?
TC: No, it can't because we're comedians. Every comedian… You can be
Jesus, if you didn't perform a miracle in the first five minutes,
you're off the stage, Jack. It doesn't matter who you are, if you
call yourself a comic and you don't deliver, you're in trouble. …
That's the thing about Cheech and I, we're still funny and we're
still relevant and that's what you have to be.
NM: You've been up to Alaska before. When was the last time in Fairbanks?
CM: Geez, I don't know. In the olden days. In the '70s. This time
we'll actually do the show slower so you can get out of all those
jackets and coats. Last time we played there everybody was just
getting undressed by the time we finished.
Contact features editor Glenn BurnSilver at 459-7510.